Review: “The Institute” – Stephen King
Some spoilers ahead
“The Institute” by Stephen King is the first Stephen King book I have ever read. The scariest part of his story is not necessarily the horror of that the characters are enduring, but how seamlessly he blends it into ordinary life: life in a small town, a boy spending time with his parents and how quickly it can all go wrong.
A man named Tim Jamieson is on an overbooked plane and decides to take the money and a hotel voucher to wait for a flight the next day, but he never books the next flight. Instead, he hitchhikes up to a small town named DuPray in South Carolina. He gets a job as a night knocker, checking train cars.
Meanwhile, a genius child Luke Ellis is taken from his home in the dead of night, and his parents meet an unfortunate fate. Where he is taken is the Institute, where children with extraordinary gifts are taken from their homes and placed in rooms precisely like the ones they left. They are poked, prodded and tortured when they are in the Front Half of the Institute, but you don’t stay there long. All the children inevitably go to the back half, and no one knows what happens back there. The staff says you serve your country and then go home to your parents, but you don’t remember your time at the Institute. The children aren’t so sure.
There is a large cast of characters, children born with special powers, such as Nick, Kalisha, George, and Avery. Then there’s the staff of the Institute, a kind housekeeper named Maureen, the businesslike Mrs. Sigsby, Evans, the slap-happy Gladys and so many more.
What I loved:
I enjoyed Luke’s expansive knowledge and how he uses it to his advantage. He has a wide range of computer skills, math smarts and genuinely knows anything that anyone is talking about at any given time. Its fun to read, and while it may drive the doctors crazy, it is fun to see a child stand up to them and be a know it all.
The bond that the kids have is so sweet and so genuine. They bond over their trauma, and they are there for each other and do what they can to help each other to survive.
I like the way King weaves the storylines together, at first having large chunks of different characters’ stories. Then as the tension rises, he makes the fragments shorter and shorter, which only increases the tension. At one point, I couldn’t put the book down for 100 pages.
What I Didn’t Love:
It is challenging to read about people torturing children, even if it isn’t descriptive, and it’s pretty much just getting shots. He did a great job describing how the experiments affect the children, and that isn’t necessarily an easy read.
I wanted to know more about the people at the Institute. You do get some background, but I want to know about their lives, if they really enjoy it there and how working there affected them. I wanted to know how they were recruited and why they were chosen.
The ending is sad as hell. I think it is supposed to have somewhat of a happy ending, but it is also a very tragic story. No one walks away unscathed by the Institute.
It’s so frustrating when the heroes have to battle an epic villain, and they feel like they’ve won. Still, when the dust settles, the villain seems like they will continue their evil for another hero to face and overcome. It always bums me out no matter how perfect it may be for the story.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I love seeing powerful kids overcoming evil and reclaiming their humanity. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Stranger Things, as the story is about a group of 11’s. It was an intense story but riveting to the end with a huge payoff.