Book Review: Asylum by Madeleine Roux
Dan Crawford spends the summer at prep school – boarding in a dormitory that used to be an asylum. We’ve all seen enough horror movies to know that this is never a good idea. He soon befriends Abby and Jordan, and they find themsleves exploring places that are “off limits”. Bizarre notes begin to appear. Tension builds. And as they explore what it all means they begin to question who they are, where they come from, and whether or not they were brought to the Asylum by chance.
Asylum is a great read for those who want a little bit of horror but don’t want to go hardcore. For me, I felt like Roux kept pulling back at just the last minute. For example, in one of the scenes in an off limits area freaky stuff starts to happen, the tension is building, and then the mc passes out and wakes up later. It was kind of a let down and a bit of a cop out. That probably makes the book more accessible to audiences, as it became more mystery/thriller as opposed to outright horror, but for those looking for true horror they may find themselves a bit disappointed.
If you are familiar with the novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, you will be acclimated to the use of black and white photographs to enhace a book. The found photos help tell the story, but they didn’t resonate with me as richly as they did in Riggs book. Perhaps, in part, because we are already familiar with Miss Peregrine and the photos used within its pages, but also perhaps because the photos here don’t have that same haunting quality as we find in Miss Peregrine. I would definitely recommend this to fans of Miss Peregrine.
In fact, my reading of Asylum was no doubt influenced by two important things: I had already ready Miss Peregrine and I had just finished watching the second season of American Horror Story: Asylum. So where the TV show went all out to horrify and repulse, a book written for the YA reader simply could not and it just didn’t compare in terms of terror. And trust me, there are quite a few teens who are, in fact, watching American Horror Story (though I would never recommend it). So while Roux would fade to black and pull back right before she got to the terrifying bits, other authors and media are all too willing to go there – including Ransom Riggs himself I feel (or Daniel D. Kraus). So Asylum was creepy and eerie, there were grotesque experiments and the like that you often find happened in older asylums, and at times it has strong thriller vibes, but I didn’t feel that it ever terrified me. I wanted to want to put the book down and hide under the covers trembling in fear, and I didn’t.
A friend from work read it right after me and she had the same complaint, Roux just kept pulling back right as the eerie factor was hitting its peak. For some readers, this is a safe bet to read some horror light (thought definitely not MG because of some of the themes and conversations between the characters). For others, it will be a disappointment. 3 out of 5 stars.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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