Book Review: The Institute

THE INSTITUTE | Stephen King
09.10.2019 | Scribner
Rating: 4.5/5 stars


On a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis a group of intruders enter the home of Luke Ellis. In the span of two minutes they murder Luke’s parents and drive away with him, drugged and unaware of his destination. Luke wakes up to a place he has never heard of, a place called The Institute. This room looks just like his bedroom, but it’s not. There are other kids around. Others who have been stolen from their homes in the middle of the night.

The Institute is a facility specializing in illegally abducting children who have tested high for possessing telekinesis and telepathy abilities. Here they are tested to find the boundaries of their abilities, but to what end? For what purpose? Testing and punishment are brutal for those who ask questions. No one has ever escaped The Institute, but Luke is determined to be the first.

Great events turn on small hinges.

Stephen King’s latest novel, THE INSTITUTE, is being called a combination of his earlier works FIRESTARTER and IT. After reading the book I think this comparison is accurate, but that THE INSTITUTE is also uniquely it’s own brilliant story. The book is equal parts coming of age, fantasy, mystery, and science fiction, all wrapped into a captivating tale centering around twelve-year-old Luke Ellis.

As I have been reading through Stephen King’s backlist I have noticed a repeated theme of child-aged characters with the ability to think and act well beyond their years. King specializes in writing about these children that have been put in circumstances that test them to their limits. They seem years above where they should be at their young ages. This time around Luke Ellis is the star of King’s story. He is a twelve-year-old with an enormously high IQ and mild telekinesis abilities. Once he is placed in The Institute he is forced to push his abilities to the breaking point in order to escape. With the assistance of other children in close age groups with their own sets of abilities Luke and his friends take the reader on an extraordinary journey.

You know, Jamieson, this life we think we’re living isn’t real. It’s just a shadow play, and I for one will be glad when the lights go out on it. In the dark, all the shadows disappear.

Who doesn’t love a story about an underdog or about a group of people joining forces to fight evil? These stories have such a compelling element to them that pushes the reader to keep reading towards a climactic ending. THE INSTITUTE completely embraces this notion with Luke’s battle against The Institute. I loved that he banded together with the other kids forced into this prison for mentally gifted children. King instantly sets the reader up to have a strong connection with Luke as he leads them through his abduction and stay at The Institute. Our bond with Luke is then cleverly extended as he builds friendships with the kids staying with him. As Luke grows closer to Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and Avery, so does the reader. The ages of these children pull on the reader’s heartstrings as you are left in awe of their determination, strength, and perseverance. 

On the flip side of the story is the evil entity, The Institute. Like Luke, I wasn’t initially sure what to make of this place other than their practices certainly were illegal. How did they come to be? Who are these people working there that think this treatment of children is okay? Why are they doing what they’re doing? King slowly unpacks the history and the motivations behind the various employees as the book marches towards the ultimate battle. I loved learning more about this facility and would have enjoyed diving a bit deeper into the history. I don’t want to give too much away, but be prepared for an interesting spin on history!

THE INSTITUTE is a captivating ride into one boy’s life, his journey, and his fight for freedom. You’ll find all the ingredients for a story that will make you forget that this book is nearing 600 pages! I’ve said it over and over again, but I can’t help myself in bandwagoning that King is a writer for every reader. THE INSTITUTE is a demonstration of his ability to span across genres and create a story that many readers will want to pick up.

This book is available to buy from: Amazon | Book Depository

Disclosure: What Jess Reads is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This in no way influences my opinion of the above book.

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