The Project / Courtney Summers / Book Review


Five years ago, Lo Denham lost everything: her parents, herself, and most of all her sister. Lo barely survived the horrific car accident that took her parents' lives. The road to recovery was long, and when Lo finally found some semblance of normal, she did so only to find that her beloved older sister, Bea, was farther away than ever before.

Bea wasn't in the accident that nearly took all of her family away from her, but she was at the hospital when Lev Warren arrived to pray over her sister. Bea knew that Lev and his faith brought Lo back from the dead, and she will do anything to repay her debt to God--and to Lev. Bea joined the Unity Project, Lev's group of followers who do good works unto the world, and she vowed to follow him faithfully, even if it meant cutting off contact with her little sister Lo.

In the five years since the accident, Lo has grown. No longer a child, she starts to wonder what happened to her sister and why. When accusations surface about Lev and his "cult," Lo knows they must be true. What else could have taken Bea from her in her moment of need? Lo knows she has to rescue her sister from the Unity Project. Lo will do whatever it takes to bring the truth to life--and bring her sister back home again.



Brutal Reality Courtney Summers pulls no punches in this new grisly work. The world is a harsh place. From the very opening pages, brutal reality must be confronted by readers and characters alike. A deadly semi-crash that crushed the Denham parents to death; a suicide in front of a moving trains: this work is terrible, deadly, and horrific, and it sets an irrevocably grim tone going forward, in a good (as bad as that sounds) way.

Timely, Not Timeless So many contemporary novels strive to exist in some sort of vague and timeless space. Published in 2020-something, these books will always exist in time but outside of it--uncommitted. Summers does not fall into this trap. Set solidly in 2017, important political and cultural icons shape the world of her novel, from Governor Cuomo to newly-elected President Trump. Although these figures and other cultural references are not a major part of the plot, they still help to ground the world--and ultimately make this book feel much more real than contemporary fiction tends to.

Mind Games It is easy to ask from the outside looking in, "How could someone join a cult? How stupid can they be?" Indeed, Summers's narrative starts at that point, with Lo asking the same questions. But through the use of Bea's perspective as well as Lo's investigations into the "cult" at hand, the narrative becomes murkier. It is easy to see how someone vulnerable could fall into this trap. As a reader, you might even find yourself questioning whether the "cult" is a cult at all as the winding plot progresses--even with evidence that points toward the reality.


The character voice, the level of professionalism, the storyline itself: everything about his book feels far too old for YA. This book could easily be adult fiction, and perhaps it is better suited for that. I am glad I was given the chance to review it for this blog (that is, glad that this book has been marketed as "YA"), but some readers will have a problem with the less-than-youthful narrator here. Courtney Summers's previous work falls much more neatly into the YA category, and so in that light, it makes sense that this book and its marketing plan would follow suit. It does not, however, have quite the right voice for YA. Old Voice

I love a cynical character as much as the rest (more so than many readers, actually), but even so, Lo felt a little too pessimistic for my tastes. She has a lot of anger and baggage as her motivator but no real goal or purpose because, ultimately, she doesn't believe in anything. She is hopeless. Without hope or purpose, I found it difficult to empathize with her. Bea, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Too Pessimistic

Because this book flips between older sister and younger sister, past and present, some characters get a lost in the transitions. Characters may be well-established in one timeline that readers are not privy to, and so it can be a bit confusing, especially in the early chapters. This is by no means a major problem, however. It is only a little irksome, and that irritation dissipates as the plot progresses. Multiple Timeline/Multiple Perspective Problems



Those who enjoy a deep dive into cult life like Amy Christine Parker's Gated should check out this tantalizing new group of devoted followers. Fans of cynically rough-around-the-edges characters like those in Laurie Devore's A Better Bad Idea should invest in Lo's story.


Publisher: Wednesday Books
Date: Februry 2, 2021
Series: N/A
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  1. Old voice makes it too elderly for me

  2. I bet it’s not a real cult.

  3. Great review! I loved Sadie by Courtney Summers so I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I love that this explores brutal realities and I'm actually on the older spectrum of YA so I think that may just be a bonus for me. Thanks for sharing, adding this to my tbr!


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