At ‘The Institute,’ True Power Comes from Hope [REVIEW]

Boy at sunset

One boy must make an epic journey to save his friends in Stephen King’s The Institute. (Photo courtesy Canva)

A former cop. A kidnapped child. One horrifying agenda. When evil has its tentacles everywhere, can the innocent survive the fallout? Find out in Stephen King’s best novel since his classic bestseller It. Welcome to The Institute.

Stephen King's THE INSTITUTE

Scribner

Luke Ellis is one smart kid. He’s been accepted to not one, but two ivy league schools and he’s only 12 years old. Unfortunately for him, he’s never going to get the chance to go. Because someone has been watching him. Someone who wants to use his capabilities to maintain an evil plot that has been working in the shadows for decades, one which uses up kids like Luke without their consent, only to discard them like so much rubbish.

In the middle of the night, Luke’s parents are killed and he is abducted from his Minneapolis home and whisked away to rural Maine to a place called The Institute. The kids here are all gifted in one way or another, much like those who attend the Xavier School for Higher Learning, except there is no kindly Charles Xavier looking out for their well being, like in Marvel’s X-Men series. Instead, this institute is populated by kids who got here the same way Luke did. Initially, kept in Front Half for testing, it is here where he befriends  some of the others, including the youngest among them, a 10-year-old boy named Avery Dixon.

The Institute is ruled by the iron fist of Mrs. Sigsby, the director of the operation, as well as her squad of demented goons who treat the children like secondhand citizens, without kindness or mercy. If the children behave and go along with the program, they get tokens for vending machines filled with candy, treats, cigarettes, and even tiny bottles of liquor. But if the kids disobey, the punishment is severe. Regardless, once the tests are done and they are transported to Back Half, they are never heard from again. Desperate to escape, Luke hatches a plan that may be the children’s last chance at redemption, and the only one who can help them is a former cop caught in a backwater town, a man none of them have ever even met.

The Institute is one of those genre-bending novels that feels like we’ve entered a world where the X-Men meets the X-Files. Although it is horrifying and suspenseful yarn, there are also hefty doses of awe and humor thrown in for good measure to keep the story rocking along at a good clip. As always, King also populates the story with a plethora of well-drawn characters, ones who are maniacal and wicked and others who personify the best aspects of humanity. I am always amazed at how King can create a microcosm which efficiently pits good verses evil in so many of his stories, which is exactly what he has accomplished here too. Because once you’re trapped within The Institute, there is no communication with the outside world and hope is a pipe dream that fades with every passing day.

Still, like in his classic stories The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and even It, King casts seeds of hope until they find a way to flourish even in the most dire of circumstances. After all, that is what the author does best and why this genre has worked so well for him for so long. For this is a story which is timely and feels ripped from today’s headlines, those where children are kept in cages, political figures do what they please without any regard for moral integrity, and ones where fake news is spread from the top echelons of power. Yet even as King addresses these issues with creativity and insight, this tale is all about the power we have as the human race, the power we generate when we work together as one united community to banish the darkness, debunk the lies, and embrace the light. This is King at his very best.

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Stephen King

Stephen King
(Photo by Shane Leonard)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen King is the author of more than 50 books, all of them worldwide bestsellers.

His recent work includes ElevationThe OutsiderSleeping Beauties (co-written with his son Owen King); and the Bill Hodges trilogy—Mr. MercedesFinders Keepers, and End of Watch.

He is the recipient of the 2018 PEN America Literary Service Award and the 2014 National Medal of Arts. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

For more information, visit StephenKing.com, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

THE INSTITUTE
By Stephen King
576 pp. Scribner. $30.

Purchase The Institute at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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