Cover Image: Lakewood

Lakewood

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Member Reviews

This novel is phenomenal. Often we make decisions wholly based upon the betterment of our family, not considering the possible outcome. It may seem incredible, but if we have to guess our decision on certain things second, perhaps, we need to choose a different alternative.

The story dealt with some heavy themes mainly, how the government is built to humiliate the black race. The plot is ingenious and leaves the reader wanting more. The author created some captivating imagery and characters.

Much thanks to Amistad books for the Advance Reader's E- Proof. The release date is March 24, 2020, by Amistad books. An unforgettable read.
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I had a lot of trouble finishing this book, I didn't really enjoy the plotline or the characters very much though I did finish it
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Do not sleep on this book– or rather, don’t try to sleep after reading it. Make sure to add it to your reading list for the year if you liked the movie GET OUT or are a fan of twisty lit-fic.

Megan Giddings is the features editor of The Rumpus and author of some amazing short stories at places like The Iowa Review and Gulf Coast. After reading some of her shorter work, I was thrilled to receive and advanced copy of her debut novel.

Lena Johnson, fresh from her grandmother’s funeral, comes face to face with the realities of overdue bills and the full weight of care-taking for her mother. Instead of being able to return to college, Lena opts to join a medical study in order to get full health insurance and earn money for her family.

What follows is a mix of literary fiction and horror inspired by real-life medical experimentation on communities of color. Lena’s journey and time at Lakewood is part absurd and part too real. She signs an NDA, agrees to all protocols, and is forced to go to a “cover job” that seems like a normal office environment every day. Meanwhile, the town around the facility is complicit and very white– and both of those realities chill and force the narrative forward. The side effects, the experiments, and the lies start to add up as the plot progresses. The reader is exposed to Lena’s dreams and hallucinations, wants and fears, and I found that I could not put this novel down.

One of the most amazing things about Giddings’ work here is the expert sprinkling of humor that makes the horrific all the more surreal. The nicknames for the “observers” in the lab and the almost The Office-like nature of the cover job only make the dark moments darker. Giddings is an expert craftswoman and an exacting critic here.
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Oh, this book! One of those where you want to read it, you know it has important things to say, but is so deeply disturbing it is tempting to put it down, tip toe away and not face the awful side of humanity that is put under a microscope within its pages. Lena was raised in large part by her grandmother, Miss Toni, because her mom, Deziree, suffers from a host of ailments that are incapacitating. Lena is college-age, and the family struggles with debt due in large part to medical bills incurred by her uninsured mother. Lena gets an opportunity to become a "patient" at a medical research facility in Lakewood, MI which will both pay her a wage and provide the much needed medical insurance her family needs. Lena is tasked with the idea that “it’s overwhelming to know truly how much you love someone, how much of yourself you would destroy because of that.” (The cover of the book really represents this beautifully.) At one point in the story, someone is overheard saying “the shit people will do for money.” There lies the rub: when one feels desperate, what will they do, and who is willing to take advantage/benefit from that desperation?
This book will make you feel queasy. It will challenge you to think about many moral dilemmas including: corporations and how they pollute, medical testing on both animal and human subjects, racism, and family secrets.
I am very excited to have the opportunity to meet the author in May at Booktopia at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT.

Thank you to #netgalley and #harpercollins for this early review copy. 

#lakewood
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Lena Johnson is trying to cope with the recent death of her grandmother and her mother Deziree's debilitating health issues while dealing with the mounting medical debt.

She receives an invitation to take part in The Lakewood Project, a series of research studies.  The offer seems too good to be true:  high pay, family health insurance with no out of pocket expenses, and housing provided.

The catch?  Lena has to participate in a secret program and cannot disclose any details to her family and friends.  Despite the limited details, she applies anyway.  Her mother's health will continue to suffer without medical coverage and the pay would allow her to pay off their debt while also saving so she can return to college.

