Book review: The Institute by Stephen King

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 Permalink

The first part of this book introduces us to one of our narrators and lead characters. Interestingly it doesn’t touch on ‘the institute’ at all. I’d read the backcover blurb and wondered what on earth disgraced-but-heroic cop Tim Jamieson had to do with gifted kids being kidnapped in Maine but Stephen King is such a masterful storyteller I didn’t really care. I was happy to read about Tim hitch-hiking to DuPray, South Carolina and the people he met along the way, as well as the way he settled into the local community on his arrival.

I was literally pulled into his world and probably would have been happy to stay there. But then we’re then introduced to another ridiculously likeable character, Luke.

Book review: The Institute by Stephen KingThe Institute
by Stephen King
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
on September 10th 2019
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Paranormal / Fantasy / Sci Fi, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1529355397
Pages: 485

Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a dark state facility where kids, abducted from across the United States, are incarcerated. In the Institute they are subjected to a series of tests and procedures meant to combine their exceptional gifts - telepathy, telekinesis - for concentrated effect.

Luke Ellis is the latest recruit. He's just a regular 12-year-old, except he's not just smart, he's super-smart. And he has another gift which the Institute wants to use...

Far away in a small town in South Carolina, former cop Tim Jamieson has taken a job working for the local Sherrif. He's basically just walking the beat. But he's about to take on the biggest case of his career.

Back in the Institute's downtrodden playground and corridors where posters advertise 'just another day in paradise', Luke, his friend Kalisha and the other kids are in no doubt that they are prisoners, not guests. And there is no hope of escape.

But great events can turn on small hinges and Luke is about to team up with a new, even younger recruit, Avery Dixon, whose ability to read minds is off the scale. While the Institute may want to harness their powers for covert ends, the combined intelligence of Luke and Avery is beyond anything that even those who run the experiments - even the infamous Mrs Sigsby - suspect.

I scribbled a note just after meeting Luke and his parents, mentioning how wonderful they all were. Of course, as this is a Stephen King novel I was also worried what fate might befall the prodigy and his parents.

It’s no secret (cos it’s on the backcover blurb – above) that the institute is a place where kids with ‘abilities’ are kept. And unlike the TV show Alphas, the kids don’t have different sorts of superpowers, rather they’re TPs or TKs (kids with telepathic or telekinesis abilities).

The Institute is divided into the ‘front’ and the ‘back’. Kids only stay in the front for a few weeks before being transferred to the back half. They’re also told their minds will be wiped and they’ll then get to return home to their families.

The front half is like the testing and training ground. And the tests aren’t pleasant obviously. But it’s all about trying to examine the extent of the kids’ abilities and attempt to enhance them. (We learn this is magnified when they enter ‘the back half’.) If you’re like me and wondering how on earth they identify these kids, they’re tested at birth and those with a high score are monitored and recruited when they’re between eight and sixteen. (An an author’s note, King tells us there’s a smidge of truth in this process. The BDNF tests are really a thing.)

I loved the kids Luke meets at the Institute – they’re a great ensemble, and I particularly liked 10yr old Avery, who is one of the strongest TPs they’ve had.

Luke’s power isn’t as strong as the others, but he’s got something the others don’t have… his extraordinary IQ. When we first meet him he’s about to start double degrees at Ivy League type universities at 12yrs of age. But he’s not just booksmart, he’s intelligent (his school calls him a global genius) and it was interesting (to Luke as well) that the staff at The Institute weren’t more interested in that ability. (Though of course it didn’t serve their purposes!)

Obviously we meet several unpleasant people at The Institute, including its CEO Mrs Sigsby, main doctor (Hendricks) and head of security (Stackhouse). But they’re all just employees so we know there must be some powerful people behind the facility and possibly even links to government, as many of the staff are former military, recruited after serving overseas.

Luke and Tim eventually meet and I won’t say how lest I spoil the story. For me though, King’s story-telling ability, his easy / effortless way with words combined with some great characters made this book an addictive read.

Although I was pulled into the excitement of the events towards the end I was probably less enamoured of the ‘how’ and ‘what’ happens. I guess however, you need to expect the fantastic when reading Stephen King. For me it would have worked better as a straight prison institution break rather than some sort of global telekinesis thingy which reminded me I was reading a piece of fiction.

Not all of the characters we meet survive, but I would love to again meet those still standing at the end of this book. Given King doesn’t go into detail about the leadership behind the Institute, its ties to military and its global repercussions, there is an opportunity for him to revisit this, Mr Mercedes style perhaps.

The Institute by Stephen King was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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