Book Review: THE INSTITUTE by Stephen King
In his latest best-seller The Institute, literary horror meister Stephen King gives his take on the dystopian novel with a dash of the banality of evil to spice things up. Mixed together, these ingredients end up as an absorbing, chilling book that could be easily ripped from today’s headlines.
The story focuses on Luke Ellis, a young boy who is mysteriously kidnapped from his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is taken to a place located in Maine called – generically enough — “The Institute”.
Run by a severe-looking school marm-like individual named Mrs. Sigsby, The Institute houses wayward or abducted children who possess either telepathic (TP) or telekinetic (TK) powers. The objective of The Institute that Mrs. Sigsby and her staff of abusive goons is to employ torture and mind control tactics that are used in insane asylums and the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay to exploit the extraordinary mind powers of its young inmates, so that they could be used “in service” to their country. Although their stays in The Institute are brief, the child inmates dread the process, which includes getting a microchip implanted in their ears, and culminates in being sent to “The Back Half”, which they dread, because that means getting their memories of The Institute wiped out before they are sent back home.
Although Luke makes friends with many of his fellow inmates such as Kalisha, Avery, Nick George and Iris, he realizes the fiendish ulterior motives of The Institute, where obeying orders gets you tokens, and disobeying them gets you harsh physical punishments. Regardless of the painful consequences, Luke constantly rebels against The Institute’s draconian system. When he befriends Maureen, The Institute’s cleaning woman who is the only staffer who is sympathetic to the kids, and discovers her dark past that’s connected with The Institute, Luke decides that he must escape this hell on Earth before it destroys him. And an ambitious, feverish manhunt that is led by Mrs. Sigsby that climaxes in a violent showdown in the small backwater South Carolina town of DuPray, hopes to not only capture Luke Ellis, but to quash any effort of revealing what The Institute is all about to the public.
Reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things and the recent headlines of refugee children being forcibly held in detention camps in the southwestern U.S., The Instituteis a heart-stopping, frightening tale of how children are detained and exploited against their own wishes for the nefarious purposes of a higher power. Many parallels can be made while reading this book with the characters and situations, but thanks to Stephen King’s masterful way of crafting a story, he certainly knows how to make the ordinary and mundane a terrifying experience. And this is strongly exhibited in The Institute.
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