Horror, Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Project 17: by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Publish Date: December 18th, 2007
Number of Pages: 248 Pages
Publisher: Hyperion
Genre(s): Young Adult, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror

Total Star Rating: 3.25 Stars

Who hasn’t had the urge to break into an old building that’s probably haunted? Imagine talking this over with your friends:

Let’s go film a movie, make some creepy scenes, put the hot girl right in the main shot to get views, and maybe ignore those footsteps we keep hearing, the shadows that keep moving, or maybe the bloody graffiti that spelled “GET OUT” back there…nothing can go wrong, right?

So I will be honest, I have not read this book in quite some time. In fact, the last time I ever opened the pages was probably 2009-2010, and even then it was purely for nostalgia, because this book holds a special place in my heart. As cheesy as it sounds, it was a key that opened up a time of my life that I look back on rather fondly. You’re really interested and want to hear the story???

I know you don’t, but screw it, here it goes:

It’s 8th grade, and me and my classmates get into groups for a big english project in making a short film. There’s groups of 5-6 students, and one of my partners, Shelby, introduced this book to our group when we were still figuring out what to do. None of us had ever read it, but it inspired us to make our own version of it, which was basically a cheap, god-awful Blair Witch Project knockoff with no plot other than random kids walking a dark hallway and things pop out and scare the crap out of them. I can say though, we got creative and ripped a doll’s head off, hung it by a string and shined a strobe light on with a creepy recording of a girl saying “Baby Debbie come to play, Baby Debbie come to DIE,” the last word going demonically low, which got quite a few laughs from the classmates that watched it.

The point of this story is what it did, which was surround me with a group of girls: Vy, Jenna, Melodi, Shelby and Rachel; it had us hang out a lot outside of school, and helped make some great memories that made me feel like I’d found a small group of actual friends for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, I lost contact with pretty much all of them thanks to high school and then moving away for college, but It was still one of the best parts of my life! Thanks girls! I doubt you’ll ever read this, but from the bottom of my heart and to quote Fall Out Boy, Thanks for the memories!

I apologize to everyone else; there was just a lot of backstory with this book as it’s got a lot of sentimental value to me, but now onto this actual book itself!

What It’s About:

This story is about Danvers State Hospital, an abandoned insane asylum atop Hathorne Hill just off the edge of Boston. It was rumored that the lobotomy was created there, and hundreds of unmarked graves littered the grounds of those that perished away within the cold, hard walls; their spirits haunting the dark and ominous halls. The building is about to be torn down, and all the memories and restless souls lost forever.

This story is about six teenagers who make one last appearance before the building is demolished, and they all have their own reasons for being there:

Derik is the popular guy with the less-than-stellar reputation when it comes to girls, and has been an underachiever because he knows he’s pretty much trapped into taking over the family diner unless he makes something of himself past graduation. He falls upon a film competition with prize money; it may be his last chance at a better life.

Liza is the smart, gorgeous, unattainable overachiever who has perfect grades, her transcripts for college all spick and spam, shiny and perfect except for one thing…she never really did any extracurriculars. Colleges look to see how students get involved; it’s not just about good grades and test scores anymore; maybe a student film being made is her chance to beef up her resumé?

Mimi is a rebel, an outsider, someone who doesn’t belong, and has people look at her funny because she wears all black and has lots of makeup and piercings on her face. She tries to hide it, but she has a personal reason for wanting to get into Danvers before it’s demolition, and despite the company, she volunteers to join Derik’s project.

Chet is the class clown, can’t take anything seriously, and usually makes just about everything into a sexual innuendo, but if he has to go back to that house where his father hits him almost every night, he might just hit his breaking point…whats another night out of that house and away from his drunken father’s fists?

