Published: August 20th, 2013 | Series: Asylum Book #1 | Length: 313 pages | Genre: YA, horror, paranormal | Source: Bought
Summary from Goodreads:
Asylum is a thrilling and creepy photo-novel perfect for fans of the New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it’s a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.
As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it’s no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.
Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux’s teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.
Last year I bought Asylum after hearing a lot of people raving about it and deciding it would be the perfect Halloween read. Unfortunately, and for reasons I don’t remember, I didn’t get around to it last year but I decided to give it a go during the Halloween Readathon I’ve been participating throughout most of October. There were plenty of things that I enjoyed about Asylum, but there were two big problems I had with it as well.
First, the problems. As expected, this is not a book that’s very sensitive to mental health issues. I was expecting this going into the story since 99% of the time when books/movies/etc. are set in an old asylum, they’re not sensitive to mental health issues. 😛 This wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, but it still had the tendency to paint patients in asylums as violent and dangerous but in reality, this is far from the truth. Many patients were there because they were women whose husbands or fathers didn’t want to “put up” with their independence. For what it’s worth, the book also touches upon the horrors of asylums faced by the patients, especially lobotomies, but it was a bit disappointing in this regard too. The lobotomies were explained as a result of the warden’s own “insanity.” Because, of course, mental illness makes you violent and makes you want to hurt people and that’s the only possible explanation for why someone would perform lobotomies. Sigh. But, like I said, I was expecting a lot of this when I went into the book so I was mostly able to ignore it.
The other problem I had with this book was more about the writing itself: the pacing could have very much been improved. I think this is at least partially because this is the first book in a series and so, in a lot of ways, is setting up the events for the rest of the series. I’m hoping. With that said, the first half of this book has very little going on aside from the main character, Dan, and his two friends, Abby and Jordan, going and exploring an old wing that’s supposed to be off-limits to students (for context: the asylum has been converted into a dorm and they’re living there while attending a summer program at the college). A lot of the action and truly creepy parts of the novel happen in the latter half of the book. The last few chapters seemed like SO MUCH was going on and I couldn’t help but feel that it could’ve been paced a bit better.
Okay, enough of my complaints. The rest of this book was really great. I love creepy asylum stories even if they are insensitive to mental health issues and this was no exception. Our main character, Daniel, is constantly questioning his own mental health especially since he’s had problems in the past with dissociating and has had memory gaps. So as living in an old asylum starts to take its toll on him, Dan is hesitant to tell anyone because he’s worried how his parents or therapist will react.
Although a lot of the creepiness relies on stereotypes about mentally ill people, I still loved it. You just have to keep in mind that the stereotype of the mentally ill as violent is inaccurate. I still loved the creepiness, though. Trying to figure out what may have happened to all these patients, what made them violent, whether their ghosts were still hanging around and causing problems, etc. was all really fascinating and made me want to keep reading.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Dan’s friendship with Abby. I admittedly really loved Abby and how outgoing and quirky she was. I thought she complemented Dan very well, as he’s pretty shy and reserved and hesitates to open up to people. They’re complete opposites but it worked perfectly. I will admit I really didn’t like Jordan, Dan and Abby’s other friend. He just seemed too arrogant to me and there was this layer of fake nonchalance that just didn’t work for me. I really didn’t care what was happening to him and just wanted him to shut up.
Another thing I loved about this book were all the pictures that were incorporated into the book. It reminded me a little bit of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Pecular Children. A lot of the documents, letters, pictures, etc. that are talked about in the text are also shown in pictures which I thought was really cool and added a little bit extra to the book. They also help break up the reading and fly through the pages (although the chapters are short as is, so they shouldn’t be hard to get through).
Asylum had its problems but was still pretty enjoyable. I’m hoping a lot of the pacing issues were a result of this being the start of series and that the other books won’t feel as weirdly paced. Regardless, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. If you’re looking for a good, fast, creepy Halloween read, this may be a good choice for you – as long as you’re willing to overlook some stereotypic portrayals of people with mental illnesses.