The Institute (2019) Review

Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Length: 561 pages
ISBN: 1982110562

Goodreads rating: 4.2/5.0
My rating: 8.8/10


The Institute is a prime example of Stephen King’s range as a writer. While he may be the man best known for his twisted mind and ability to create the most horrific imagery of our generation, King has also penned some truly dramatic and genuine stories about humanity (Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, etc.). The Institute is a perfect blend of both.

Another unique quality of King’s is his capacity to take kids, put them in a truly terrible situation, and turn them into adults in just 500 short pages. Nobody writes from a child’s perspective in such a perfect manner (once again Stand By Me, It, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon) without actually being a child. He covers the naivety, the irrational hope in any situation and both the reliance on and defiance of authority that children go through as they mature. The Institute, by all means a young adult novel while also fitting into King’s familiar genre of horror/fantasy, sees our protagonist, Luke Ellis, go from normal pre-teen (albeit he’s a genius with psychic powers) to the hardened and competent mastermind of a mass escape from the world’s most secret child-torture operation.

Torn from his family without any precognition, Luke is forced to adapt to life in captivity with a group of other children who have similar abilities as himself. Not geniuses, but children with psychic powers of telekinesis and telepathy. Overtime, as you learn of the horrors Luke and his new forced-friends face, you also see the group develop a bond of friendship almost overnight. As Ulysses S. Grant (and many others) have said:

“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”

Luke and his friends do everything they can to resist the evil caretakers of The Institute before being transferred to Back Half, the mysterious and foreboding other building on the property where nobody knows exactly what’s happening. Crushes are formed, kisses are had, and powers are enhanced through a series of shots and immersion tanks. One by one, the gang is sent to Back Half leaving Luke and the youngest, but most powerful psychic minded child, Avery (better known as The Avester).

Without dropping spoiler after spoiler of the actual writing, Luke manages an impossible escape with the aid of Avery’s mental prowess and a decrepit and helpful (possibly from guilt) housekeeper. A long and lonely journey and one missing half-ear later and we find Luke in the rural town of DuPray, South Carolina where he meets our other protagonist, Tim Jamieson, a former cop with a sad past. The two connect from the start, backed by the DuPray police force and the town of DuPray itself. Another group of unlikely friends formed in adversity.

A real life chess match turned firefight ensues, as the town of DuPray comes to the assistance of Luke (“You’re in the South now!”). Luke outsmarts adult after adult, finally finding his way to the defeat the reprehensible Ms. Sigsby, the director of The Institute. Using her as bait, Luke and Tim find their way back to The Institute in an effort to set his friends free.

All the while at The Institute, Avery develops both newly realized power, and a new understanding that their power comes in numbers. He leads the rest of the kids in revolt against the caretakers, knocking most of them out before they find themselves trapped in between Front and Back Half. Sacrificing himself, he ensures an escape for the first friends he’s ever had in his life, a heartbreaking end for the sweetest and most wholesome child in the book.

Luke and Tim are able to rescue Kalisha, Nicky, George and Helen before we fast forward a few months into the future as the kids are being slowly reintegrated into what will hopefully be a new life for them.

Unbeknownst to myself upon taking up the reading, King also throws in quite a bit of allusion to the current political state of the United States, taking his shots at the political regime to a realm outside of his norm on Twitter. The uprising against such an establishment like The Institute and its government background makes me wonder if he’s trying to hint at something…

Once again, a fantastic read at the fingers of Stephen King. Not his traditional horror; this time around the torture and sacrifice of children at the hands of some horrible adults is almost more terrifying than what we’ve grown accustomed to. A tale of terror, ending in sentimental happiness for Luke and friends. King masters humanity as always, showing how personal bonds will never be outdone no matter the challenge they face.

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