Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Pages: 352, hardcover
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.
In The Project, Courtney Summers takes on cults and how people fall into them, to varying degrees of minimal success.
This will probably be my least favorite Courtney Summers book. While I found her technical writing style to be as good as ever, her character work is surprisingly not her strongest, especially when it comes to the main character, Lo. Bev’s story was far more believable than Lo’s, and we only get bits and pieces of it interspersed throughout the novel.
Considering how against The Unity Project Lo is, her slide into becoming entangled with the cult is unconvincing. She offers up very little fight even in the beginning. I do understand that Summers wanted to show that Lo is in over her head, which is why she frankly fails at being a journalist on her first outing, but there were several instances where I found her to be almost unbelievably gullible and just not very bright. On her very first meeting with Lev, she accepts and drinks a glass of water made for her by someone else in the cult. Maybe I’m just a suspicious person, but I found it hard to swallow that Lo, who is so suspicious of the Project, would drink something given to her by one of the members without stopping to be like, “Wait, could this be drugged?”
I also didn’t find Lev to be that compelling a cult leader or character. At least, I didn’t find him compelling enough that both Bev and Lo fall into lust with him and have sex with him. Which is also never brought up as a kind of, “Uh, hey, isn’t it kind of creepy that this dude in his late 30s is sleeping with an eighteen year old girl and then a nineteen year old girl?” thing. It happens and then no one, not even Bev and Lo, bring it up, internally or otherwise. To be fair, though, it’s probably incredibly hard to write those kinds of characters convincingly.
I think Courtney Summers just bit off more than she could chew in The Project, which is a shame, as she’s a skilled and experienced writer. But sometimes, even if you give it your best shot, the story just gets away from an author, and that’s what happened here.