Asylum by Madeleine Roux
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013, 310
Asylum follows Dan during his summer at the New Hampshire College Prep program in fictional Camford, New Hampshire. Dan, his two friends Abby and Jordan, and other students will stay in the Brookline dorm, which used to be a mental hospital of sorts. As the three friends explore the dorm and learn more about the history of Brookline and Camford, strange things begin to happen. Dan receives anonymous letters with cryptic messages, Abby begins finding information about a lost aunt, and students are finding the bodies of their peers left in posed positions. It all points to 1960s serial killer, the Sculptor, but despite research and visions, no one believes Dan.
Admittedly, I decided to read this book for a few reasons — (a) It takes place in New Hampshire and I’m all about that home-state fiction, (b) One of the characters has my name, and (c) I’d heard it was reminiscent of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which I enjoyed well enough to give this novel a shot.
Asylum supports little-to-no character development throughout the novel. Dan’s character is inconsistent at best, which may be somewhat supported by his own apparent (and stated) mental illness, though does not quite add up. He goes from incredibly mature to immature within a matter of sentences if not words, and is never clearly defined in terms of personality. Abby hops off the cliché boat, taking on the artsy and disturbed manic-pixie-dream-girl trope with Dan chasing after her all the while. Jordan, perhaps, is the best of the three in terms of being an original character, but comes off as a third-wheel at all times. Other relationships among the characters are equally tired, as Dan struggles to understand his weird and inconvenient roommate, Felix, and wonders about the quirky and mysterious Professor Reyes.
Roux’s writing style is nothing to get excited about. Overall the sentence structure and vocabulary is not reflective of the target audience or cast of characters, nor does it support its “horror/thriller” tag. Roux throws in the occasional SAT word which makes the language even more uncharacteristic of its narrator (a third-person limited omniscient speaker) and its characters.
The plot of Asylum is equally underdeveloped and generally confusing. The end all but promises a sequel (and if that doesn’t, the “#1” after the title on Goodreads does), so it seems readers were deprived of plenty of information in the spirit of writing a series. However, rather than relying on a large story arc for a series and a small one that contributed to the larger arc for the novel itself, Asylum relies on just the one large arc, leaving the reader unsatisfied with the pseudo-conclusion.
If you’re looking for Miss Peregine’s again, this isn’t it. Like Miss Peregrine’s, pictures are included in the novel but lack a sense of authenticity. While the pictures in Miss Peregine’s are real photographs found with a story built around them, this is not the case for Asylum, which features photograph pulled from stock sites such as Getty Images. This move makes the plot of the novel far less creepy than it could be.