Stephen King, kids, and a book called The Institute. It already sounds fucked up, right? This is not the kind of story I would have ever read if someone had only used those three characteristics of describing the book. If you’ve been following us (thank you!), you know this isn’t the first time we’ve reviewed Stephen King. We reviewed the novella Elevation in November of last year. (You can read that review here.)
So why would we review the same author twice? Honestly, we are not huge Stephen King fans, but the book is just that good. Without giving too much away, the story focuses on kids who have special skills. Not “’Ur a wizard, ‘arry!” kind of skills, but more telekinesis and telepathy, and how to make the powers stronger—all for the “greater good.” I am adding quotation marks to the phrase “greater good” because that was one of the most challenging questions asked in The Institute: what qualifies as being okay to do for the greater good and where is the line when it goes too far?
I do like Stephen King’s less horror books, such as 11/22/63, the Bill Hodges Trilogy, and Elevation. Books that make you think and are just weird enough to know it is definitely a King book. The same is with The Institute. From the very beginning, the characters are realistic, charming (or evil), and sincere (or heartless). I picture people I’ve known in my life as some of the main characters. They are relatable, in that their actions are reasonable based on their character traits.
King is not an up-and-coming author. He is famous because of how skilled of a writer he is. Where Elevation asked, “What would you do if you had only a limited time left?” The Institute asks, “How far is too far when trying to do what’s best for the world?”
While I loved this question, bringing kids into the fold was challenging to read. These kids had to grow up fast and learn to adapt to their new environment in difficult ways. There were physical altercations and what society has labeled as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but let me be clear, there was no sexual abuse in this book. He did not cross that line and he didn’t need to.
My favorite character in the book is Avery. He’s the shit. No spoilers, so no more on that.
The Institute sucked me in right from the start. The chapters were fast and rotated between various characters’ perspectives. A lot of authors have done that—it’s not anything new—but in The Institute, it was used as a tool that kept me up at night reading and thinking, “Just one more chapter and then I will go to bed.”
Strong characters, a blazing story, good vs. evil, and Stephen King, all add up to an entertaining book. One crappy piece, however, is that right now The Institute on Amazon Kindle is $14.99. I know the prices are set by the publishers, but I have a hard time paying that much for an e-book. As we get into the holidays, watch to see if it goes on sale. If it does, grab it for sure! You won’t be disappointed.
This is another situation where I read the physical book and Erica listened to the audiobook.
As Matt pointed out, we’ve read Stephen King before. Call us gluttons for punishment, but King’s reputation as the “King of Horror” hasn’t deterred us from diving into his books. In fact, it’s made us want to read more by him.
Like Matt suggested, The Institute isn’t your typical horror book, although it was nominated for Best Horror in the Goodreads Choice Awards. Imagine my surprise when I saw it listed there. (I had expected it in Science Fiction.) I thought, am I immune to his genre? Because I loved the book, but I’m still scared shitless when it comes to traditional horror. If there was a subcategory, like sci-fi paranormal fuck-with-your-headedness, this book would qualify.
As Matt stated, the last time we reviewed a King work, it was his novella Elevation. We really enjoyed that one too, although it was quite different. While “Elevation” focused on adults, The Institute got into the minds of kids—what makes them tick, and perhaps more importantly, what makes kids break. If you think you’ll be troubled reading about kids being experimented on, then skip this one. It did make me feel uncomfortable at times, I’m not going to lie. But I plowed through because I found the characters so fascinating—even the horrible ones. Whether kids or adults, all were multifaceted and complex. Particularly the leads: Tim, Mrs. Sigsby, Luke, and Avery.
Because I listened to the audiobook (more on that in a minute), Matt was often ahead of me while reading this book. He kept saying, “I love Avery,” “Avery is the best,” (no surprise that he mentioned him in his part of the review!) and I was like STOP THE TRAIN, I’M NOT THERE YET. But you’ll get what he’s saying. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that Avery is as good as they come. Albeit, a bit whiny at first.
Now, the audiobook. I feel like I never want to listen to another audiobook again UNLESS it’s narrated by Santino Fontana. (Zachary Webber, Andi Arndt, Julia Whelan, and Robinne Lee are exceptional too.) Santino did the You books by Caroline Kepnes, making me an instant fan. And dare I say he tops those performances with his 20+ voices in The Institute. Whether voicing an uppity bitch or a psycho physician, Santino kills it with his variety and inflection.
It is precisely for these reasons that we’re giving away a copy of the audiobook for commenters below or on our Facebook posts. When you wholeheartedly believe in something—as we do with this audiobook, as we do with this book—you just have to give it away and expose others to it.
If you can get past the categorization and experimentation, this book is a worthy read and one that will keep you up all hours of the night just to get to that last page.
Erica mentioned feeling immune to this book being “horror,” but while it is not Carrie, Cujo, or The Shining, it does have its horror moments. I can think of a few times I had to read the next chapter because ending at a particular point would mean I would think of nothing else. I am sure there have been more horror-esque books published this year that might even be horrific. However, putting the genre debate aside, The Institute is definitely worth reading.
Just don’t pay full price. Win it from us!
To purchase a copy of or read the synopsis for the ebook of Stephen King’s The Institute, click here.
To purchase a copy of or read the synopsis for the audiobook of Stephen King’s The Institute, click here.