Lena arrives in the remote town of Lakewood, Michigan and is given a "cover story":  she works for Great Lakes Shipping Company as a dispatch operator. To the small town of Lakewood, it appears to be like any other trucking/warehouse company.
Lena will actually spend her time in research studies but will be given a card with small made-up details about her work day to share with family and friends.

At orientation, Lena discovers the study participants are all black, Indian, or lantix with the exception of one older white woman.  The group is told their research will benefit countless people.  Among the many studies performed, they will be testing pills that could potentially cure dementia and eyedrops that can temporarily change eye color.

What is not discussed are the potential consequences of these studies.  The participants have all signed NDAs and understand they'll be compensated for side effects and injuries but no one will discuss these possibilities at length.

It isn't long before Lena witnesses the horrors of the research trials, first in other participants and eventually in herself.   There are people watching at all times.  In fact, she begins to wonder if the entire town of Lakewood is part of the study.

Lakewood is a provocative medical thriller that raises questions about the very real struggles working-class families face, sacrifices made, and the history of horrific experiments performed on minorities under the guise of scientific advancement.

The atmosphere is intense, I felt a sense of unease the entire time I was reading!  As the events become more horrific and Lena becomes more confused, my sense of paranoia was heightened and I didn't trust a single character or reject a single possibility.

My sole issue is that the story felt disjointed as it switched between third person and first person narration.  We're given brief horror scenes and unsettling interviews Lena endures in third person while reading her confused and anxious thoughts written in a series of letters to her best friend.  It felt like a collection of scenes rather than a full-fleshed novel.  The foundation is absolutely there but the structure wasn't as cohesive as I needed it to be to deliver the full story.

Thanks to Amistad and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Lakewood is scheduled for release on March 24, 2020.
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Lena’s grandmother dies—leaving her with much of the financial responsibility of caring for her ailing mother, Deziree.

In order to make ends meet, and provide a more stable life for them both, Lena decides to answer an ad requesting subjects take part in a research study. 

Lena has her doubts but the money is too good to pass up and she knows without it, Deziree’s condition will get worse, and Lena doesn’t want to let her mother down. 

As Lena’s gets deeper into the study, she begins to question its merit and wonders who it’s meant to benefit. 

Furthermore, she wonders why mostly minorities and poor people have been chosen to take part—calling into question the ethics of scientists as it pertains to choosing subjects. 


The story takes place in modern times but it could have easily been set in the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s, as the small town of Lakewood feels like a place stuck in a time warp: the people are oddly disconnected from the outside world and many of the interactions they have with Lena read like something out of the Twilight Zone.

At one point, Lena begins to wonder if the town itself is part of a bigger experiment. 

I don’t wish to give away too much, but it’s clear there is a lot going on behind the scenes, and Lena seems to be an important part of everything.

Overall, a very interesting story, but it lagged in places and wrapped up without giving proper closure to certain key aspects of the plot; that left me a bit flustered and wanting.

Furthermore, not knowing the fate of some of the main characters, despite being reminded of their importance, via the impact they had on Lena and other parts of the story, was a bit unnerving. 

Aside from that, the story is good and the discussion it invokes, regarding medical ethics, and whether the value of using human specimens trumps the inhumanity those persons could potentially suffer, is one worth having. 

Thank you to Netgalley for this Advanced eGalley. Opinion is my own.
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PEEPS - I'VE GOT ANOTHER BOOK FOR YOUR '2020 MUST READ SHELF.'

This book was seriously, so good and so, so, SO engrossing. I did not want to put it down, and when I did, all I did was think about it. I woke up at 4:30 am last night to use the bathroom and all I could think about is WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS BOOK. 

