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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

The Project, Courtney Summers: A Review

As soon as I saw this cover, I knew I had to request The Project. I find cult narratives fascinating and couldn't wait to get started.

Lo works as an assistant to a high(er) profile reporter and desperately wants her own byline. Scarred by a childhood accident both physically and emotionally, a chance encounter thrusts her back into the middle of a cult-like organization called The Unity Project, where her older sister Bea has been cut off from her for years. She wants the story. She wants to write. But getting involved with The Project, even peripherally, threatens to unearth long-buried secrets and open wounds. How far will Lo go inside The Project? There was a lot I loved about this book. Lo, as an MC, was wonderfully developed and authentic. I loved her interactions with her boss, the desperate sadness she fights to suppress as she transitions from one stage of her life to the next. Indeed, Summers created a heart-wrenching voice and took us on a journey from skepticism to curiosity, exemplifying the way cult leaders will prey on those who are lost--specifically in times of transition. Here, Lo is trying to spread her wings and taking off the rose-colored lenses where people have her best interest at heart. Cult narratives can be difficult to pull off. There's been a resurgence of the genre lately, from The Sinner to several other Netflix series, and while this isn't an in-your-face action read, there's plenty of disturbing events and to keep this plot moving. I will say that when I came back to write my review, I had forgotten this was categorized as Teens/YA because some of the subject matter is edgier and the voices were more sophisticated than I typically associate with the genre. However, that's not to say I didn't love Lo, and I think many younger readers will definitely relate to this inner turmoil and gray-area fear she emanates. In terms of suspense, I would say there's a general uneasiness Summers captures well in the tone, but there are points that read a little dense. I also wasn't surprised at the trajectory, especially after the coverage of NXIVM. As a native of Upstate NY, it was impossible to miss the news and articles about the charismatic cult leader and the dealings that paralleled this narrative in many ways. I don't foresee this being an issue for readers, however, as Summers' writing is sharp and insightful, focusing on tragedy, grief, and the power of sibling love. Overall, The Project is a taut, quiet thriller that examines many relevant issues and will be one to add to your 2021 TBRs. Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.


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