Courtney Summers’ The Project tells a story about a cult that feels a little too real—and chills you right to the bone.
Gloria “Lo” Denham and her older sister Bea have always had a special bond, a bond that only sisters can share. However, Lo hasn’t seen her sister since a semi hit their family car six years ago, leaving their parents dead and Lo clinging to life in a hospital bed. Overcome by grief and fear of losing the only family member she has left, Bea is very vulnerable when she is approached by Lev, a young man who promises her peace and life for her sister—if she joins the Unity Project.
Now Lo is all alone, working for an up-and-coming news outlet as a secretary, dreaming of working as a news writer. One day while waiting for the train, she meets a young man who is part of the Unity Project right before he throws himself in front of a train. In the face of this tragedy, Lo sees her chance to write a viral story and finally gain her sister back.
To the eyes of most New Yorkers, the Project is a well-meaning charity, speaking a message of hope and providing extremely generous charity for those in need. But Lo is convinced that something lurks beneath the surface. Her sister would never leave her behind and cut off contact for no reason… would she?
At first, those high up in the Project don’t want anything to do with Lo. They know she doesn’t trust them, and though they claim they have nothing to hide, they fear she will twist them into something they are not. After significant pressure, however, they finally allow her full access to write a profile about their organization. Despite being highly suspicious, the more time she spends with Project members, the more Lo starts to wonder if there is some truth to the fiction. She always believed peace couldn’t be found on earth, but perhaps her prejudice has clouded her judgement. Perhaps she’s been wrong about the Project the whole time.
When I picked up my first Courtney Summer’s book, I was immediately pulled in by prose that never let me go. She places you right in the main character’s head, and her words not only flow seamlessly, but are cold, biting, and intense, just like the world they draw you into. The prose is unforgiving, and The Project is no exception. This prose also fit Lo, who I personally didn’t love. I found her hard to relate to, but I think she was a good fit for this story.
The area where this story shone was everything related to the Unity Project. Summers was able to capture all the nuances of a cult—both their perceived kindness and the sly dark underbelly. Each character offered a different view into the organization and how it affects peoples’ lives: some are cold and come from traumatic pasts, some are kind and long to see a better world. All are lost. Reading this novel was a sobering reminder of why cults are so prevalent in our society today.
Although I wanted to love this book, for some reason, I didn’t love it as much as Sadie. I’m still struggling to put my finger on it, but I think part of it stems from how the story is told. Half is from Bea’s perspective in her early days at the Project, and the other half is Lo’s in the present day. While hearing Bea’s thoughts was interesting, I felt that it took away from the pacing. Her parts were unnecessary and hearing them actually leached some suspense out of the reading experience.
That aside, I did love the sister aspect of the story. They do not interact over the course of the novel, but Bea’s guilt over leaving her sister and Lo’s resentment over being left are highly prevalent. It’s such a different sibling relationship from the one we usually see in novels, but that’s why I think I enjoyed it so much. It felt honest.
Overall, while this was not my favorite novel from this author, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and for fans of Courtney Summers or just wild rides, I highly recommend this book!