OK BRIEF SYNOPSIS: We've got this really, loving family of a mom, daughter and grandmother. The grandmother passes away at the beginning of the story, leaving the daughter, Lena, to take care of her sick mother. The sickness her mother has is a medical mystery, we just know they have a lot of medical bills and debt to pay. Lena, a college student that will do anything to take care of her family, receives a mysterious letter in the mail inviting her to partake in a research study about memory. She is promised very generous compensation, housing and incredible health insurance for her mother. Being the devoted and loving daughter she is, she agrees to join and is overjoyed that her mother will finally have the healthcare she needs, and the money needed to pay off costly medical bills. As the study begins, Lena soon learns nothing is at it seems and is left wondering if it worth going through this daily torture and putting her life at risk for money and health insurance. 

I don't want to give away too much of the story because I feel this one is better going in a bit blind. 

There are so many amazing this about this book. The story is eerie, and very Margaret Atwood-esque. Most importantly, it's a story about how the government and research facilities have long taken advantage of poor, minority or disadvantaged communities to partake in "research studies" without actually telling participants what's going to happen and what they are testing for. You'll get basic human rights like healthcare and appropriate compensation if you just do whatever your told and keep your mouth shut. It's horrifying and truly disturbing to read, as it should be because this has happened and continues to happen.

This book is insanely thought provoking and would be a great book club selection that would open up some very meaningful dialogue. If you're like me however, and never leave your house or socialize, this book is still a must-read...and when you finish, get online and talk about it with all your Internet friends.

5 shining stars for me on this one. ADD THIS TO YOUR TO READ LIST FOLKS!

Special thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers for the ARC and wanting to know my honest opinions!
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Imagine combining something like the Tuskegee experiments with the Flint Water Crisis. To be released in March, this is a creepy, surreal novel about a young woman whose participation in a medical study leads to a full-time job as a research subject with a mysterious, possibly nefarious, company. As the larger context of the research is gradually revealed with dawning horror, the story takes on the contours of a speculative fiction treatment of the shameful history and legacy of human experimentation with African-American in the United States, as well as corporate depredation of the environments in which the historically marginalized make their homes. The language gets richer and more vivid as the true contours of the Lakewood Project become more apparent.
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This is a creepy, dark, and thought-provoking debut that has kept me up at night.

The novel begins as Lena has lost her beloved grandmother to cancer, leaving Lena to worry about caring for her mysteriously ill mother and manage a whole lot of debt. Lena decides to leave college and take a position in a shady research project in a remote town called Lakewood. The study pays her well and provides the medical insurance that Lena’s mom so badly needs, but Lena quickly realizes she had no idea what she was getting in to.

The medical and psychological experiments are terrifying, at times making me physically uncomfortable while reading. Beyond that, the story recalls actual government experiments done on Black people throughout the sorted history of our country’s treatment of race and class divides. Not an easy read, but definitely worth it.

The writing is very good, and extremely descriptive. Lena and her mom are sympathetic characters. I was so worried for them and felt stifled and trapped as Lena’s situation deteriorated as the story cruised along. I am very impressed that a debut evoked such strong emotions for me.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychological suspense that makes you think.
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Gorgeous cover, right? Lakewood is a town, a sham company, and a nefarious experiment. It's probably also a metaphor I'm too dumb or ignorant to get. Giddings's imagery is strong sentences like, "They sowed coins into Cleopatra's slot machines" and "a mint that looked as if it had already been sucked on and then put back in the cellophane wrap."

An impaired mother, Deziree, and her college student daughter, Lena, are the sowers, gambling as instructed by the recently deceased Ms. Toni their mother and grandmother, respectively. Ms. Toni raised Lena along with Deziree, whose seizures and other issues made taking care of a child alone impossible. Now that Toni is gone and Lena is more-or-less raised, what remains is a ton of debt. Lena gets an offer that she can't refuse, to serve in an extended medical trial, supposedly run by the government.

Most of the experiment subjects are Black, Indian, or Latinx, and the staff are white and Asian. Overheard remarks are wonderment at what people will do for money, as if the subject selection itself isn't predatory. To the medical staff, Lena and the other subjects are data, with their emotions and responses as data points to be documented. There are observers, as well, trained not to engage the test subjects, referred to in notes by their initials.

