The Project

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
The Project Book Poster Image
Gripping thriller about cults and the bonds of sisterhood.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers get a fairly detailed look into the practices that cults like The Unity Project use to lure in vulnerable people and then control their lives to such an extent that they won't or can't leave the group.

Positive Messages

Those brave and dedicated enough to search for the truth will, in the end, find it.

Positive Role Models

Lo has overcome a lot in her 19 years. She has lost her parents, lost the great aunt who took her in, and then lost contact with her sister, Bea. But she's smart, really ambitious, and confident enough to tackle and be successful at a demanding job for which she seems too young and woefully underqualified.

Violence

Fairly detailed description of a young man committing suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. Characters are burned with a cautery pen, one has boiling water thrown on her. It's revealed that a character has been murdered.

Sex

Brief descriptive scenes of couples in bed (legs tangled together, kissing between the legs, hands roaming over a body and palming a woman's breasts). A character walks in on two people having sex.

Language

Characters swear regularly ("f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "a--hole," "goddamn").

Consumerism

Mentions of products like Coke and Facebook, and the movie The Thing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Passing mention of someone who had overdosed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Courtney SummersThe Project is the story of two sisters and a cult called The Unity Project. After the death of her parents, Lo Denham feels that she's been abandoned by her older sister, Bea, who has left 13-year-old Lo behind and joined The Unity Project. Six years later, when a man walks into the magazine where Lo is working and claims that the group has murdered his son, she becomes determined to reveal the truth about the group and reunite with her sister. But as her investigation unfolds, she finds herself questioning everything she's ever thought about the group, and she becomes involved with Lev Warren, its charismatic leader. The story has lots of swearing ("f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "a--hole," "goddamn"), and a suicide is described in some detail. A character is deliberately burned and then scalded by hot water. Couples are depicted in bed together with descriptions of kisses between the legs and hands palming a woman's breasts.

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What's the story?

THE PROJECT begins in the aftermath of an automobile accident that has killed the parents of Lo and Bea Denham and left 13-year-old Lo scarred and critically injured. When she recovers, she finds that her older sister has abandoned her to the care of a great aunt and joined a cult called The Unity Project. Six years later, Lo is working as the assistant to a magazine publisher and dreaming of becoming a writer -- a writer who can expose what she's come to believe are the dark secrets hidden by The Unity Project. When a man arrives at the magazine claiming that the group has murdered his son, Lo sees her chance. She visits the group in upstate New York and finds its members speaking glowingly of the good works that The Unity Project does for the local community, and of the ways that the group has given them a second chance at a meaningful life. What she doesn't find is her sister, Bea. She's told that Bea has left the group, and no one knows where she's gone. What she doesn't expect is that Lev Warren, the group's leader, will make her an offer that the ambitious young writer finds impossible to turn down: writing a profile of him for her magazine. But as Lo learns more about Warren and The Unity Project, she starts to question what she's always believed about the group. As she's drawn deeper and deeper into the group and into a relationship with Warren, will she finally find the truth she's been seeking?

Is it any good?

This dark and chilling novel blends a cautionary tale about cults, a missing-person mystery, and a heartbreaking story about loss, grief, and the bonds between sisters. Some readers of The Project might have a challenging time relating to the major characters, as all of them are 19 or older, and many of the plotlines involve adults working out relationships in their personal and work lives.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they learned about how cults work from The Project.  How can you tell the difference between groups who honestly recruit members to do good for the community and those that use the cover of good works to control and dominate vulnerable people?

  • If two stories appear in the media about a group or person (one very favorable and one not), how can you tell which version is correct?

  • What would make someone stay with a real-life group like The Unity Project?

Book details

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