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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Horror (2020)
A startling debut about class and race, Lakewood evokes a terrifying world of medical experimentation—part The Handmaid’s Tale, part The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

When Lena Johnson’s beloved grandmother dies, and the full extent of the family debt is revealed, the black millennial drops out of college to support her family and takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan.

On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away.

The discoveries made in Lakewood, Lena is told, will change the world—but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating. As the truths of the program reveal themselves, Lena learns how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family.

Provocative and thrilling, Lakewood is a breathtaking novel that takes an unflinching look at the moral dilemmas many working-class families face, and the horror that has been forced on black bodies in the name of science.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published March 24, 2020

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Megan Giddings

19 books406 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,764 reviews
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews111k followers
February 13, 2021
A creepy and unnerving story based on how black people have historically been treated and tested in government experiments. Reading this felt like a fever dream: confusing and bizarre and unsettling. I think this would best be enjoyed by readers who also liked Catherine House, since it primarily focuses on the dark atmosphere without giving any answers to questions. Enjoyment for this story is very subjective - while there are things I wish the story had to make me enjoy the book more, you could argue that not including those things was the point of the story. For example, I would have liked it better if the events weren’t so repetitive and the plot progressed more, especially since everything in the book showcases things happening TO the protagonist rather than her leading the story. However, this could simply be a story that showcases what it’s like to have a protagonist have no agency in the situation she’s trapped in, and have to face a hazy blur of experiments over and over (which is very much how things can be in real life). At the very least, though, I wish we got a closer glimpse at the protagonist’s psyche and her devotion to her family that makes her determined to survive these brutal trials. There’s emotional depth here that could have been explored to make up for the repetitive events and keep us engaged. What I want in a story might not be what the author intended though, and that’s okay. It’s still a solid debut that sparks a discussion, and I’d be interested in reading the author’s future works to see if she digs deeper into medical racism.
Profile Image for Paige.
152 reviews286 followers
March 21, 2020

After her grandmother passes, Lena searches for financial comfort since her mother is medically unwell. She receives a letter offering more than enough to provide the comfort she needs if she moves to Lakewood and submits herself to the Lakewood Project. Accepting, Lena finds herself as part of a human experiment group.

I enjoyed this debut young adult novel. It was a quick and easy read with a dark atmosphere. Lena's race and socioeconomic status were rightfully featured as doormat for the government's testing purposes. I kept wondering what was going to happen to Lena and the others that were part of the experiment group. There are a lot of unanswered questions for the greater half of the novel that build the readers suspense.

But at times it felt repetitive, and I just wanted the story to get on with it and progress. For example, the experiment group would do something they were told and the observers would watch what happened; this seemed to cycle around regularly for several chapters. The ending felt rushed for me. I didn't feel complete closure for the full character of Lena. It skipped over a lot of the emotional and intellectual depth that was disclosed at the beginning.

Various though-provoking topics and questions surfaced throughout the story as a result of Lena's background. What boundaries do humans have, and how do we set those boundaries? What are we willing to do to ensure the survival of our family and health insurance for ourselves and/or our loved ones? How do we justify the monetary value placed on someone else's life?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy. Opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Destanye B..
266 reviews10 followers
August 18, 2020
Ok, guys just finished Lakewood: A Novel by debut author Megan Giddings!

- I’m not sure what genre this book was supposed to be in but the idea of a realism horror of using black and brown bodies for experimentation purposes (that were done so many times in the past without our consent) was an interesting topic, especially the idea that they chose ppl who were in desperate financial situations to “consent” to have these test done.

- When finding out her mom was the way that she was due to having a similar experience I thought that was interesting. Also, that her grandmother might have come from Lakewood was an interesting theory!

- The idea that it’s not a problem as long as white people aren’t infected is telling. Also, is wondered the whole time if Lakewood was supposed to be like Flint. —- you know it’s in the water —- they still don’t have clean water by the way.

