Asylum is the start of a trilogy, and a book featuring photos of old mental asylums that insane people went to get cured. Or shocked into insanity. One of these asylums is called Brookline in New Hampshire, but it closed back in 1972 and is now a college and this summer, kids are going there to hone their skills up and put some stuff in their portfolios for applications. One of these kids is an adopted teenager named Dan Crawford, who has a fascination with science and history, two subjects I kind of loathe. Then a girl named Abby Valdez who's here for art and to get away from a troubling family walks up to him, along with a friend she met named Jordan who she met on the bus there who likes math and is hidden away from religious parents. Jordan's geeky roommate Felix then mentions, after a photo of the old warden appears in his desk with the face scribbled out in permanent marker, that there are more photos downstairs. But there might be more than just extra photos. There could be anything down there wrestling to exit.
Asylum had a big competitor to prove its might to: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and its two sequels, Hollow City and Library of Souls. While I don't know if Sanctum and Catacombs are as good, Asylum joins up with the spectacularity of all those books and flexes biceps of its own. How? There are kids out there, and even some adults, who refuse to read a book without pictures, and I've been doing my best to show books that prove they miss out. But these picture books show creepy photography that not only makes the book feel like you're devouring the book super fast as the picture-filled pages fly by, which is an advantage for people trying to teach themselves fast reading, but the pictures are really chilling and makes you feel the story is really happening rather than just being made up by one author. If only every book was a horror picture book. Heavenly!
Okay, so, what else is there to like about Asylum? I was worried at first that this book was going to jump into action that was too instant when the story unfolds with Dan heading to the college like Jacob Portman on the ferry to Cairnholm, and worried it would be like Variant when Benson becomes immediately trapped without us knowing anything about him. Asylum doesn't fall for that trap! Dan learns what it's like to be with friends and wanting to keep them, and there's plenty of the story and freakiness still coming.
And like Miss Peregrine, there's a mystery in this YA novel. And I freaking love mysteries in YA novels! Filing away facts in my own mind as the adventure progresses and think about what could be relevant later...Being able to invest in the mystery is great storytelling. And Asylum manages to have a plethora of items everywhere, from spilt papers to dusty cabinets to old toys to bloodstains. There are hints in and out of the basement as to what the connection between Dan and the mental asylum might be, but this book takes a step further by having Dan notice his friends and acquaintances acting and doing weird things and phrases.
Something else that was spectacular was how the basement is, well, easily accessible, and yet the story and characters take their time on the matter. Sometimes in real-life situations, the characters spend a few days thinking things through before jumping into the arsenic tar. The heroes are also terrifically different. Dan is scared and skeptical. Abby is feministic without sounding like a feminist figure and Jordan is hilarious and tempered. And I understood more of Dan's motivations for keeping his friends: He's worried about being alone and this place was once a mental asylum.
But what about the romance in this book? Is there any? Does it get in the way? Yes, and no. If you pick up or have picked up Asylum, it's probably because you like horror, or photographs, or you've read my glowing review. Well, Asylum manages to maintain a romance that doesn't have a protagonist whose only concern is getting the girl and as a result feels like a realistic friendship romance (again, like Miss Peregrine) but its main strength is the creep factor. This book creeped me out so much I couldn't look away. As the pages progressed, things get weirder and scarier and I for most of the book wanted to look up in the sky and scream. With my main thought being, "What's happening?!!!!!" Which is usually a negative but not this time.
Oh, and before I forget. Dan tries his first cup of coffee, and he describes it as a mixture of lighter fluid and maple syrup. Hahahahahahaha!!! How Madeleine Roux came up with that metaphor I have no idea but it sounds perfect to a non coffee drinker like me.
Asylum is a masterful book that deserves to be bought in full hardcover and relished alongside my new all time favourite series that I've mentioned a thousand times already in this one review. I need to know what happens next, but I really really want the next two books to be good too. Loving and then not loving a book because of what happens next is aggravating and shouldn't be so, but it happens. Let's hope it's not this time.