Review: Inspection by Josh Malerman

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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, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know—and all they are allowed to know.

But J suspects 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.


Inspection is the fourth Josh Malerman book that I have read, and I will say that I did enjoy this novel more than some of his others. The novel starts with a weird premise, the Alphabet Boys are living in a turret in the middle of the Michigan forest without knowledge of certain things beyond the woods, including society and females. There are 24 of the boys, because two have already been spoiled rotten and sent to the Corner (which is a death sentence.) When J starts to ask questions about the structure of his life and what lies beyond the woods, things start to become more dangerous and the clearer his vision becomes the more things spin out of control.  In the novel synopsis, it tells of a second turret, the Letter Girls, 25 girls (with one spoiled rotten) living the opposite existence. Eventually the Alphabet Boys and the Letter Girls will come into contact with one another and their world will stop. 

I did not know anything about this book going into it. I did not read the synopsis. I did not know about the second turret either. Maybe this is what made me enjoy Inspection more than other readers. If I would have read the synopsis, I would not have been so blindsided when the second turret and the second set of children showed up. I liked the way that it was going, with the resident boy’s writer, Warren Bratt, deciding that to recapture his integrity, he is going to blow the top off of the Alphabet Boys lives and their leader, D.A.D. This whole novel felt like a huge unsettling experiment, like the film, Dogtooth, where children are getting gaslighted by adults. Some people find these types of stories disgusting and unethical, the mental abuse being something that they find too disgusting to read and enjoy. I find these stories disturbing but also fascinating, like what kind of adult wants to make a child think in a certain way about the world? Why would someone want this so much that they are willing to build a whole life on lies? I wish there was more pages dedicated to the reasoning behind these experiments, why D.A.D and M.O.M really wanted to run this experiment on children for so long. 

The entire novel was deeply engaging and fascinating for me. I did not find there to be too many parts that dragged the narrative down. I like the way that the society was structured, and how all of the action unfolded. The character and their motivations are clear and their disappointment in one another is disheartening. I felt sorry for the children who are caught up in this novel, and it would be interesting to get a sequel, one that tells how the kids struggle to adapt to life after learning about each other. I would be excited about this novel, but I also am really starting to get a good idea of the nuances of Josh Malerman’s work. I know that I have not read the major one yet (for some reason I keep avoiding Bird Box), but Inspection is my favorite so far.

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