- Poetic justice for them to “play” and say the land was cursed and it was stolen from Black settlers for the water to be the thing that contaminates everyone whites included.

- not a pro or con but why were the Judy’s keep getting replaced and was like I’m the same, Judy? I was like what’s the point of this.


- There was no climactic point or unveiling. As I kept reading towards the end I was like ok when are we going to know what’s going on when is this going to make sense and it didn’t have that.

- That whole chapter where she was high and all her days were pushed together and then all of sudden she left and went home was wack. I was like this is soooo rushed, and for why?

- I didn’t connect with the main character. It was bogus to see her go through this but she also willingly went through this. It was hard for me to connect with her as a person. I mean but I guess what would you do for family and there probably is no limit to what I would or would not do for those I love, so I guess I get it.

- We never understood the point of all the experiments and that’s what the book was so anti-climatic. What was the point? We know the Smith guy was pretty much the one in charge but all the experiments that were there what was the point of them—— especially the experiment of the little girl and the gun. The Madison’s sounded like little white girls so ... it couldn’t just be about race, right?

- She wrote letters to her friend Tonya and made her kind of the guardian over her estate if something happened to her. Let’s be real they didn’t seem that close for it to be all of that. I’m confused by that decision

- We should have gotten more info about the grandmas past. That was the way to connect the story and it didn’t work out.

- Also, finding out the mom was experimented on, Lena was experimented on and the Grandma might have come from Lakewood was a dead storyline. Like how do you tease that and not connect?

- Why didn’t the participants talk to each other? The NDA can’t be messed up with ppl who are undergoing the same thing right?

- The water was the big scandal, not the experimentation. So, how is that correlated we don’t have anything to connect that?

I think this book had a lot of potential to be great. It had a great subject matter. The problem was there were a lot of loose ends and didn’t get deep to give the reader insight into why things were happening. I also feel that we got chapters on things we didn’t need and we were pretty much done with the book and got no revelation or insight into what was going on.

Megan definitely has a chance to be a good horror, mystery, etc writer; I just think she needs to go deeper and add some more meat. It was an easy read though and easy to get through. Interested to see what her next book is like.
Profile Image for Starlah.
393 reviews1,596 followers
October 15, 2020
This book is creepy, gripping, thought-provoking, atmospheric. Honestly, if Jordan Peele wrote a movie about Henrietta Lacks, it would be something like this. While reading, there is such a sense of dread mounting up until the end. I was so engrossed with this.

When Lena Johnson's beloved grandmother dies, Lena is left with a huge amount of family debt. Lena then drops out of college and sign up to do this medical experiment in Lakewood, Michigan to earn good money to pay off the family debt and assist her mother who needs medical expenses. As Lena spends more and more time at this facility, more and more strange discoveries come up and as the truths of the program reveal themselves, Lena learns how much she's willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family.

This book is about the horror that has been forced on Black bodies in the name of science for hundreds of years. I've come across a lot of reviews saying this book is not horror and that it's unrealistic and that's very frustrating since there is a long and documented history of forced and coerced experimentation on Black bodies dating back to slavery. It is clearly documented. And to say that this book is unrealistic - and therefore not a thriller/horror and not as good of a book because of that - feels very ignorant and lowkey racist. Loved this book!
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
766 reviews1,143 followers
April 21, 2020
An un-put-downable debut!

Lakewood has been compared to The Handmaid's Tale which almost kept me from reading it. One, I get tired of everything even remotely dystopian being compared to The Handmaid's Tale and two, I didn't like that book very much. Thankfully I decided to read Lakewood anyway, and double thankfully, it isn't anything like The Handmaid's Tale. It's an entirely different story and I'm not even sure it belongs in the dystopia genre. Also, Lakewood is much, much better.

