The Project: Sadly Disappointing

*I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher. All quotes used in this review come from the uncorrected proof. These are my personal, honest opinions. Thank you.*

2.5/5 Stars

Author: Courtney Summers

Publisher/Imprint: Wednesday Books

Edition: Paperback ARC, 346 Pages

Hardcover Publication Date: February 02, 2021

A Spine that Shines? Meh


Book 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.

Book Review

‘Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make – and no one but the two of you can break.’

-Courtney Summers, The Project

Initial Thoughts

Happy Tuesday, bookworms! What have you been reading lately? Today I finished reading my ARC of The Project. I am sorry to say I found it sadly disappointing.

First, I’ll note that I do understand every novel is the product of an author’s hard work and effort. That said, as a reviewer, I have a responsibility to present my honest opinions – whether negative or positive. This book just wasn’t meant for me. If it weren’t an ARC, I am fairly certain I would’ve DNF’d it. But I finished it in order to give it an honest review.

What Are Some Things That Went Wrong? (In My Opinion)

The Content

One issue is that I didn’t fully understand what the content of this book would be when I had requested it. The initial blurb I read was a bit shorter, and I didn’t realize it would focus so much on religious cult stuff. This book is about a young woman named Lo, who believes a religious cult called The Unity Project has cut her off from her sister Bea. Throughout the novel, Lo tries to expose The Project and its leader Lev Warren.

In terms of other content stuff, this book is marketed as a YA thriller. However, for most of the book, I was not “thrilled.” While reading, I felt alternately bored, uncomfortable, and repulsed. The majority of this book is less about an exciting mystery and instead filled with more psychological content, sex, and cult stuff. The pacing is pretty slow all the way until the final 40 pages, in which the story actually feels like a thriller. Unfortunately, these final 40 pages also felt a bit choppy and the ending a bit vague. Due to content, The Project also feels more NA/Adult rather than YA.

The Characters & Relationships

Unfortunately, I didn’t really connect with the characters. My two favorite characters were: a beautiful white dog and a little toddle girl who likes to draw circles. Here is a brief overview of some of the other characters:

  • Lo is our main girl. She dreams of being a reporter and seemingly has one goal in life: expose The Unity Project and their leader. After a miraculous recovery from a terrible childhood car accident, she lives as if the accident and her scars define her. She is determined to become reunited with her sister.
  • Bea is Lo’s sister who joined The Project after Lo’s accident. There’s not much to say about her. She makes some bad decisions, but ultimately realizes them in the end. The POVs sometimes alternates between Lo and Bea, but I wasn’t really invested in what happened to either of the girls until the final 40 pages.
  • Lev Warren is the leader of The Project. He claims himself to be God’s “redeemer.” I did not like him at all. His mind is manipulative and twisted. As a Christian myself, Lev’s awful misuse of the Holy Scripture made my skin crawl. True Christianity is nothing like Lev’s cult.
  • Lo’s character arc didn’t make complete sense to me. I don’t doubt the effects that a bad cult could have on a real person’s life, but one of Lo’s big decisions was not believeable to me because it felt out-of-character for Lo in particular. Lo makes a complete 180  regarding a specific thing, and I thought that her change was based on very little substance/proof. The author seemed to try to present Lo as a more intelligent character initially, so I thought Lo would’ve made smarter decisions.
  • The relationships in this book are very messy, especially because characters seem to seek out love and affection with the wrong people. The infatuation/sexual attraction (I will not call it love or romance in this novel) is repulsive for several reasons. But I’ll leave it at that so as not to spoil anything if you do plan to read the book.

But where is the line between what circumstances have turned you into and who you choose to be?

-Courtney Summers, The Project

Final Thoughts

This was my first experience reading a Courtney Summers novel. I’d heard a lot of hype about one of the author’s other books, Sadie. Thus, I was expecting more suspense in The Project novel than there was. But the most suspenseful portion was the final 40 pages. However, the pacing of the final 40 pages is choppy and skips around, leaving several gaps in time. Some events are later summarized, but we don’t get to experience them as they occur.

Finally, this book deals with many heavy topics (see content/trigger warnings below). Overall, this book has a GORGEOUS cover, but the story was not for me, and I personally wouldn’t recommend it. Other readers are free to feel differently of course. Have a lovely rest of the week and happy reading 🙂

*Content Warnings: Frequent use of the f-word; severe abuse/torture; car accidents; depression; a bloody pregnancy complication; suicide; burns; scarring.*

Copyright © 2021 by Spines that Shine (Caitlin Shaffer)

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Up Next on My TBR: The Gilded Ones (ARC)

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