The Institute (2019) – Stephen King

Title:The Institute
Author:Stephen King
Publisher/s:Hodder & Stoughton
Date of publication:2019
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Luke Ellis is a highly intelligent twelve-year old boy who not only has the ability to absorb massive amounts of information, but he is also able to move things with his mind. One fatal night strangers come into his home, murder his parents and kidnap Luke. The next morning the boy with telekinesis will wake up in a room that looks eerily like his bedroom back home but most certainly is not. Luke finds himself wandering the halls and passageways of a place that is nothing like his home. He first meets sixteen year old Kalisha Benson chewing on candy cigarettes under a poster that reads JUST ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE. Kalisha becomes Luke’s guide to The Institute where children with extraordinary abilities like telepathy (and of course telekinesis) have been gathered together and are cruelly experimented on. Of course Luke will only learn this harsh truth much later, after he has met some of the other children, and discovered just how terrifying The Institute truly is.

Along with Kalisha whom Luke falls just a little bit in love with, there is Nick who doesn’t take any crap from anyone and is constantly being punished by the sadistic staff who seem to take great pleasure in tormenting the children. Then there is George who enjoys a good story and is prone to exaggerating, and Helen who is a little bit of a punk. Luke’s new friends teach him about the token system in which kids receive tokens in exchange for good behavior which they can use in vending machines that sell the usual candies and snacks, along with bottles of alcohol and packets of cigarettes. The children have no contact with the outside world, and even their access to the internet is controlled in such a way that anything deemed unacceptable (such as searching for information on your family) will be flagged, and you will be punished.

The Institute is run by Mrs Sigsby, whose cruelty can only be matched by her second-in-command, Stackhouse, and the numerous doctors that conduct the various experiments. Those with telekinesis are referred to as TKs whilst those with telepathy are the TPs, and those that work at the Institute are very good at convincing the stolen children that their abilities are helping save the world from all kinds of evil people. Besides Sigsby and Stackhouse there is also the mysterious Lisping Man whom no one at The Institute has ever met but who seems to be the one controlling this terrible place where horrifying things happen to children all the time.

Whether this is true or not, Luke and his friends are convinced that something really bad happens to the kids that are eventually sent from ‘Front Half’ (where they are now) to what they have called ‘Back Half’. No one ever returns from Back Half, and no one lasts in Front Half more than a few months. Whilst Luke is finally being exposed to the true cruelty of The Institute, time is running out for Kalisha, Nick and George.

A week or so into Luke’s stay, Avery Dixon a ten year old kid more powerful than anyone in The Institute, is brought in, and he becomes attached to Luke almost immediately. With the fear of being sent to Back Half hanging over the other kid’s heads, Luke and Avery are determined to keep their friends safe, and with the help of a housekeeper whose need to redeem herself has made her an ally, they begin to conjure up a plan that will hopefully save the children of The Institute.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring town of Dupray, South Carolina, Tim Jameison, a former policeman with a past (as they all are wont to have) is working as the resident ‘Night Knocker’ – a glorified security guard in the town where nothing really bad ever happens. Not originally from Dupray, Tim is just biding his time and not really planning on staying forever. With no warning Tim’s life will be altered forever when he comes face to face with Luke Ellis and his incredible story.

Stephen King has taken a little nostalgic trip back to his previous novels such as IT, Firestarter and the short story Stand By Me, and has made children the heroes in a very harsh and dangerous world. Much like in his previous stories, it is not necessarily their abilities or the presence of the supernatural that will end up saving the day, but rather the power of friendship, love, loyalty and the unwavering belief in oneself that will ultimately allow good to triumph over evil. This endearing thriller also showcases King’s own political stances and swipes at the last presidential administration, which if you’re a regular King reader (or Constant Reader as he affectionately refers to his fans) you will chuckle because if anything, King does not suffer fools.

The Institute is beautifully written in King’s signature style of balancing heart-warming and relatable characters, with the horrors that are not necessarily lurking in the shadows, but are sometimes right there in plain sight – and that, kids, is why it’s hard to convince grown-ups that the bogey-man does in fact exist. Thankfully we have Stephen King to keep things real.

2 thoughts on “The Institute (2019) – Stephen King”

    • If you enjoy a good thriller you will certainly love this one! Stephen King is a particular favorite, but I don’t think its necessary to be a consistent reader of his to enjoy The Institute.

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