As the novel progresses, the narration becomes less reliable, as Lena responds to the various therapies they try on her, as well as the circumstances of the experiment itself--living remotely, living a lie, not knowing what is real and what is test. Lakewood is scary in that it's like a dystopia that could be happening now and in the recent past and explains a lot about systemic racism and generational violence against Black people. It's metaphoric--and real.
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What an impressive debut medical thriller! I practically speed read Megan Gidding's novel from the first page. It was a beautiful convergence of Netgalley approval and exactly what I needed to read on the same day.

Lena recently lost her grandmother, has a disabled mother, and is trying to complete her college degree when an invitation arrives asking her to apply for a medical research study that promises life-changing compensation and full medical coverage in exchange for a year of her life. For Lena, there is no choice to be made here, only the question of how long she can withstand (or survive) the questionable studies she and her fellow participants are forced to endure during their tenure at Lakewood. 

I really enjoyed my reading experience with this one. Not only does Giddings' pace keep the pages turning, but she explores really important and relevant themes, even bringing past wrongs back to the front page. Through Lena's eyes we examine medical care, colorism, classism, racism, and family responsibility. Giddings deftly recalls the racially discriminatory Tuskegee Syphilis Medical Experiments, and others like it, of the early 1900's to show that medical discrimination is still a very real thing that Black families deal with every day.

There is nothing wrong with this book. The ending is maybe not what the reader would hope for but also not a bad ending at all. This book definitely comes with a content warning for graphic body horror, which I thought was excellently done, but also recognize that it is really difficult for some people to read. I definitely recommend Lakewood for thriller readers that are looking for a bit more depth.
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This is an enjoyable yet incredibly creepy and heavy read about a young woman who signs up to be part of unknown (and never defined) experiments in the small town of Lakewood.  Clearly influenced by the U.S. government's and hospital's history of experimenting on African American citizens without their knowledge or consent, the book explores what a woman would undergo to provide for her ailing mother.  At first I was put off by the "simplicity" of the author's language at the beginning of the book, but then I realized how well it worked with the disturbing imagery created by the author describing the effects the main character and others experienced side effects from the experiments (especially Bethany).
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Lakewood is an absorbing read from the very beginning, Lena Johnson is mourning the loss of her grandmother who raised her while her own mother Deziree was unwell due to a mysterious chronic illness. Lena leaves college for a job offer that sounds too good to be true, volunteering herself as a research subject for huge monetary gain, but with truly horrific consequences. I'm going to be shaking afterthoughts about Lakewood from my head for months to come.  

Megan Giddings uses razor sharp wit and clever dialog, intertwining killer observances of what's happening to civility and culture in America's heartland, with historical layers of institutionalized racism, insidious conspiracy theories, as a population realizes that governments can be absolutely worthless. I grew up in the Great Lakes State, am outraged at Flint's poisoned water supply, and couldn't help but go there as I read the final chapters of Lakewood.
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This book was very enjoyable! I found it to be very heart wrenching and creepy (in a good way). It also made me reflect on the many documented cases of black people being exploited for medical experiments. I often found myself wondering what lengths I would go to if I were in Lena’s shoes. Definitely recommend!
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What would you sacrifice to keep a loved one alive?
In Giddings debut Lena’s family is drowning in medical debt and she can’t see any other way to help her chronically ill mother than to drop out of college and find work. In the process of job hunting she receives a too good to be true offer to participate in secret research trials in a remote town of Lakewood, Michigan. Over the course of her time at Lakewood she must rethink what she would sacrifice of her own health for her the sake of her mother’s. Eerily reminiscent of Henrietta Lacks, the Tuskegee experiments, and other unethical human subject experiments—specifically focusing on Brown bodies. Thought-provoking, really creepy, and maybe a little too possible. Recommended!
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Wow!!! Unlike anything else  I've ever read Lakewood was so absorbing!!! It's been a long time since a book has held my attention from the beginning to the end. Sometimes the storytelling was hard to follow, which I find to be the case for some ARCs , but after slowing down and taking my time, I couldn't put the book down. It is being talked about in our RA meetings as one of the best debut books this year. I was able to put puzzle pieces together regarded Lena and her mother, Deziree, but that didn't ruin the book for me. I was mesmerized by the willingness of a family member to take a chance in human experimentation on themselves for another family member. Creepy, enthralling and enlightening, I would recommend this book for readers of scifi, fiction and mystery.
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Although interesting premise, comparisons others have made to The Handmaid's Tale meets Henrietta Lacks, are overambitious. The story was not compelling enough for me. I wanted more depth to the Lena Johnson character and foundation for the existence of Lakewood. To me, this book was a less interesting version of Henrietta Lacks meets The Circle.
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I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review..

