As it happens at times, the synopsis of a book doesn't really do it justice. If I had picked up this book randomly and read the back cover, I might not have bought it. Good thing I first came across it on a blog review :)
High atop Hathorne Hill, near Boston, sits Danvers State Hospital. Built in 1878 and closed in 1992, this abandoned mental institution is rumored to be the birthplace of the lobotomy. Locals have long believed the place to be haunted. They tell stories about unmarked graves, cold spots throughout the underground tunnels, and treasures found inside: patients' personal items such as journals, hair combs, and bars of soap, or even old medical records, left behind by the state for trespassers to view. On the eve of the hospital's demolition, six teens break in to spend the night and film a movie about their adventures. For Derik, it's an opportunity to win a filmmaking contest and save himself from a future of flipping burgers at his parents' diner. For the others, it's a chance to be on TV, or to spend a night with no parents. But what starts out as a playful dare quickly escalates into a frenzy of nightmarish action. Behind the crumbling walls, and down every dark passageway, they will unravel the mysteries of the patients who once lived there -- and the spirits that linger on.
I really liked Project 17. Best part in my opinion, is the fact that Danvers State Hospital is an actual place, or was, before it was partially demolished and turned into condos. Can we say creepy? Do a Google search - you'll find some amazing pictures and descriptions of the place. It was empty for 14 years and I know of a few people who were among the brave trespassers during that time. From what I have been able to learn of the place, a lot of the random facts about Danvers that Stolarz includes in the book are true -- the practice of lobotomies, the use of hydrotherapy, the underground tunnels, and the fact that until it's renovation, patient files could be found discarded among the ruins. Also, I found a picture online of a broken American flag window, which one character comes across while exploring. Makes me wonder if Stolarz found the same image I did. In any case, it seems that she did her research.
As a novel, Project 17 is the story of 6 teenagers, brought together for various reasons, who attempt to spend the night at the abandoned facility before it is torn down. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. We have our main protagonist Derik. For him, the film he is attempting to shoot is his way out of a predetermined life in the family business. Chet's just looking for a good time while Liza needs some extracurricular activities on her resume to get into her dream college. Mimi has a personal agenda while Tony and Greta hope to become the next best reality TV stars. A strange mix of personalities but once they are alone at the hospital, they find they must work together in order to survive.
Project 17 is a great 'haunted house' thriller but in the end, the story is more about the characters discovering things about themselves and each other then it is about ghosts and mystery.
Young Adult Thriller
Hyperion Books (www.hyperionteens.com)
Published December 2007