For the last few centuries at least, white people have been exploiting Black and Brown people, using their bodies as though they own them and as though they aren't as valuable as white people. From slavery to the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, to modern for-profit prisons that are full of Black and Brown bodies locked up for the slightest infractions and working for dollars a day, to sweat shops in developing countries, many white people still act as though they have every right to use and abuse people they think are inferior to them. This is not to say that greedy corporations don't also exploit poor white people, but to highlight the fact that the trend continues to this day of treating Black and Brown people as expendable and less valuable.

Author Megan Giddings draws on this to create the Lakewood Project. College student Lena is struggling to make ends meet after her grandmother dies and Lena takes over the care of her mother. When she is offered a lucrative chance to participate in a research study, Lena jumps on board. What ensues is a terrifying story of government experimentation on humans. Remember the adage If it seems too good to be true it probably is? As Lena is reminded, "America is only routinely good to women, especially black women, when it wants something from them.”

I highly enjoyed this book, troublesome as it is to be reminded of the atrocities we humans can heap upon others. Ms. Giddings does a terrific job describing Lena's thoughts and emotions as she is more and more immersed in the "research", enduring ghastly treatment. Lena narrates the book and I loved hearing her thoughts on various subjects, especially when she pointed out micro-aggressions and instances of racism that white people might not notice because we are not the recipient. I should point out though that this is not a book bashing white people. It brings to light various types of racism but without demonizing all white people. It is a novel that white people can learn from -- and it's also an excellent story!

My only problem with the book is that by the last quarter it started to be monotonous and I found my attention waning. I don't know if it was me or the book... the second part was in the form of letters Lena wrote to her friend and I might just not have liked that style. Not sure. The ending wasn't very satisfactory either. It wasn't a bad ending, just not very remarkable. For this reason I give the novel 4 stars instead of 5. I think Ms. Giddings is an exceptional story teller though and I'll be eagerly awaiting her next book. Kudos for a terrific debut!
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,224 followers
January 27, 2020
This was a great book! What interested me was the way Giddings managed to explore how the society fails to protect the most vulnerable and instead result uses their weakness to exploit them for their own benefit. Crazy!

A huge thank you Amistad for gifting me a copy of this book! Like for reals

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Profile Image for Christina.
308 reviews8 followers
November 25, 2019
When I finished this book, all I could think about were the experimentations that were forced upon black bodies in the Tuskegee experiment of untreated sphyilis in black men. Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male was a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service. The study initially involved 600 black men – 399 with syphilis, 201 who did not have the disease. The study was conducted without the benefit of patients’ informed consent. Researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. In truth, they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance. Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years.

Lakewood is reminiscent of how the government and/or entities like the government entice the poor, minority, disadvantaged, underserved community of people into "research studies" to glean medical research without telling the willing participants what the research is supposed to truthfully do or not do. The people, unfortunately get sucked in by the promise of benefits that they would not ordinarily be able to obtain because of their socioeconomic status in life.

The story is told from the perspective of Lena, who has just recently lost her grandmother to cancer and now has to take on the financial responsibilities of her disabled mother. Her mother, who does not have healthcare insurance and needs her much needed medication, Lena, decides to sign up for a research studies program that guarantees her healthcare coverage and enough money to be able to support herself and her mother. However, Lena cannot disclose this program or its details to anyone, and she has to lie to everyone about what she's doing in order to stay in the program and reap the benefits. She is told: "You give of yourself to make your country a better place. You give of yourself to keep us safe." However, Lena knows something isn't right.

This book was eerie and spooky. To think that our US government could be performing research studies to test medications, side effects, untreated diseases or worse on people is beyond my own understanding. However, the US government has done this before on more than one occasion. We are just now publicly acknowledging the vast effects and benefits that Henrietta Lacks and her uninformed consent of the harvesting of her cervical cancer cells did for modern medicine. Her family has yet to see any financial recoupment for the taking of her cells and the advances medicine has made because of the illegal harvesting of her cells.

