Laurie Faria Stolarz’s novel for young adults, Project 17, is a mixed bag. I enjoyed it, but I struggled with it at the same time. I kept getting jarred throughout the book.
To begin with, the cover and the back copy lead the reader to believe this is going to be one of those absolutely terrifying reads that will keep you nailed to the chair (with the light on) till you turn the last page. And maybe still be afraid to go into the dark or tiptoe quietly off to bed. Although there are some genuinely creepy parts of the book that slid a little too uncomfortably under the skin, the read wasn’t quite horrifying or gripping because of suspense. I liked the characters and their problems well enough to keep reading just for that alone. Which is, I know, a backhanded compliment.
As noted, the characters in the book are compelling enough. They run the gamut of teen problems: the too-perfect child that really doesn’t know herself, the kid who has the abusive alcoholic for a parent, the kid who has everything in high school but is going to be totally lost in the real world, the Goth girl who does everything she can to freak everyone else out, and the young couple so into each other and themselves that they can’t see anyone else.
However, each of these characters takes over various chapters and their stories are relayed in the first person point of view. EVERYBODY says I. That’s confusing, especially when the voices all sound the same; I had to keep track of how other people around them reacted to them to know who they were. There is even one chapter that has the viewpoint character referred to in the third person and the author and editors missed it. I like first person narratives, but I prefer it to be one voice, or mixed in with other third person perspectives so it’s not as confusing.
Also, Project 17 is listed as a YA novel and is found on teen bookshelves in the libraries. That’s where I got my copy. But it’s books like this that make me wish there was another rating for the teen department, something that underscores the ADULT part of the designation. This one’s full of harsh language. I know from experience that this is how a lot of teens talk when they’re not around adults, so I think the author represented the characters fairly, but there should be a way to let readers know what they’re getting into. Some kids might get offended or embarrassed about the language, and other kids might get grounded by their parents for checking out a “bad” book when they didn’t know what it was. I’ve seen it happen.
The book is a quick, easy read with just enough depth and mystery to keep me turning the pages. I was pretty satisfied with how everything turned out for the characters because I was invested in them. However, I felt the overall effort was decidedly short on creepiness after the buildup on the cover and description of the abandoned mental hospital in the summary. However, this is an author I’m going to seek out and read.