The Project by Courtney Summers
There is no sunshine in this story. It’s dark, stormy, at times hopeless, and felt like a constant uphill battle. But when you go up against one of the most powerful men in the country, it should. Lev Warren is the founder of The Unity Project, a group that focuses on others' well-being, has chapters all across the country, helps with the homeless and others in need, and it is untouchable in its reputation. But others have questioned its pristine (on paper) reputation and cult-like following, including Lo. Her sister joined just months after both their parents died in a car accident that left Lo scarred and Bea unmoored in grief. Her savior was Lev and the Unity Project, but Lo hasn’t heard from her sister in years. She’s almost obsessive in her belief that Lev and the Project are doing something wrong, but no one has come close to exposing them in any way. She’s hoping her boss, Paul, the editor of SVO (think something similar to Vice), will be the one to do just that. But to her surprise, as she tries to find her sister, it’s her that Lev grants an all-access series of interviews with, not another writer. During her interviews, it’s clear that Lev is a master manipulator (at least to the reader anyway), and Lo doesn’t fall for his sad story. But the more she sees The Unity Project for what it is, she wonders if she had it all wrong.
I’ve had conversations many times with friends as to why someone would join a cult. And for the sake of argument, a “cult” doesn’t even have to be affiliated with a religion per se. Although overly simplified, the only conclusion is that those who enter willingly are filling an emotional void in their life and see it as a way to be complete, to be loved, connected. For those looking from the outside, we might see weak-minded people, easily influenced and gullible. But Summers paints the path to this in ways that will make you question your beliefs and deepen your understanding of why someone might choose this for themself (or their families) whether you agree with it or not. There were a few times when I disagreed strongly with the choices Lo made but I think they were inevitable. As typical of Sadie, the characters in this are not strictly for the YA audience as Lo is nineteen and living on her own.