Monday, September 16, 2013

The Humanity Project - Jean Thompson

Summary:  After surviving a shooting at her high school, Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, who doesn’t quite understand how he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen adolescent girl. Art’s neighbor, Christie, is a nurse distracted by an eccentric patient, Mrs. Foster, who has given Christie the reins to her Humanity Project, a bizarre and well-endowed charity fund. Just as mysteriously, no one seems to know where Conner, the Fosters’ handyman, goes after work, but he has become the one person Linnea can confide in, perhaps because his own home life is a war zone: his father has suffered an injury and become addicted to painkillers. As these characters and many more hurtle toward their fates, the Humanity Project is born: Can you indeed pay someone to be good? At what price?

Thompson proves herself at the height of her powers in The Humanity Project, crafting emotionally suspenseful and thoroughly entertaining characters, in which we inevitably see ourselves. Set against the backdrop of current events and cultural calamity, it is at once a multifaceted ensemble drama and a deftly observant story of our twenty-first-century society.  (Summary and image taken from I was provided a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  Two teenagers, both with unimaginable burdens foisted upon them, both with parental figures who lean more toward friend than father, all whose lives are intertwined with a nurse searching for good and tranquility and her elderly patient – a chronic do-gooder who asks a life-altering question:  can you pay someone to be good?  Ooh, my imagination ran rampant with this one!  Seriously, so many good, and thought-provoking, and heart-wrenching, and inspirational, and soul-searching stories seemed to lay buried in such a short question.

Ultimately, this book fell victim to my imagination.   Mrs. Foster’s Humanity Project may have linked the characters, but that seemed to be its only purpose in the book.  The question itself was never addressed, never explored. Rather it was asked once and discarded quite rapidly, to my dismay.  Jean Thompson painted a bleak portrait of humanity in this book, as though all humans really only care about the basest of instincts; the rest of the world—or their own personal growth, for that matter—can be hung out to dry.  Her characters’ suffering, be it physical, social, or emotional, was well portrayed, but there was a cavernous lack of growth.  It was depressing.

Honestly, this is a good “don’t be like this” kind of book.  Thompson’s characters were miserable, truly forlorn, and their coping methods only served to further that misery.  It made me want to go do good all over the place, just to avoid that oppressing depression that focusing solely on yourself creates.  It was a good thing I read it on a day where I was surrounded by scores of people going out of their way to help anyone they could!

Overall, though, it was a speedy read.  I hoped for more from the characters, wished they had had the opportunity to grow, and man, did I mourn the loss of the question!

My rating:  Two stars.

For the sensitive reader: There are a lot of incidents of potty language, sexual thoughts of the characters, and a few scenes where characters get high.  I’d definitely rate this an R.

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