When Courtney Summers won the Edgar Award in the Young Adult category for her 2018 novel Sadie, long-time fans such as myself nearly stood in ovation. Here was a book that took serious chances and really said something to readers – both young and old. Since then, we have waited patiently to see how Courtney Summers would follow up this success and next week she releases The Project. Believe me when I tell you it was more than worth the wait.
At the core, The Project is a story of sisters – Beatrice (Bea) and Glory (Lo) Denham. When a tragic car accident takes their parents from them and leaves Lo at death’s door, it seems that all is lost forever. But then along comes Lev Warren, the spiritual leader of The Unity Project, making promises to the vulnerable Bea. When Lo eventually wakes in the ICU, she learns that her parents are gone (dead) and her sister is gone (left); Bea has joined The Unity Project.
Several years later, working a grunt job at a highly controversial magazine, Lo stumbles upon what she hopes can be her first big journalist assignment. After witnessing a suicide on her way to work, she discovers that the victim’s father believes that The Unity Project is at fault. The fact that this boy called out Lo’s name before he jumped onto the subway tracks links this back to Bea and sets Lo on a journey to save her sister – and herself.
Granted unparalleled access to Lev Warren and The Unity Project, Lo’s exposé proves to be more complicated than she could ever imagine. Every step is a potential trap and Lo, for all her single-mindedness, is still in an extremely vulnerable state.
Readers know that Courtney Summers isn’t going to take the easy path – nor even the predicted path – with her novels and The Project is no different. This is a difficult read in the sense that the scars, both literal and figurative, are very near the surface. Anyone who has ever wondered about how cults work and what types of people are susceptible to them will find much to explore in The Project; but trust me when I say that you may be surprised.
To narrow The Project down to a “cult novel” is unfair. It is really a book about self-discovery, trauma, faith, and family and uses the cult as a powerful backdrop upon which all of that unfolds. Courtney Summers is a beautiful writer; she crafts sentences that sing while they mine for emotion that wants to stay buried by ultimately must be torn asunder. Forget trying to mount a defense against the hypnotic power of The Project.
Who knows where Courtney Summers will go next, but I know that her fans will follow her anywhere and we will be justly rewarded.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.