Book: “Inspection” by Josh Malerman
Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, March 2019
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Boys are being trained at one school for geniuses, girls at another. And neither knows the other exists–until now. The innovative author of Bird Box invites you into a tantalizing world of secrets and lies.
J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.
J is one of only twenty-six students, who think of their enigmatic school’s founder as their father. And his fellow peers are the only family J has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, but their life at the school is all they know–and all they are allowed to know.
But J is beginning to suspect that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.
In Inspection, the masterful author of Bird Box crafts a sinister and evocative gender equality anthem that will have readers guessing until the final page.
Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I am going to sound like an insufferable hipster for a moment, so bear with me; I liked “Bird Box” before it was cool. A few years before Netflix dropped their thriller hit, I read the book it was based on, written by Josh Malerman. I know the reception of the film was hit or miss, but I legitimately think that the book is terrifying. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I could barely put it down even as it stressed me out. So when I saw the new book by Malerman was available for request on NetGalley, it caught my eye. And when I found out it took place at a boarding school with malevolent intentions… Well….
While evil or mysterious boarding schools have been done before, Malerman leans into the concept and makes it feel wholly original. We first see it from the perspective of an experiment that involves all boys, in which the man heading the experiment, who refers to himself as D.A.D., has taken twenty four boys at birth and raised them isolated from modern society with no knowledge of the female gender. The hypothesis (and trust me, I will absoLUTEly be addressing this later) is that if they are not distracted by women/sexuality/attraction, they can reach their full potential as the next great thinkers and scientists of the world. Malerman covers pretty much all of his bases in this regard, accounting for the need for space, control, and isolation, and did it in ways that felt as realistic as they could be in a story like this. We follow one of the subjects, J, as he and the others start to reach puberty, and we see how he is starting to question his place at this school, and the world that is being presented to them. I liked J quite a bit, and appreciated that Malerman gave him the right amount of rebellious nuance and a believable curiosity, along with a fear and anxiety about his questions, and his fear of being ‘spoiled rotten’ and sent to The Corner, a place where two boys who questions, A and Z, never returned from. I also appreciated that Malerman took into account other aspects of this experiment that I never would have thought of, specifically the role that propaganda would have to play. I thought it was genius to have a specific propagandist on staff, a failed writer named Warren who writes morality tales for the boys that will help keep them in line and under control. It never occurred to me that propaganda would need to play a role in this kind of situation, but this subplot was so, so intriguing, especially as the propagandist starts to question his own culpability.
It’s at the halfway point that “Inspection” really grabbed me. That was when we switched to another boarding school, this one with twenty four girls. This is where Malerman made this story truly all his own. D.A.D.’s wife, who calls herself M.O.M., naturally, is running the same experiment, this time with girls, in hopes of unlocking creative potential. In this part of the story we meet K, the girl who is at the top of the class, but has potentially seen something that she shouldn’t have. Her journey is far less hesitant than J’s, and I loved seeing her creative thinking, as opposed to J’s more rigid thinking, help bring her to conclusions about her situation in a different way. And by the time the two stories converge (though I don’t want to spoil anything here), that is when this story shifts from a vaguely dystopic thriller into a full blown horror novel. While in some ways it felt a little late for the horror elements to arrive, I was so enthralled by the rest of it that I didn’t mind it.
There was one aspect of this story that I couldn’t quite swallow, and that is based within the premise that D.A.D. and M.O.M. have for their awful experiment. They both believe that by isolating the genders, they will be able to unlock the full potential of their subjects, as to them sexuality and attraction are the distractors that keep humans from the highest intellectual levels. This story takes place in a modern-ish time or perhaps a very near future. As two scientists, I don’t understand how they didn’t think about as to whether, within twenty four boys and twenty four girls, there may be the possibility of subjects who were attracted to the same gender. Given the odds, you’d think you’d get at least one, if we’re being conservative in our estimates. I wasn’t sure if Malerman was trying to say that D.A.D. and M.O.M. were so corrupted by their devious and unethical thinking that they would also be biased against LGBTQIA+ people as part of their experiment, or if such a development would immediately call for The Corner, or whether he just didn’t think of it at all. Because it doesn’t come up. And to me, it’s a pretty big question that probably should have been addressed.
That aside, I quite enjoyed “Inspection” in all of it’s creepy and unsettling glory. Malerman continues to surprise and shock me in the best ways, and my hope is that he just keeps getting more attention as time goes on.
Rating 8: A propulsive and then eerie thriller/horror novel, “Inspection” is another triumph from Josh Malerman.
“Inspection” is a new book and isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Evil Schools – Public, Private, and University”.
Find “Inspection” at your library using WorldCat!