“The Home” is a modern day orphanage in rural Appalachia. Disturbing things are occurring within the resident buildings of the compound. There’s the God-fearing, fire and brimstone director who gets off on fantasies of spanking the children. Then you have a mad-scientist of a doctor who performs experiments on children. Let’s see, is there anything else unorthodox about this institution? Oh yeah! Ghosts roam around from time to time.
Some have seen a strange man in an institutional robe wandering the halls inside the buildings or wading into the pond at the far end of the complex. He is the subject of ghost stories – the stuff of institutional legend. All communities have such myths, spread through the overactive imaginations of children. Except the staff begins to see this man as well. People then begin seeing a woman with holes in her head where her eyes used to be. Her eyes are now embedded into the palms of her hands.
One ghost. Two ghosts. More?
By the book’s end there will be too many spirits to handle. While leading up to this plethora of phantoms, the plot peels away the layers of a conspiracy involving The Home’s administration and a mysterious organization called The Trust.
Let’s back track.
Freeman Mills, twelve year old, is Wendover Home’s latest charge. He has been diagnosed with a host of conditions: bipolar disorder, antisocial behavior, and on and on. One day one he meets with Francis Bondurant, the self-righteous director of Wendover, who, in lieu of treatments based on psychiatric “mumbo-jumbo” favors introducing the problematic children to the strong arm of the Lord. Like with all his charges, he believes Freeman just needs to “mend his sinning ways.” From the beginning, readers see this man for the rat that he is and feel for the children in his care. If only this were as bad as it gets. It gets worse.
Bondurant proves to be somewhat of an impotent weasel. The resident psychiatrist is the bigger threat. Dr. Kracowski takes children to Room 13 for “therapy.” His therapy is a bit unorthodox. It involves strapping the children to a chair and administering electrodes to the brain. He calls it Synaptic Synergy Therapy, and believes his treatment will realign and harmonize the neural pathways. He boasts that this SST can cure everything from bipolar disorder to anorexia. But it does more than that. It awakens as extra sensory perception within its subjects.
This is where The Trust comes in. They (whoever “they” are) want to be able to harness the power that comes from ESP. They fund and supervise Kracowski’s treatments. When readers are introduced to members of the Trust, suddenly Dr. Kracowski doesn’t seem so bad anymore. In the end, they unleash more paranormal mayhem than they bargained for. Machines in the basement generate electro-magnetic waves needed for the SST. Are these machines unintentionally breaking down the door between the living and the dead?
Though new to Wendover Home, this procedure is not new to Freeman Mills. His father was a forerunner in developing these experiments. He experimented on his own son. Accused of murdering his wife, Dr. Mills is taken away and Freeman is now a ward of the state. Due to a long history of these treatments, he has the keenest ESP of all the children. All except his friend Vicky. Two cynical kids with hatred for the adult world become the hero and heroine of this tale.
This is a page-turning novel. There are many interesting characters and readers get to know about the strange happenings at The Home from multiple points of view. There are many themes throughout the book, including the age-old war between science and religion. I’m guessing that some thin-skinned religious reader out there will whine about how religion is “negatively portrayed.” Likewise, I’ll bet there’s some hypersensitive secularist reader that will bitch about how this book misrepresents the goals of science. I’m making these assumptions based on some of the reviews of Nicholson’s Red Church. Some complained that the book was too religious while others moaned about how the novel was sacrilegious. For me, any book that divides in such a way deserves a good reading, for it has enflamed the passions of readers. This is what good art does.