Mad House

Insanity, by Susan Vaught, (Bloomsbury)

“I wanted to like this book more than I did” is an overused opener for a book review, but…

I wanted to like this book more than I did.

The premise behind this book as described in its promo blurb could make for a great YA goth/thriller sort of read: “Never, Kentucky is not your average scenic small town. It is a crossways, a place where the dead and the living can find no peace. Not that Forest, an 18-year-old foster kid who works the graveyard shift at Lincoln Hospital, knew this when she applied for the job. Lincoln is a huge state mental institution, a good place for Forest to make some money to pay for college. But along with hundreds of very unstable patients, it also has underground tunnels, bell towers that ring unexpectedly, and a closet that holds more than just donated clothing….”

The opening chapter of the book is packed so densely with atmosphere—a stormy night, warnings about going out after dark, strange dogs—that, while it covers already much-trodden ground, it really grabs the reader. The first few chapters move at a pace that allows the reader to get to know Forest, to understand her dilemmas and admire her self-sufficiency. The problem is, this isn’t really a book about Forest: it’s a book about a whole crowd of characters, all potentially interesting, but none of them fleshed out very well. And, after the opening chapters, the pace picks up, turning the narrative into an episodic series of paranormal confrontations (in that sense, it would probably make a great big-budget movie).

After Forest helps two spirits to “cross over” peacefully, her narrative is dropped. We jump forward in time to deal with the lingering spirit of a serial killer, who was killed, but wasn’t, and who is threatening his own grandson. After that, we switch to the grandson’s girlfriend, whose father is a Madoc-killing holy roller with a witch for a wife. And so on. Forest does reappear, but by then she’s lost her depth. It’s as if the author listed every goth/horror element she could think of (though I give her credit for not including vampires) and then composed her book by jumping from one to the next, as if they were stepping stones.

Parts of this book held real promise. Forest becomes two-dimensional much too quickly, but she’s a genuinely interesting character. I’d be game to read another book featuring her, in hopes that it would develop her (and others’) character more fully. Lincoln Hospital is just creepy. I mean, creepy. For YA readers who enjoy the genre, this is exactly the sort of menacing place one wants to spend time. Lincoln has a life of its own—and a sort of edificiary (o.k., I made that word up) amorality that fascinates. But promising elements just don’t add up to a successful whole.

*****

I received an early, electronic ARC of Insanity. It goes on sale in bookstores on February 18.

February 06 2014 07:04 am | Uncategorized

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