3.9 out of 5 stars
Asylum is a 2013 young adult supernatural-thriller novel written by American author, Madeleine Roux. It is set in the location of New Hampshire College Prep – a college which was established on the site of an abandoned mental asylum. Sixteen-year-old loner Dan Crawford has been sent to attend a summer program for prospective students and soon meets two friends, Abby and Jordan, with whom he discovers the secret of the dorm house. Local whispers and an unlocked off-limits room reveal that their dorm house was once the building used to hold the criminally insane, and as the trio dig deeper into the mysteries surrounding why they were really drawn to this school, a murder takes place in the style of the institutes most famous patient. He’s supposed to be dead though. With no memory of what really happened on that night, Dan begins to question his own sanity and tries to seek the truth before the killer strikes again.
My time reading this novel was quick but each time I picked it up, I did tend to question why I was even reading it.
I absolutely adored the concept. Asylum is another story that is based around a series of photographs found by the author. The location, characters and scenarios all fit along with the images. Some seemed incredibly and obviously fake, which ruined the immersion of the story. It felt as though Roux had flicked through Google images or the clip art section on Word and picked out the creepiest images she could find. It felt rushed and not thought through. I wished that the story had been done in a different way because the idea was what drew me in. I thought that I would be getting my hands on an interesting and original novel – but what I was delivered was nothing short of an underdeveloped attempt to cash-in on the presentation style of novels like Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.
I am well within my rights to point out that fact as on most websites selling or publicising the novel it’s first line of description is: Asylum is a thrilling and creepy photo-novel perfect for fans of the New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Having read Miss Peregrine before I had even purchased this novel, I was really looking forward to getting my teeth into a similar style of story. It had all the promise of being similar yet original – they have two completely different locations, ideas and characters but the main feature that was sticking them together was the imagery. Unfortunately, where Miss Peregrine really stood out to me and made me want to keep reading even when I had finished the final page, this novel felt as though it had no direction and fell completely on its face. Some may call it unfair to compare the two novels, but if you are going to publicise your novel by calling it perfect for fans of one specific book then you are going to have to deal with the backlash when the novel turns out to be not as great as it was hyped up to be.
The three main characters are somewhat likable yet not very original. It’s told in third-person but mainly focuses on Dan Crawford. Dan is a sixteen-year-old social outcast and feels totally out of place at high school so sees this retreat to summer school a blessing in disguise and a chance to make some real friends. He felt like a cookie-cutter male protagonist and something that started off in a John Green novel and tried to take a wander through a Darren Shan story. He’s incredibly awkward and when he first meets Abby and Jordan, the interactions he has with them made me want to punch him in the face. He was borderline ‘Nice Guy’. His obsessive behaviour starts to unravel as the novel progresses and you learn little facts about him that only really come up when the plot needs someway to progress. For instance, a standard for most YA protagonists is having a slightly strained relationship with parental figures. I’ll admit I was pleased to see some representation of alternate families in this novel as you learn that Dan was actually fostered by the people he calls his parents. He also has a history of fainting spells and memory black outs which makes him the prime suspect when the murder happens. His parents are worriers which annoys him and thus annoys me when I want them to stop fussing and him to stop being so ungrateful.
Abby reminded me of a less erratic Alaska (from John Green’s novel Looking For Alaska). She’s a bright girl who loves art and is almost always wearing clothes with paint splatters or generally filthy from art supplies. At first she seems like an amazing character and I did like her – but then she, like the rest of the novel, takes a turn to the point of stupidity. I admire her interest in the abandoned office room – it was nice seeing a girl take charge for once in an exploration section and the guys acting scared – however, her secrecy in events from that point on (and this goes for the other characters as well) is downright annoying. Her family is tied to the asylum as well as Dan’s, and she came in the hopes of finding some answers for her father – though she only reveals this in detail much later in the novel as well as the fact that her father really didn’t want to know the things she discovered. Her mood turns darker and she has a complete flip in character.
I understand the point of the novel is to question a person’s sanity but everything was done so heavy handedly that there was no transition. One moment she was happy, the next she was abandoning her friends for a new group and acting completely cold. Plus, the little romance and tension between her and Dan was so unnecessary.
The final member of the trio honestly felt as though he was just there to fill space and add a bit more diversity. Jordan was the token gay character. I felt as though he could have been handled so much better. He never acts stereotypically so I’ll give Roux credit for that, but how he’s introduced gave him that ‘token’ label for me. The situation went: Dan likes Abby, Abby introduces Jordan, Dan is jealous of Jordan’s closeness with Abby, Jordan can tell just what he’s thinking by the stupid way he’s acting and says she would never ever be his type. It has to be said outright that he’s gay. That had to be made a specific point which was completely unneeded. It could have been done in a much simpler and subtler manner but Roux chose to have it so that it was clear this was no love triangle and the wannabe Alpha male of the group could feel less threatened in his attempts to get with the first available girl he meets.
Other characters flit in and out of the story when they need to – some of which end up having major roles but because they were so underdeveloped I really didn’t care about them. Some were meant to be going through ordeals and torment but I couldn’t bring myself to care about them.
I couldn’t fault the grammar though the pace of the writing was so incredibly off-putting. I couldn’t find any errors as I had done in other novels but, as I said, the pacing in the novel went from slow to slower to punch-you-in-the-gut sudden then back to slow again.
It leaves off with a slight cliffhanger so I will be purchasing its sequel, Sanctum, eventually but for this novel I was left slightly disappointed. So many questions were left unanswered and aspects of the story felt incomplete. It just felt a little lackluster. Was this place haunted? Were they crazy? What was Abby doing? Ghosts? Did Yi die? It left so many plot holes that really should have been cleared up before the story ended.
It’s a nice little introduction into this style of reading but there are novels out there already that do this better.