This young adults thriller is about a teen who takes summer college preparatory classes at a college that used to be an insane asylum–an asylum which may still be haunted by the actual spirits of those in the disturbing photographs that line the walls of a locked basement office. Dan has always been atypical, and this, coupled with inexplicable ghost messages, perhaps is what opens him to seek out, to the point of obsession, the story of who the warden of Brookline Asylum was. Dan’s love interest and new friend Abby is also semi-obsessed with the particular history of one possibly-lobotomized little girl from a photograph they find hanging in the warden’s office. Both are linked to this story by more than just curious fascination. As unknown personal histories entangle them each further with the unraveling history of their objects of compulsion, the two teens find themselves and their friend Jordan in a place that threatens to conclude the most macabre events of a suspended past.
If you enjoy the concept of a person or people haunted by ghosts of the past who try to recreate or finish past works, look up “The Ghost Orchid” by Carol Goodman or “The Dark Half” by Stephen King.
If you were intrigued by the murky history of a timeworn building (an orphanage, this time) being slowly revealed through an initial interest in disturbing photographs, read for “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”
If you enjoyed the unlikely dynamic brought together by a twisted set of interests between Dan and Abby, try reading “The Beginning of Everything” by Robyn Schneider.
For a book about a girl who's in an asylum, piecing together her jumbled past and whether or not she even really is insane, look for my next article about "Blythewood" by Carol Goodman.
In the story, an insanity quote is taken from Ray Bradbury’s “The Meadow,” a radio play that is also available in print. This play is one option for additional reading and understanding of this book.
And if you liked this author’s style and would like to read more of her works, she has also written “Sadie Walker is Stranded,” and “Allison Hewitt is Trapped.”
I chose this recipe because twice while having conversations with Jordan and Abby in the cafeteria, Dan was mentioned eating a bowl of Captain Crunch. One of those times, Abby, while angry at them both, had only a banana and some yogurt. To encompass both of these breakfasts, as well as the chocolate snack cakes that Dan’s mother sent him in a care package, I found a recipe that includes banana and Captain Crunch:
Banana Peanut Butter Captain Crunch Cupcakes with PB Malted Milk Buttercream Icing
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 cup crushed Peanut Butter Captain Crunch
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
½ cup mini chocolate chips
Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Beat in bananas and vanilla.
Combine the flour, Captain Crunch, baking soda, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition.
Fold in mini chocolate chips.
Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 375°F for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
Peanut Butter Malted Milk Buttercream:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter, I went with Jif
2 cups powdered sugar
3 TBSP malted milk powder
milk to thin
Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter and peanut butter for about 2 minutes, until fluffy.
Add the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, whipping on medium-high speed until fluffy.
Add the malted milk powder and whip until just combined. If too thick thin with milk.
1. Has looking at a new picture or visiting a new place ever felt strangely familiar to you, as it did to Dan? As if it “stirred a memory, and if not a memory, a gut instinct” (10)? If so, when and where? What triggered it?
2. Have you ever gone exploring somewhere creepy like the offices on the first floor? What happened? Or would you never have gone in a place like that?
3. What did you first think Abby’s connection to the photo was? Do you think she saw something in herself, an emotion maybe that she had been hiding or ignoring? Would you have wanted to take it or draw it yourself? Why do you think she did that later? Pg 94 “I wanted her to feel like she was in a safe place. She was clearly lonely down there…” Is this explanation just an excuse?
4. What was the first thing in the story that creeped you out? Was it a place, a thing, or something someone said? Why do you think that is?
5. Are there any real life serial killers that Dennis Heimline, the Sculptor, reminds you of? In what ways? (Hint: Google Daniel Harold Rolling, Gary Ridgway, Ed Gein, and Dennis Rader.
6. If you could go (back) to college and take any classes you could, what would you choose? Or are there some you wish would be offered that you could take? What would they be named?
7. Jordan says, on the morning after they broke into the office, that he “slept the sleep of the innocent.” (56) Is this a good analogy? Have you ever felt guilty about something you’d done, and it kept you awake? Or do you not have problems with sleeping? Do you think Jordan was telling the truth, or do you think he was lying to hide his secret problem that had already begun?
8. Trying to dream about or focus on trees, as Abby advised, didn’t help Dan stop his nightmares about the asylum. Do you know of any tricks that work to help stop nightmares?
9. Have you ever seen the episode of Doctor Who they reference with the data ghosts titled “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”? If not, look for them on Netflix or to rent, and try comparing the altered realities of the characters in the show (i.e. Donna Noble, the little girl) and compare them to Abby, Dan and Jordan. How are they similar and different? What about the data ghosts? Was that a good analogy for what was really going on with the characters in this book? Why or why not?
10. How do you feel about the concept of coincidence by Jung that Dan mentioned? Do you believe they exist apart from other things, or is everything connected? If so, by what? Our similarities, our basic human nature, our subconscious, a higher power?
11. Abby says she likes the rain, that for her, “It’s relaxing. Refreshing…I needed a bit of rain.”(138) Have you ever felt that way about rain? When? Why do you think Abby needed it? Why or when do you need it?
12. Dan poses an excellent question on pg 161, “Where did insanity begin? With paranoia and insecurity like Jordan’s, or with a strong-minded obsession like Abby’s?” What do you think? What has history shown us? Is it all nature or nurture with a child, or are there triggers that are tripped for some and perhaps never for others? Or does it have a lot to do with self-control, getting help, and/or facing your own inner demons and temptations?
13. What do you think of the Ray Bradbury quote “Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage”? Would you start to act crazy after a while if people treated you that way? Are there any real life cases of this, or can you think of any films or other books that apply?
14. Dan found a jewelry box with a ballerina on it that he speculates was an item that “Lucy” may have treasured. What could have happened in her past that made her cling to this particular object, so that it was found in the hall, near what could have been her room? If you had only one memento you could keep before being locked up, what would it be? What makes that item so special to you? Would anyone else feel that way about it?
15. Do you think the warden, or those of other non-artistic professions, such as surgeons and doctors, also be considered artists of a sort? What other professions are artists to you? Do you consider yourself to be one? Why or why not?
16. Do you think it was Professor Reyes who left Dan the last note? Or could it have been Heimline? Or do you think it was someone else? If so, who?