Available now: I'M THE GIRL, the new "brutally captivating" (Publishers Weekly, starred review) queer thriller from Courtney Summers, based loosely on The Epstein case and "not for the faint of heart" (The New York Times)
The #1 Indie Next Pick and winner of the International Thriller Writers Award now in paperback with an exclusive bonus chapter.
BELIEVE HIM, BETRAY HER
1998: Six-year-old Bea doesn’t want a sister but everything changes when Lo is born early. Small and frail, Lo needs someone to look out for her. Having a sister is a promise, Mom says—one Bea’s determined not to break.
2011: A car wreck, their parents dead. Lo would’ve died too if not for Lev Warren, the charismatic leader of The Unity Project. He’s going to change the world and after he saves Lo’s life, Bea wants to commit to his extraordinary calling. Lev promises a place for the girls in the project, where no harm will ever come to them again . . . if Bea proves herself to him first.
2017: Lo doesn’t know why Bea abandoned her for The Unity Project after the accident, but she never forgot what Bea said the last time they spoke: We’ll see each other again. Six years later, Lo is invited to witness the group’s workings, meet with Lev, and—she hopes—finally reconnect with her sister. But Bea is long gone, and the only one who seems to understand the depths of this betrayal is Lev. If it’s family Lo wants, he can make her a new promise . . . if she proves herself to him first.
Powerful, suspenseful and heartbreaking, The Project follows two sisters who fall prey to the same cult leader—and their desperate fight back to one another.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This thriller reminds us that the scariest cults of all are those that don’t look like cults. Six years ago, the Denham sisters lost their parents in a terrible accident. Scarred and traumatized, 13-year-old Lo stayed with an aunt while 19-year-old Bea threw herself into an idealistic community organization called the Unity Project. Now an adult, Lo has come to suspect that the charismatic leader of that widely respected group may have a sinister—or even murderous—ulterior motive. Courtney Summers’ breathless thriller uses dual timelines (one in the present and one that starts soon after the accident) to smartly illustrate the sisters’ diverging paths and the horrifying, step-by-step process of Bea becoming a true believer. Fast-paced enough to devour in a single night, The Project is a deliciously creepy and unsettling read.
Nineteen-year-old Lo Denham's name isn't short for lonely, but it could be: after her parents died in a car accident that scarred Lo and left her near death, her adored older sister Bea joined the Unity Project, an insular Upstate New York religious group that's constantly fighting accusations of culthood. Lo longs to be a writer, but though she's landed a job at a Vice-like magazine, also upstate, she's stuck as its editor's assistant. When she witnesses a suicide that turns out to have links to the Unity Project, she embarks on an investigation of the secretive, seemingly well-meaning group and her sister's whereabouts. By turns driven, vulnerable, and impulsive, Lo gets closer and closer to the Project's charismatic, damaged leader, risking everything to find the truth. Alternating Lo and Bea's viewpoints and moving around in time, Summers (Sadie) makes effective use of each character's limited knowledge, creating a twisty plot that's full of hooks. Ages 13 up.
“She buried her old family and built a new one on top of its bones.”
“Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make- and no one but the two of you can break.”
The Project tells the story of two sisters, one in present day and the other in non-sequential flashbacks. They were struck by tragedy when an accident left their parents dead and Lo, the younger girl, with a long road to recovery. Bea, the eldest but still only 17 or so, didn't have the emotional and psychological maturity to deal with the situation and turned to the only adult willing to listen to her: a burgeoning cult leader. Throughout the story, Lo deals with PTSD and the aftermath of severe abandonment issues that have led her to live a solitary life. Though physically healed, Lo still wrestles her past daily. It has been years and Bea has fully ensconced herself within the Unity Project. Lo, now an intrepid would-be reporter, is still determined to reconnect with the only person she has left, even if that means exposing herself to the dangerous underbelly of the cult herself.
Writing about a cult in any context is somewhat difficult. Unless the narrative is framed so that the reader is unaware that the setting is a cult, we automatically condemn it. The Project did not hide the presence of a cult, but it somewhat lacked a narrator reliable enough to sell the story. Instead of being left with vague concepts and assumptions, we are left with one-sided emotional responses to events outside the narrative. This book really made me want to jump into the story and talk some sense into these people. It was especially frustrating when the (seemingly) only reasonable character in this whole mess SPOILER [fell prey to the same abusive rapist as her sister (Cult leaders cannot have consensual sex with their followers. (end spoiler)]
BUT THAT'S HOW CULTS WORK. Their leaders are charismatic and know the ways to make their potential followers feel seen/heard.
“The Project holds up a mirror to the world’s failures and the world’s response is to break the mirror.”✝
Look, my darkside brain wants to give this book 1 star and strike it from my thoughts eternally. Because it made me super uncomfortable and I didn't have a good time. It made me want to throw my kindle at the wall. But you know what?! It should make me uncomfortable. Cults should make everyone uncomfortable. Courtney Summers did an amazing job of selling this story. As a reader outside of the narrative and well-aware of the key indicators of cults, it was super cringey to read about characters falling under the cult’s spell. But it's also the mark of a good book when a reader is all up in their feelings. All in all, this was a compelling and addictive read that made me want to crawl out of my skin. It didn't quite live up to Sadie's legacy, but it still had that same trainwreck cant-look-away effect. I look forward to reading Summer’s future work.