It's been a decent amount of time since I read The Project, and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. In some ways, it's a really solid and compelling story, but in others I found it rather lackluster and I just wasn't as impressed as I expected to be based on what I've heard about Courtney Summers. I've spent far too much time trying to write this review, so hopefully in the end my thoughts are coherent enough.
The Project follows nineteen year old Lo Denham as she struggles to lead her life while dealing with the disappearance of her sister in relation to a cult her sister joined many years ago. Compounding this is the fact that Lo has had a difficult time from a young age in which she and her parents were in a horrible car crash that left both of her parents dead and her with life-long scars, both physical and emotional. She currently works at a magazine where she hopes to someday pursue her writing career, though as is it its been a bit of a dead end thus far. This leads us to The Unity Project, which Lo believes is the reason behind her sister's disappearance and a cult (er, group) that Lo wants to investigate.
Lo and her sister Bea are the two main characters we follow, and I found them both fairly compelling, but I struggled to myself connected enough to either one to really feel too involved with their storylines. The POV and time jumps were a little confusing and probably one of my bigger gripes with this book, as I couldn't ever really get into a certain setting before it switched it up again. I also found both POVs weren't overly personable in the sense that I just couldn't really get comfortable with them or the setting. Despite these issues, the obstacles and storyline of each were engaging in themselves and are what kept me reading to find out what was going to end up happening with each.
Although this is a book about a cult and there were some very classic 'cult' elements about it, it didn't feel like typical cult stories. There are a lot of questions around this cult and this book takes care not to immediately portray the cult members as obsessive, over-the-top people. Summers humanizes them and makes them basically just appear as regular every day people with a slightly less regular part of their life with the cult. In many ways, the cult is portrayed very much just a religion in which Luke, the leader of the Unity Project, acts as the leader or priestlike figure, though this gets turned into a much, er, stronger position as the story progresses and he becomes more and more problematic. I really enjoyed how Summers tackled this topic and developed a charismatic and multilayered plot around how cults can affect people in different ways.
The pacing of The Project was a bit hit or miss for me as well, but overall I think that there was a nice mix of fast and slow pacing that, although felt a bit choppy, kept the storyline moving in an engaging manner. The ending itself was rather lacking for me and I had hoped for just a bit more from this story. It felt as though the entire novel had some strong build-up for something momentous at the end, and although there was a fairly intense ending, the way in which it was written felt rather disappointing and anticlimactic for me. This is probably just my problem, but I wanted to note it.
Overall, I've given The Project 3.5 stars. If the premise intrigues you or you enjoy books with a cult dynamic, then I do think you should give this one a look! I also will note that I don't necessarily see that this should be a YA book, as the main protagonist is basically an adult working a regular job, etc., so if you don't typically care for YA you might still be interested in this one. :)
*I received a copy of The Project courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating.*