This book was hair raising, spooky, eerily familiar and fascinating. I would definitely recommend reading this book when it hits the shelves. Don't miss out! Rating 4/5.
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone.
1,485 reviews189 followers
December 1, 2020
2.5 Stars


I really wanted this to be a deeper exploration of medical experiments conducted on people from lower socio-economic groups, and also on POC. It danced around the edges but never really went far enough to have the shock factor that I had been expecting. The writing is pretty good and there were some super creepy moments dotted in there but mostly it was dull. Just okay for me.
1 review1 follower
February 1, 2021
Described as "Henrietta Lacks" meets "Handmaids Tale", this book is ultimately very disappointing.

Summed up, the plot of Lakewood is: the US government conducts unethical experiments on socioeconomically vulnerable people of color.

Once Lena signs up for the study, the plot ultimately devolves into a tiring narrative loop: experiment is conducted, subjects lay victim to results ranging from slightly bizarre to utterly horrific, subjects lie to family and friends about their experience. Lather, rinse, repeat. Perhaps this text would have worked better as a Jordan Peele-esque film where the entertainment value could lie in the visuals, rather than the plot or character development (which this novel lacks).

Do we come to understand the nature of the experiments being conducted and to what end? No.
Do we find out why Lena and her family have been generationally targeted as subjects? No.
Does the novel provide any sense of closure or resolve for the subjects or the readers? No.

All of these unanswered questions leave the reader asking, what exactly is Giddings trying to say with this story? Beyond the idea that governments view poor, black and brown bodies as expendable, not much.
Profile Image for Brandon Baker.
Author 14 books2,734 followers
February 16, 2023
Such a strange, unnerving reading experience! It kinda reminded me of the game Control in a few ways, in the same way that Authority by Jeff Vandermeer did.

I really did love it, but I wanted more!!! Ahhhhhhhhh 😅 The ending was so good, but it was also rushed and just left me wishing there was more craziness.

**Also, I’ve also seen quite a few reviews claim this was YA? It’s not.
Profile Image for Jessie.
259 reviews166 followers
January 19, 2020
I was initially unsure if Megan Giddings’ Lakewood had taken me all of the way there. Having finished it at a breakneck page-turning speed late last night, and woken up with a tense jaw and stress headache, I can confirm that this book delivered on it’s promise. In a Get Out Style premise, where inhabiting a Black body is most of the horror story, this book follows a young Black college student, child of an ill mother and grandchild to a recently deceased grandmother who enters a secret medical experiment in order to pay off the familial debts that cannot be allayed by the generational wealth and privilege denied to folks like her. The terror in this book is the impassiveness with which scientists operate on the Black body, the ways that people have to make do when the world does what it can to keep them down, how private we make our desperation to spare our loved ones, how little things seem to change over time, how impossible it is to get ahead, and how many ways the world is open to the degradation of Black bodies. Structurally, the third section of the book, written like a series of letters, was the most engaging, and it was there that I was able to fully release myself into the narrative, which was significantly less immersive in the earlier sections and perspectives. This book delivered on a horror that was theoretical but also profoundly real. Thanks @amistadbooks for the review copy.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,821 reviews499 followers
March 31, 2020
I was disappointed by this. I was expecting a sharper depiction of the medical evils perpetrated on people based on their race or class (because that is what the blurb promised), but I found that part of the book to be very timid. It also didn’t work for me as a medical thriller because it lacked suspense. I’m not sure that I’d read anything else by this author. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for luce (tired and a little on edge).
1,417 reviews3,420 followers
June 9, 2022
blogthestorygraphletterboxd tumblrko-fi

“America is only routinely good to women, especially Black women, when it wants something from them.”

