ARC Review: Insanity by Susan Vaught


title:  Insanity

author:  Susan Vaught

pages: 384

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-1599907840

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 1/5 [in the genre] or 3/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of paranormal mysteries, especially people who enjoyed Asylum by Madeleine Roux or who like folklore and mythology.  

My Ratings Explained

Never, Kentucky is not your average scenic small town. It is a crossways, a place where the dead and the living can find no peace. Not that Forest, an 18-year-old foster kid who works the graveyard shift at Lincoln Hospital, knew this when she applied for the job. Lincoln is a huge state mental institution, a good place for Forest to make some money to pay for college. But along with hundreds of very unstable patients, it also has underground tunnels, bell towers that ring unexpectedly, and a closet that holds more than just donated clothing....When the dead husband of one of Forest's patients makes an appearance late one night, seemingly accompanied by an agent of the Devil, Forest loses all sense of reality and all sense of time. Terrified, she knows she has a part to play, and when she does so, she finds a heritage that she never expected.

With her deep knowledge of mental illness and mental institutions, Susan Vaught brings readers a fascinating and completely creepy new book intertwining the stories of three young people who find themselves haunted beyond imagining in the depths of Lincoln Hospital.

the basics
You know the blurb for this?  Where it talks about Forest and her creepy encounter with the supernatural?  It drew me in too.  And it's only one fourth of the freaking book.  I don't mind being shocked, but I like to get what I came for.  So when I was getting to page 80 and everything had been resolved, the monster defeated, Forest taken somewhere strange, I was thinking: Um, so...where's the rest of the book?  What Amazon will tell you (I found this later) is that it's three connected stories.  Except that's a lie too, because it's four.  Four stories back-to-back, four narrators, four trips from set-up to climax to denouement.  It's not only jarring but it's repetitive.  It didn't help that I had no idea to expect it.  What's sad is that Vaught is truly talented.  She mixes up old timey lore, Southern twang, and some pretty tight writing into what could have been a colorful regional paranormal mystery ala Charlaine Harris for teens.  But I just couldn't hang onto the plot long enough to get into it, and the sameness of the four stories took away any inkling of suspense.  I'd read another of her books, because she's truly a talented woman--but I'll read the reviews first.  

plot . 1/5
I don't mind interesting structure (heck, I read Jenny Boully's The Body which is all footnotes with the content removed) but this just didn't work.  Partly because the narrator shifts without even a heading to let you know what's happening.  I only knew we'd left Forest when I realized 3/4 down the next page that now I was hearing from a boy.  Maybe if there'd been headings (if I'd even known to expect four stories), I'd have liked it better.  But maybe not, because each story is pretty much exactly the same.  Person finds mystery at the institution.  Person realizes it's a monster.  Person and gang defeat monster.  Next narrator, you're up!  It gives the impression that Vaught tried to pack 3-4 books of material into one, and it feels just like that: overstuffed, rushed, rife with mysteries and snatches of lore and magic that are thrown together and never fully foreshadowed or developed.  It doesn't help that often a decade passes between stories.  I would have liked any of the four stories on their own.  Forest finding her strange powers.  Darius facing down his long-dead grandfather.  Trina fighting to save her friends from her magic-hunting father.  Levi...doing something unmemorable.  Together, they were a repetitive mess.  

concept . 3/5
I was so excited for this book!  Which is really the killer.  I love Southern lore.  I love mythology.  I love thin spaces and voodoo-esque magic and mental institutions.  It was such a strong concept that never got its feet off the ground.  To be fair, there are some great elements.  The Madoc story about a Welsh prince coming to America long ago is ridiculous, but absolutely a true legend.  One I'd never heard of, so it was refreshing to come across something new.  I was also very interested in how the Celtic and Voodoo elements meshed together to create a new kind of ghost story.  Only, see above.  There just wasn't enough meat.  Not enough time for any of these threads to be developed.  I still don't entirely understand what Levi was, how Trina's dad came to be a hunter, what Forest was and could do.  I was also sadly disappointed with the role of mental illness.  There's a great chance to explore mental illness in a ghost story, but instead of focusing on the patients and their problems, the story used the institution as a home for invisible ghosts and monsters.  The patients after Forest's first one were rarely important.  They were practically props.  

characters . 4/5
I actually really liked the characters, and probably would have liked them more in another life.  Forest was spunky and a little reckless.  She was a foster kid who had aged out (another thing that was woefully underdeveloped) and her work in a mental hospital brought her to Levi, a semi-demonic supernatural being who ferries souls to the "other side."  Most people would freak out.  Forest takes it in stride, because she's more concerned with helping her patient's dead lover reunite with her than she is with her own fear.  It's sweet and admirable.  Then there's Darius, a hopeless-in-love student who cares for his disabled mother and lives in the shadow of his serial killer grandfather.  He's strong-willed, adventurous, and has a keen sense of humor that made him an instant favorite.  I actually didn't like his girlfriend Trina at first, until she got her own story and I learned more about her.  She seems girlishly squeamish at first, but that's far from her truth: a witchy (literally) preacher's daughter with plenty of determination and strong, conflicting senses of justice and loyalty.  All interesting people who deserved more depth.  

style . 4/5
It gets over-the-top sometimes, but besides that, Vaught has a compelling style.  She's obviously familiar with small-town Southern colloquialisms.  It adds flavor and uniqueness to the dialogue that I really enjoyed.  The problem is that everyone seems to use the same phrases and words, making it less easy to differentiate between the voices of individual characters--particularly Levi, who's been dead for decades and should probably sound a little more old-timey.  Overall, though, they sound like teenagers, which is always a tricky thing to achieve.  

mechanics . 1/5
Four stories strung together with nothing to demarcate them.  I really can't say more than this.  Except that the cover is utterly misleading because this book is much more about creatures than ghosts.  

take home message
An intriguing ghost-and-magic story whose charm falls short in a complicated and hurried narrative.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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