It’s no secret; I am a big Stephen King fan. (Not like Annie Wilkes though!) In fact, I have often said King is my husband’s only competition. He could just tell me stories for the rest of my life, and I’d be in ecstasy. There’s no great romance here, just intense appreciation for a well-told tale and a good scare.
I waited for the release of “The Institute” with barely controlled anticipation. I’m pleased to say the wait was worth it. Expanding on the theme of “Firestarter” King presents a secret government branch that tracks children with psychic abilities with an eye toward utilizing them as weapons.
If the idea of The Shop bothered you, the Institute will drive you mad. King teases the reader by laying the groundwork subtly. First, he introduces Tim Jamieson. King has a knack for developing his characters and settings slowly. It’s a clever way of getting readers invested in the characters. He arouses curiosity as he leads us along a path, slyly tossing out clues to tantalize. By the end of the first chapter, I liked Tim. I admired his honesty, his thoughtfulness, and most of all, his daring. Tim does what many people might like to do. He picks up and goes on a journey, rather like a Hero’s Journey. But Tim is not the focus of this disturbingly dark tale.
Luke Ellis is a child genius. This unassuming twelve-year-old boy has been attending a school for exceptional children. But the principal informs the boy’s parents he has surpassed what the school can offer. Scheduled to take his SAT’s, a challenge most high school students view with trepidation, Luke approaches the test as an opportunity to get into MIT. He sees the promise of a wonderful future stretching before him. However, this is a King novel. Things don’t go that way.
Before he can move into college life Luke’s parents are murdered and he is kidnapped. Waking in a copy of his bedroom he is soon ensconced in life at the Institute. Little by little, he makes friends who introduce him to the dark world he has entered. He suspects his parents are dead but doesn’t know for sure.
The administrators of the Institute have one focus. Grooming their charges for assignments to benefit the USA and the world. As Luke learns more about the Institute he is exposed to experimental drugs and procedures. These are just the beginning of horrors yet to come. The children, and there are many of them, are disposable resources to their keepers. As Luke and his new friends move deeper into the program, they realize they must fight back or die at the hands of the staff.
King’s skill at gathering groups of kids with diverse personalities and uniting them in a common goal is brilliant. The implication that children are stronger when they band together runs throughout this book much as it did in “It”. Together they exhibit courage, determination, and the kind of unity and single-mindedness usually found in the military. But success also relies on the belief of at least one adult, one person who can provide the grown-up status needed to defy the odds.
“The Institute” is a chilling take on the corruption in government where the end justifies the means. It is only when we stand together, united for the good, that we can overcome the dark forces that threaten our world.
With well-developed characters and a couple of scary settings, “The Institute” is a warning. King does a great job of weaving the real world we live in with the fictional worlds he creates. Governments like to play God. Every one wants to be the big dog, the one with the most control. We need to keep our eyes open and speak up when something is going south. Otherwise, we are complicit in the wrongs that are done in the name of ‘right’.
As an aside, I both read the book and listened on Audible. Either way, it’s a winner.