Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Project by Courtney Summers


The Project by Courtney Summers
Release Date - February 2, 2021
Publisher Website - Raincoast Books
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages - 352 pages
My Rating - 5/5
**received for an honest review from the publisher**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
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.

We tend to like to believe that we would never join a cult. We tell ourselves that we would never fall for what they are selling. Courtney Summers' newest novel asks you to question that belief and offers a thought provoking read in the process.

We usually only get to see the before picture when it comes to cults. We are let in after the smoke has cleared, the unthinkable has happened, and all that is left is shock. We rarely see the beginnings. Cults do not start out with extremes, it is a gradual turning of the dial. A dial usually controlled by a charismatic, intelligent leader who gently leads you down a darkening path.

The Project lets you see the before. It is a before that perhaps doesn't seem so bad. It is this fact that makes what Courtney Summers is doing here all the more remarkable.

Lev, the charming, well spoken leader of The Unity Project is undeniably compelling. He is complex and captures that indefinable thing cult leaders tend to have. He is able to make you think he knows exactly what you need and what will fill that ache in you. He is manipulative in a way that doesn't make you feel manipulated. He is controling but makes it seem like it is of your own free will. It is no surprise that people, women especially, are pulled into his orbit. The people are definitely there for him, and because of what he is saying, more than anything else. As a reader I think you buy into his bullshit for awhile and that fact is what makes the book resonate as much as it does. 

I have a lot of empathy for not just the character of Lo but the people who join the Unity Project. There is something that each of these people are searching for. Some fundamental thing they need and Lev offers this to them along with their fellow member. It can be very seductive to be offered salvation of some kind. I finished this book more sympathetic to the people who do find themselves ingrained in a cult because they are usually hurting in a way that we can all recognize and relate to. They could be us.

Courtney's books tend to have endings that feel honest even if you don't like the outcome. There is often an unfinished feel to them that allows the reader to fill in the rest. This ending is one of those classic Courtney Summers endings while still feeling different from anything she has done before. The book left me with a lingering regret that things could not be different.

I fully believe that Courtney Summers has written her best book yet. It definitely does what she promises and destroys you while making you question everything you thought about cults and those who join them.

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