Author: Madeline Roux
Publication Date: August 20, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Genre: YA contemporary, mystery, photo-mystery
Summary: For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it’s a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.
As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it’s no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.
☆: 1/5 stars – you tried, Roux. You tried.
Review: I was kind of excited about this one, guys. With books like “Miss Peregrine” and “Blackbirds” out there, the “photo-mystery” genre is starting to grow, and really interesting stuff is coming out of it. Sadly, “Asylum” is another case of wasted potential concerning how Roux used the photos for her mystery, and more. I wish I could recommend this one, but I just can’t.
So, Usagi, what’s the problem, you ask? Pretty much everything. I read an ARC copy of this book, and it felt like above all else, it needed at least one or two more edits or drafts for everything to really start clicking into place. The photos kind of felt thrown in, not really helping to contribute to the creepy factor the prose was trying so hard to express, and generally, everything felt very disjointed and pretty bland. So the prose by itself was already full of issues, but throwing in the creepy pictures (which weren’t very creepy, to be honest)? Just kind of elevated it to a whole new level of boring.
The world: this was probably the best constructed of all of the technical elements, but it still felt very 1D, and it felt like the characters and the photos were constantly being used to prop up the world. There was a hint of creepyness, but for the most part, the characters made the world, and they were even flimsier. It felt like a house of cards, one technical element trying to prop up the next, and it all felt very fragile. The atmosphere in some of the scenes (like sneaking down to the sealed off part of the asylum in the beginning) was actually really well-written with some very vivid an excellent sensory language, but it wasn’t really kept up. There was a whole lot of telling, not a lot of showing, and generally was just really frustrating.
The characters: As previously mentioned: very weak, not very well constructed, and if anything, felt very typical teenager. It felt as if the author was trying to channel her inner teenager, trying to use the words that teenagers words, kind of shoving them in their mouths. I wasn’t very invested in anyone, and I couldn’t connect to our MC (or main cast) at ALL. Which is a huge issue, definitely requiring another draft/edit to make me care.
The sensory language: there were moments where the sensory language was really well done, but that’s all they were – moments. It needed to be extended more throughout the novel as a whole, and that didn’t happen. It generally felt like I was just reading a first draft. I’m not entirely sure how that got into ARC form as that manuscript was, considering how many issues I found with it.
Final verdict? If you’re looking for a better photo-mystery, I’d go with “Miss Peregrine” instead. But that’s just me – I’m insanely nitpicky. I think some that are just dipping their toes into the photo-mystery genre pool may like this one. “Asylum” is out now from HarperTeen in North America, so go ahead and check it out when you get the chance, and see how you feel about it.