This novel was a compelling read that I found hard to put down.  It was both terrifying and heartwrenching when one contemplates the lengths that one would be willing to go to in order to save and provide for an incompaciatated loved one.  The ending  twist ties everything together.
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Megan Giddings debut novel Lakewood can't help but draw comparisons to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the harvesting of Henrietta Lacks' cells to further medical research.  Lakewood, which examines the predatory actions of a government medical research study on marginalized groups, is fiction, but could easily have been torn from the pages of history - one in which experimenting on minorities, the poor, and disadvantaged was a common and accepted practice.  

Lena Johnson is her mother's sole caretaker.  Her mother, who has frequent, unexplained seizures, is without affordable medical care, and Lena is trying to juggle her course load at college, along with her family's bills.  There has been talk among the circles she frequents about medical studies that will pay you well for submitting to their tests and asking no questions.  With the debts mounting and her mother's condition worsening, Lena signs up for one of these studies in the remote town of Lakewood with the promise of good pay and health insurance for her family.  

In Lakewood, Lena is given a cover job at the Great Lakes Shipping Company, which really doesn't exist.  It is a front for anyone who should come snooping around the building where these super secretive government studies are taking place.  Every morning, Lena is given a script of her work day, which contains the only things she is allowed to say to her friends and family about her "job."  Behind the scenes, Lena is subjected to experimentation that tests her both mentally and physically.  As the experiments intensify, and the line between real and perceived becomes blurred, Lena can't help but wonder if the seemingly dangerous risks involved outweigh the supposed reward.  

Lakewood is an immersive reading experience, entangling readers in essentially torture in the name of scientific research right alongside Lena.  Seeing the world through Lena's eyes as she is thrust into questionable scientific studies, readers have no choice but to trust Lena's perception of the experiments she is subjected to and bear witness to how horrifying it is to be turned into a real-life human guinea pig.   

Lakewood is eerie and unsettling - as it should be.  This fictional freak show is sadly not so far removed from the horrors of our past.  When human rights and dignity are so easily disregarded, the fabric that holds society together unravels at a terrifying pace.  Recommended for those who enjoy novels that take a voyeuristic, risky approach to storytelling, and for anyone who likes books that border on real-life dystopia.
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What would you do for money and great healthcare? Are you willing to subject your body to different experiments even if it’s detrimental to your mental and physical health? 

The main character, Lena, decides to risk it all for monetary gain and the ability to financially care for her ailing mother. 

Listen, this book was rather eerie. There were multiple scenes in the novel where I had to reread the chapters twice just to make sure I didn’t misinterpret anything. 
The story reminded me a little of a modern day Brave New World mixed in with the true, life stories of the disturbing Tuskegee Syphillus experiments. 

The imagery was SO realistic. I felt like I was right there with Lena. It appealed to all five of my senses and ignited my imagination in such a way that I literally FELT like I was watching the experiments in real life. 

I can’t wait to read more by this author. 


I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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