Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

GoodReads Blurb:

For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it's a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.

As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it's no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux's teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.

My review:

I was in the mood for a spooky Halloween read, so I decided to pick up Asylum. The cover promised epic amounts of creepiness (I mean, just look at it! Gives you goosebumps...) and the second I read that blurb, I was hooked. (Mad doctors! Haunted mental hospital! Lobotomies!) I love abandoned places, and mental illness is one of my favorite horror themes. This book even has eerie vintage black-and-white photos as illustrations—right up my alley.

Unfortunately, the writing did not live up to the premise.

The topic is so promising—creepy mental hospital, slow descent into madness, uncertainty of what’s real and what’s in your head… With some beautiful prose to set the mood, a calculated, slow-burn pace, and characters that are complex and flawed, this book could have been a jewel. But Asylum relies too heavily on its cool concept.

The setting and the plot alone made me finish the book—I just wanted to know what was happening. The plot is well put together, the pace is brisk, and the resolution was fulfilling and fit the story (and for once I couldn't predict the whole thing from page one... some thing actually surprised me, which wins major points). What makes me so sad is that Asylum could have—should have—been a five-star book. The kind of five-star book that I squee about for weeks and recommend to everyone and my mom. But where this book failed for me was the execution.

Voice and tone are crucial for a horror novel, and the tone of Asylum just wasn’t working for me. The prose is so simplistic that sometimes I wondered if this really was YA and not a lower reading level. The narration kept beating me over the head, repeating things over and over, as if to make sure there was no possible way us dumb readers could have missed our cue. Consider this (the hero is talking to a girl he just met and has a crush on):

“Ugh. Okay, but only because I like you.”
Dan missed part of her next sentence, because she had said she liked him.

*shocked face* What? You don’t say.

The characters had the potential to be very complex and interesting, but the more intriguing aspects were skimmed over. I wanted to know more about Dan’s past, his “mild dissociative disorder”, his previous encounters with mental health professionals… all that was hinted at or mentioned in passing, but not explored in depth. (The ending did tease with the promise of a possible sequel, so... who knows.)

The final showdown is engaging and fast-paced, and it definitely kept me turning the pages to get to the big reveal. In the end, there are just enough loose ends left to keep you thinking about the story, but not so many that they amount to plot holes. Like I said, the plot is Asylum’s strong suit. So if you’re in the mood for a not-too-challenging, creepy, quick horror read, Asylum may be what you’re looking for. 

My rating: two and a half stars, rounded up to three. 

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