I wanted to read something different than I normally read, so I picked up The Project by Courtney Summers. I had read Sadie from Courtney Summers a few years ago and remember really liking it, so I wanted to see if this one would be just as good. While it didn’t read like a thriller, it did leave me with a lot of things to think about. If you need a thriller story that will test your understanding of the human psyche, then this is the book for you!
Here’s More About the Book
Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.
When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.
Alright, I’m going to try and do this without spoiling the book. I wasn’t surprised at all by the big reveal towards the end of the book, but it did tie so well into the rest of the story. Truly, this story really blew me away with how suspenseful Courtney Summers laid out the book, but I was also so intrigued by The Unity Project, the mental state of all the characters, and how someone could be enticed to join what feels so obviously a bad idea.
I was expecting this book to be a thriller with a central villain and a central main character that was targeted by said villain. However, I got a completely different book. Yes, it was suspenseful and it did have some thriller-y components to it, but I felt like this book was much darker than just a villain coming out to get you. If you’re looking for a more traditional thriller book, this isn’t going to be it. Instead, it’ll make you think. It’ll make you wonder who truly saves you when you’re having a rough time with life.
The first part of the book reads like your typical thriller. There’s a dual timeline; one present and one past timeline that’s slowly making its way to the present. The way that it’s written gives you that suspenseful feeling because of the marked time moving forward. There’s also very little information. It was also written in dual narratives; Lo and Bea. Lo’s narrative is the present one as she uncovers more about what’s happening in the Unity Project while Bea’s is the past one as she shares her side of the story. There were a few threads you had to follow along like Lo trying to get this story about The Unity Project while also looking for her sister. There’s also her sister’s story and where that leads. But then you also have Arthur who lost his son to the Unity Project and how he wants someone wants to expose the group. And on top of that is all the mist hiding the secrets behind The Unity Project. While some threads did seem to fall off, others did carry through the rest of the book and really painted this intriguing picture.
For all intents and purposes, it sounds like The Unity Project is just another cult trying to prey on young people who’ve experienced trauma in their life. It’s based on Christianity, but also renounces religion because Lev Warren, their leader, believes himself to be the savior of humanity. Throughout the novel, there’s a lot of references to God and Christianity and how if you do good, then you’ll be able to walk the same path, except the path is with Lev Warren. It wasn’t too heavy on the religion, so if you’re not a fan of religious stories, then this won’t bother you. However, it is a topic that comes up a lot.
I thought it was interesting how this plays out and I appreciated Lo’s perspective to keep you as the third party instead of having you fully believe that Lev Warren is God. I can see the appeal for folks to join The Unity Project, but as you continue through the book and you slowly see the reveal it suddenly becomes less enticing. In fact, by the end of the book, I had my hands in fists.
What I found interesting is that the enemy here isn’t any one specific person. Yes, you can say that Lev is this bad guy, but Courtney Summers really makes you question that as well. We, as outsiders, all think that cults are bad. Every cult that’s existed in American history has ended in some terrible way and it turns out their leaders are borderline insane. But this book explores the other side of being in a cult and that makes you think. If so many people believe in what he’s saying and find comfort and solace in his help, then how can he be such a bad person?
I found myself asking this question throughout my read. I loved that Courtney Summers gets into this and makes you question the widely adapted belief that cults are bad. But they help people. They give people purpose. They help those who need help and save those from a world that hasn’t been kind to them. This was so obvious at the end. When everything is said and done (trying to avoid spoilers here), how the folks from The Unity Project reacted to what happened really made me pause. You would think that a place that does bad things would ultimately be happy to escape from it, but these folks weren’t and that was the most interesting part.
I truly appreciated Courtney Summers for writing a thriller that stepped outside the box of what a typical thriller is supposed to look like. She definitely kept the suspense going and while I felt there was a lull in the middle of the book, I was never not hooked to this story and what happens at the end.
I received a gifted copy of this book from Wednesday Books. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.