Hi friends! I received an ARC of this book from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book won’t be published until February of 2021, but feel free to read my spoiler-free review and add it to your list if you’re interested! Although I received this book for free, all thoughts and feedback are my own.
Synopsis & Quick Thoughts
The Project is the second book I’ve read by author Courtney Summers, the first one being Sadie, which I enjoyed a moderate amount. Her newest novel follows Lo, a young woman whose family was torn apart by a devastating car crash when she was a child. After the accident that killed their parents, Lo’s older sister Bea joins The Unity Project, a religious organization with a focus on service and outreach. Lo attempts to expose The Unity Project for what she believes it truly is – a cult – and reunite with her sister. But after meeting with their charismatic leader, Lev Warren, the line between truth and fiction becomes blurred.
After a number of days have passed and given me the ability to reflect on what I’ve read, I can still say that I’m still not sure what to think about this book. It’s a little too thrilling to be a contemporary, but a little too slow to be a thriller. I feel like I’m left with a novel that builds too slowly to an insane climax, and while I liked the story a good amount, the wildly inconsistent pacing made this difficult to get through.
The themes that this novel explores are really fascinating and intriguing to me. I really enjoy learning about cults and what gets people to join and stay in one, especially the connection between cults and religion. The perspective we get by this story being presented in the first person helped to highlight the techniques that these organizations use on people and the conflicting emotions that they can bring forth within a person, even those who are skeptical.
To an extent, I also appreciated the slow burn that this plot had (or at least the idea of it). I think it really exemplifies the hold that cults can have on a person and the subtle build leading to the climax and answers to the questions we’ve been chasing for the entirety of the plot. The last 10% of the book had me thrilled and on the edge of my seat the entire time.
Generally speaking, I enjoyed Lo and her characterization. I really enjoyed Lev and his character development and the mystery and distrust surrounding him. The writing was well done and the environments were descriptive and very easy to become immersed in. I also enjoyed the ending and thought it wrapped up neatly without being unrealistic.
The biggest issue I had with The Project was its pacing. As stated, I don’t mind novels with a slow, burn; I think it’s one of the best ways to build suspense in a thriller. With that being said, however, I feel as though the plot didn’t get rolling until about halfway through the novel. I think this might have been okay if the novel were marketed as more of a contemporary, but I went in expecting a thriller and felt as if I didn’t really get one until over halfway through the book. I also didn’t love the alternating perspective and time skips in this novel. I felt although the events told from Bea’s point of view were important to the story, it was somewhat confusing and following the jumps and changes took more effort than I was expecting (but maybe that’s just me!).
One of the smaller things that didn’t decrease my rating but is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to writing. I really can’t stand when authors put modern day references into their works. I’ve had long talks with various people about why I feel like this, but I think it has to do with my sense of escapism and the idea that it instantly dates the novel I’m reading. The Project includes references to Slack and the Trump administration, among others, and it felt very “hello fellow kids” in a way I didn’t enjoy. These details didn’t add anything to the story and I think would have kept my immersion better if they’d been left off altogether.
Rating & Final Thoughts
This is the most unsure about a rating I’ve been in a while! For now, I think I’m going to rate The Project 3 out of 5 stars. It’s kind of the epitome of ambivalence. I like cult books and dark stories, but this almost seemed too little too late. The writing style was solid, but the characters and the plot just couldn’t get me to care one way or another. If you’re a Courtney Summers fan, check it out. Otherwise, read Sadie instead.