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.
I was really excited to read Asylum. I love watching all the ghost hunting shows on cable. The creepiest — and best — episodes are usually the ones where the hosts explore abandoned hospitals and mental hospitals. Those old, empty wheelchairs left sitting in the hallway (or placed there for production) get me every time!
Unfortunately, Asylum doesn’t quite live up to my expectations. While I don’t hate it, I don’t love it either. I feel like it has so much more potential but it doesn’t quite make it. The plot is good and creepy, but the characters are not particularly well developed. There’s nothing interesting about any of them, even the main character Dan. I don’t feel like I got to know him well or can connect with him at all. Better characters would make me more interested in what happens to them. Though socially awkward, Dan immediately makes two friends in his new environment, which doesn’t make much sense. So he’s socially awkward but he has no trouble making new friends? Jordan in particular doesn’t seem to have much to do, especially as Dan and Abby grow closer. His character may as well be left out entirely, even though he’s the one with the most interesting backstory (what little of it there is). Dan’s romantic relationship with Abby isn’t very interesting either. It’s forced rather than allowed to develop naturally. It happens so quickly but I never really come to understand why they like each other.
I am both intrigued and terrified by the idea of transforming an old asylum into a college dorm. I wouldn’t want to live there, that’s for sure! It seems strange that the college would house high school students there for the summer when it’s not fully renovated yet. The regular dorms are being renovated, but would a school really renovate all of them at the same time? That’s a huge project. What if the work isn’t complete by fall semester? Is there no summer school other than the high school program? It’s a plot contrivance that the one building available to house this program is the abandoned asylum.
Yet the plot is the strongest part of Asylum, and it’s what kept me reading. Dan, Abby, and Jordan get into trouble exploring the older, locked-but-easily-broken-into part of the building. They immediately uncover some creepy photographs of former mental patients and find a hidden passageway that leads them deeper and deeper into the asylum’s basement, where they soon discover that horrible things happened to the patients. When strange things start happening in the dorm, Dan has to wonder if there’s a connection with the basement and what happened there.
The end of Asylum is left open for the possibility of a sequel. I many ways I hope there is one, because I think there’s more story to be told. I just hope that if there is, that it’s a better book, the characters are developed more fully, and it’s able to reach the potential I see in this story.
Finally, Asylum is a photo-mystery book, but the photos are not very easy to see on my not-so-new Kindle. Someone with a print copy or a more recent e-reader might not have that problem, but because I did, the photos don’t add much to the reading experience for me.