Greta and Tony are the theater nerds who don’t know the boundaries of PDA…They are looking for any chance to get their made-up crowns onscreen in some way, and this project that Derik has started may or may not be their ticket to fame…

They all come from different social circles, but they all come together and break into the abandoned hospital on the eve of its demolition and film their adventures. Maybe they’ll get a few souvenirs to bring home, make a fun movie, but things quickly take on a darker, twisted and more ominous tone as strange occurrences keep happening: cold spots in the basement, film and audio equipment malfunctioning, doors locking on themselves, and the feeling that they may not be alone…

Soon, they find themselves trapped in a deadly scavenger hunt as they unravel some of the terrible secrets this hospital had kept locked and hidden until now, and a mystery that surrounds a specific inmate and the importance of the number 17 that keeps showing up all over the place. Together, they will work together to try and help one lost soul hopefully find their way, and have the night change them all forever…

What I Liked:

  1. The Research Done About Danvers! So fun fact, but Danvers was actually a real place! It was an insane asylum that was fully constructed in 1874, opened in 1878, then eventually closed down in 1992. It was actually demolished like they talk about in the story, and was also the setting in the horror flick, Session 9, which filmed on the actual ruins of the building. I never watched it, and I hear it’s much more gruesome than this novel, but remains of the very few visual pieces that showcases the actual site of the hospital. The author really seemed to have done her research on the building and its tragic history, including its well…questionable methods of therapy, and implemented it incredibly well into her story. She touches on the horrific past of malpractice of the patients that were admitted to places like Danvers and plenty of others back in the day.
  2. “The Breakfast Club” Trope! Some could argue that it’s played out, boring, and overdone, but I always appreciate books that have a cast of characters that normally don’t interact with each other, but are somehow forced together by some sort of force or plot point, whether it be in after-school detention, or you know…illegally breaking into an abandoned asylum to make a short student film. The cast of characters are nothing original (The popular jock, the theater nerds, the clown, the princess, etc.) but they make for reading the book to be enjoyable while touching on the issues of rumors and reputation while trying to survive high school in a more modern setting than a John Hughes’ 80’s teen classic.
  3. The Mystery Around Christine! So while they explore the hospital (collecting files, souvenirs, graffiti from over the years, gathering footage, and even discover a bathtub with bars enclosed over the top), they discover the diary of one of the patients from many years ago, a young girl named Christine. Through the diary, the dark secrets of Danvers comes to light and the teens find themselves on a hunt through the whole hospital of finding out what happened to her and if they can possibly put her spirit to rest.
  4. It’s A Quick Read! This book is lighter in volume, so it’s a good choice for more beginner level readers, or someone who just needs a quick, fast read that’s somewhat entertaining. For the speedier readers, you may even be able to finish this book in one setting! The ending is also quite satisfying and ties everything together quite well, especially for Mimi.
Danvers State Hospital, circa 1893, image credit to owner

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It’s Not Creepy Enough…If you’re looking for something to really scare the crap out of you, make you afraid to walk into any dark room or make you need to leave the light on while you sleep, this book is not for you…It’s pretty basic and safe in terms of violence, gore or any other sort of horror aspects. There are some creepy moments, sure, but nothing that really seems too shocking for someone who’d consider themselves a veteran of the horror genre.
  2. Too Much Plot Convenience…While I can excuse the cliché characters, one thing that irked me was how easy and convenient it was for the characters to find patient’s files, equipment, props, etc. especially when it was integral to the plot. Like, it felt so choreographed that important documents just happened to be lying around on the floor, conveniently waiting to be discovered by them when they popped into the room, and it had classified information towards the malpractice of the doctors and nurses… The building’s been closed for quite some time by the time they get there, shouldn’t the place be leached out by then? Or the Documents have been shredded or something?

Conclusion:

While it’s pretty basic in terms of horror and creepiness, it’s still a quick and fun read for someone who’s looking for something along the lines of creepy, paranormal fiction. The characters are nothing new or original, but they make for a familiar and funny little escape for those that’d open the pages and give this book a try. It’s a good starting point for those that hate to read, but still need something to read for whatever reason, like an easy book report. It’s not deep and meaningful, it’s just fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

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