By Madeleine Roux
Review By Jarad Johnson
Asylum was characterized as a gripping horror novel about teenager Daniel Crawford who attends a pre-college program at an asylum-turned-dormitory where students can take classes that prepare them for the major they plan to pursue. In the midst of this, he has vivid recurring nightmares and is retrieving strange, poetic messages as the weeks go by. As Daniel and two of his friends begin to uncover more about the Asylum’s grisly past, students at the dorms are being murdered, Daniel begins to wonder just who this killer is.
In my experience with writing, I find that sometimes I am so struck by an idea and am in such a rush to get it written down that I find myself not paying attention to the details of the text, but rather the whole picture. This is what I feel that the Author of Asylum did. She so clearly had a great, spooky idea for a story, but I think that the book was lacking in several areas that were possibly overlooked.
Firstly, the main characters themselves. The friendship between all of three felt very forced. The scenario the author presented was a two-month pre-college program that would prepare students for actual college. Daniel Crawford, from whose point of view the story is told, is a very awkward person with a history of mental illness, yet he instantly makes friends with two people the day after he arrives. I realize that they had to become friends, but this was just very unbelievable. Also, a predictable and unnecessary romance develops between Dan and Abby that I found superfluous. It didn’t really fit with the story in my mind.
The writing itself in this novel is something that I found to be a little problematic. I know that this book falls under that category of, “Young Adult,” fiction (or YA), but the simplistic style of writing speaks more of middle-grade than young adult. It made for a very fast read, but I would have liked to have seen just a little more complexity in this prose. This definitely shows that the novel is meant for a younger audience, but with most YA novels, there is something in them that can appeal to everyone. Unfortunately, while it is true that anyone can enjoy this novel, I don’t think this level of writing will keep the attention of more experienced readers.
There are some things that I do like about this book. One of the biggest problems in YA, and in fiction generally, is the lack of diversity and representation. I have to applaud Roux for doing the opposite of that. There were a diverse range of characters here; that is not to say, of course, that the author only included the characters to meet some sort of diversity quota, but by writing a cast of characters who are not all-white, it shows a broader world-view and more accurately represents real life. Also, keeping in mind that the book is aimed at a younger audience, I really like the inclusion of Jordan, a gay character. It is important for children to be able to see themselves, whether it be on tv or in a book. Jordan was an interesting character, full of his own flaws and demons, and the author never made his sexuality the only identifying trait about him, which is so vital when combating stereotypes.
Throughout the book, the author chose to insert vintage pictures from old asylums, adding to the creepy factor of the story. The pictures were not always directly related to the scene, but they did give a visual to what was going on. The pictures also showcase a grim reality; that some of our so called medical procedures were not only cruel, but barbaric, especially where asylums were concerned. Even one of the most controversial, “treatments,” that was heavily used during the 40’s and 50’s, electroshock therapy, is still administered to nearly one hundred thousand patients per year. Roux also featured a quote by one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, during the book that really stuck out at me. “Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.”
Overall, I think that the book was very much middle of the road for me. There were some aspects that I liked, but I do think that there are some elements that could use some work- the writing and the forced relationship between the main characters mostly. However, I think that a younger audience could potentially like it better. There is also supposed to be as sequel to Asylum, which surprised me. I do hope that the author improves with the next installment, because this had great potential.
Jarad attends Middle Tennessee State University, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad is majoring in English. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!