Luke Ellis would be a normal kid if it wasn’t for his special abilities, and eidetic memory. He is about to attend MIT at just twelve years old but instead becomes the latest child kidnapped and taken to a secret government facility isolated in a forest in Maine. He and his new friends become victims of abuse, and are subjected to a series of experiments because of their special powers (telekinesis and telepathy). Soon, however, they are joined by Avery Dixon whose telepathy powers are unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Luke teams up with him to plan an escape and save everyones’ lives before they are moved to the dreaded Back Half.
Meanwhile, in a small town in South Carolina, Tim Jamieson is looking for a quiet life after leaving the police force. What he doesn’t realise is that his path is about to cross with a young boy who will change his life forever.
This is only the 4th Stephen King book I’ve read but I’m honestly just dumbfounded at how great his work is. I realise that I haven’t even touched his more prominent novels but this just made me even more excited to dive into his catalogue. King has this incredible ability to build a world between the pages of his books that are so descriptive, yet leaves enough room for your imagination. Rarely am I able to picture things in my mind whilst I read but The Institute was one of those occasions – I have built this whole building in my head with a play ground, dorm rooms, a cafeteria, experiment floors and even a corridor to Back Half.
A central theme of The Institute is the idea of good vs evil and I liked how characters were justifying their side of the spectrum. Throughout the novel, we see the employees defend their child maltreatment because they really believe that it saves the world. When Luke first meets the head of the institute, Mrs Sigsby, she says “There’s a war going on and you have been called upon to serve your country… and if we lose, the consequences would be more than dire“. We see examples of this belief in later pages as we learn more about the work the institute does and we also find out that they are mostly ex-military. Which kind of explains why they are almost desensitised to the pain they are inflicting. Don’t get me wrong, some of these characters were just pure evil and enjoyed commanding respect in brutal ways but it was clear that the motivations for the majority were for “the greater good”. The children, on the other hand, who here represent the “good”, spend the majority of the novel believing that the experiments that they are subjected to are wrong – they refuse to believe Mrs. Sigsby’s justifications. All things considered, this could be seen as quite selfish which is expected from a group of kids. Children tend to live in the present and think only of their immediate situation, and how it is affecting them. Here, they see themselves as suppressed by the adults which is ultimately bad.
This feeds into another prominent theme in the novel; adults vs. children and the power struggle between them. At the start of the story, the employees at The Institute are seen as powerful with their “zap-sticks”, and “tokens” as positive reinforcement. They tell the kids when to go to bed, when to eat, when to go to the experimentation rooms…But as the novel goes on and Luke makes friends with Avery and Maureen (a sickly caretaker) and we start to see him realise his potential. Maureen doesn’t treat Luke like a child, but as an equal (maybe even a superior because of how smart he is). He starts to think more like his friend Nick who he admires for his rebellious nature. It kind of made me wonder if kids are more capable of understanding more than we give them credit for. Do we baby them too much and assume that they’re incapable of comprehending some things? If the kids were told about the real reasons behind The Institute, would they have been more understanding? (We do kind of see Kalisha have this moral dilemma towards the end of the novel). Anyway… the power switches to the children when Luke escapes. We all of a sudden see the same fear that the adults were inflicting on the kids, in themselves. We learn that they have seniors who they’re clearly afraid of, similar to how the kids see them.
There are some great characters in this novel, some of my favourites being Nick, Avery and Anne. Nick is your typical cool kid rebel who gave The Institute employees a hard time. We see his character develop throughout the novel and he becomes somewhat of a role model that the younger kids (even Luke) aspire towards. Avery is just the cutest boy ever. I just wanted to shrink him and keep his cute little telepathic self in my pocket (also how lit would it be having a telepathic friend. As long as he doesn’t enter my mind uninvited). Anne is also just the baddest bitch in DuPray. She had some great one liners and made me chuckle sometimes. She’s your typical controversy believing outsider, but not at all annoying.
I would highly recommend this novel if you want to read some King but aren’t prepared for the gore that he’s so well known for!
The Institute – Stephen King
Publication Date – 10/09/2019
Paperback pages – 576
Rating – 5/5