Goodreads summary of The Ascent by Adam Plantinga (review below):
When a high-security prison fails, a down-on-his-luck cop and the governor’s daughter are going to have to team up if they’re going to escape in this “jaw-dropping, authentic, and absolutely gripping” (Harlan Coben, #1 New York Times bestselling author) debut thriller from Adam Plantinga, whose first nonfiction book Lee Child praised as “truly excellent.”
Kurt Argento is an ex-Detroit street cop who can’t let injustice go and has the fighting skills to back up his idealism. If he sees a young girl being dragged into an alley, he’s going to rescue her and cause some damage. When he does just that in a small, corrupt Missouri town, he’s brutally beaten and thrown into a maximum-security prison. Julie Wakefield, a grad student who happens to be the governor’s daughter, is about to tour the prison. But when a malfunction in the security system releases a horde of prisoners, a fierce struggle for survival ensues.
Argento must help a small band of staff and civilians, including Julie and her two state trooper handlers, make their way from the bottom floor to the roof to safety. All that stands in their way are six floors of the most dangerous convicts in Missouri.
This review is horrible to write and will be short and to the point.
The Ascent by Adam Plantinga has so much potential in premise and writing. Moreover, it had the chance to do the right thing and epically failed.
Let me start with the things that I liked at the beginning of The Ascent. Unfortunately, that was before it became problematic.
The characters are depicted with solid personalities and given strong backgrounds. Next, Adam Plantinga’s writing started brilliantly between (what was at first) its brutal honesty, raw violence (The Ascent is not written for the faint of heart), and what seemed to be well-researched information about the prison system/justice system, with its extreme flaws.
This included an outstanding balance of dark periods with dark humor by Adam Plantinga. At first, I thought that some of the narratives around racism, mental illness, and sex were hard-to-hear brutal truths, but then it banked to the left. The writing was strong enough to overlook the politician’s-daughter trope. The pacing was break-neck. It reads like a book that should be a suspenseful/thrilling movie.
The prison setting was utilized optimally, giving a feeling of claustrophobia and anxiety.
Then it all went to hell. I’m not going to quote anything because I feel like that would give voice to the problematic parts of The Ascent. Let me list this out because it is just so frustrating. Adam Plantinga set up a brilliant premise, with fantastic writing, just to portray the below with insensitivity, if not recklessly.
Thank you to Grand Central Publishing and Hachette Audio for an Advance copy of The Ascent by Adam Plantinga.
- General representation of prison populations- while Adam Plantinga could have done a lot of good by depicting a well-rounded narrative of the inmates, he goes straight to the extremes of them all. This includes the racism between inmates, division by race, and an extreme depiction of gang life. To be fair, I don’t have experience with the prison system, nor have I been in one. And while I believe these pieces do exist in prisons, the maximal focus on stereotypes (to me) was uncalled for. Lastly, the view of a death-row inmate was not just stereotypical but over-the-top.
- Mental Illness- The unit of the prison that held those who were deemed mentally ill. There is no discussion of how they are treated except to say they were doped up into docility. An interaction with one inmate, in particular, was highly disturbing. Lastly, throwing around the names of medications without any background is dangerous. Many drugs, such as Seroquel (as one example- I should note that this is not a medication I take, so I don’t have personal experience with it), are just thrown out there in the context of described extreme behaviors. This puts a bullseye and stigma on anyone utilizing these drugs.
- Sexism- The sexism around the politician’s daughter, Julie, is out of hand. It consistently focuses on her physical features and how she must be reminded of them in the context of the setting. Mentioning it once or twice would make sense. But the consistency of it is overdone and damaging.
Ultimately, it is up to everyone whether they think anything is problematic. Furthermore, every reader has to decide whether the issues with writing balance out what they like about a book. However, this was a challenging book that was frustrating to finish. Your miles may vary.