Having recently read Megan Giddings' intriguing sophomore novel, The Women Could Fly, I decided to revisit Lakewood, a book that I have picked up and put back down on and off since August 2020. Each reading attempt saw me lose interest during Lena’s first 'interactions' with Lakewood. Whereas The Women Could Fly drew me in from the very first pages, I had a much harder time becoming invested in Lena’s story. The writing was solid enough but lacked the polish of the prose that I encountered in The Women Could Fly. Still, this time around I was determined to finish what I’d started, and so I persevered reading, despite my waning interest. Now that I have finally ‘made it’, I can definitely pinpoint why this book didn’t really grab me like The Women Could Fly: whereas in that novel Giddings maintains a delicate balance between her subject matters (authoritarian & patriarchal regimes, female bodily autonomy) and her character development, here Lena never comes into her own, she sadly remains fairly one-dimensional, and her character often struck me as a vehicle through which the author could explore a horrifyingly unethical human experimentation.

I will begin with the positives: I think Giddings excels at atmosphere, and most of the narrative is permeated by a subtle yet unshakeable sense of unease, one that morphs from a feeling of not-rightness into downright horror. Lena’s story also retains an ambiguous quality, one that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s not. Many of her experiences at Lakewood appear to us as fragments, with no clear chronological order, certain events or memories are distorted. The people involved with the Lakewood project and the people of Lakewood themselves remain opaque figures, their names and faces a blur. Their perturbing vagueness exacerbated the narrative's eerie atmosphere, their perpetual unfamiliarity a source of unease and potential danger. So, in terms of ambience, Lakewood certainly succeeds in making for an alienating and murky read. There were also some very clever descriptions (“Inside, a white woman with a haircut that looked as if she had shown her stylist an image of a motorcycle helmet and said, “That’s the look,” was waiting.”), and I appreciated the narrative's discourse on sacrifice & freedom.

“Maybe the hypothesis is how much do people value money over themselves?

Where this book lets me down however was the way the Lakewood project is presented to us. Much of the narrative, most of the narrative it seemed, consists of the questions Lena has to answer as part of this experiment. And these questions were by turns weird, seemingly arbitrary, and intrusive. Yet, they bored me. I would have preferred the narrative to be heavier on introspection, as Lena was in much need of, well, a personality (besides being a dutiful daughter). She responds to her environments as you would expect: at first she’s perturbed, then disturbed, and finally horrified. But her responding to the questions and the experiments at Lakewood in this manner did not make her come across as a rounded character. The third-person perspective makes her feel further at a remote, which lessened the impact of her narrative. While we do understand the circumstances that lead Lena to ‘participate’ in this project, I did find her initial compliance odd. I would have liked to see more of an internal monologue on her part, rather than having to see her function as a mere plot device through which the author can show how dehumanizing medical experimentation can be. I mean, you could read an article discussing actual unethical medical experimentations, if I have to read about a fictional take on these, I would like for these to be explored through nuanced characters (or a compelling main character at least). Still, the author is able to address the type of circumstances that might lead someone to take part in medical experimentation, and the difficulties in extracting oneself from it. Lena is never quite certain of what is happening to her, and is very much restricted by nda she has signed. She does now and again ask why certain questions are being asked to her, the point behind her answers, but she receives no replies or unsatisfying ones. With the exception of one person, we don’t learn much about the other people in the experiment, and the time Lena spends at Lakewood acquires a blurry, almost feverish quality, one that makes it often difficult to grasp how much time has passed from one scene to the next and determine Lena’s reactions to what she is subjected to and witnesses there. There is a lot f*cked up stuff that happens there that is just glossed over, and in a way, I get that the author was showing that the participants in this experiment had been desensitized to the weirdness of the questions and rules there, but I would have wanted the author to expand some more on Lena’s feelings about a lot of stuff, to be honest.
There seemed to be neither a lot of telling nor showing bizarrely enough. What we do get is a lot of question-and-answer scenes which are profoundly repetitive and dull. I would have liked for the narrative to incorporate more portions of Lena’s life prior to Lakewood, as I believe that her relationship with her now-deceased grandmother, her chronically ill mother, and her best friend, would have added an emotional layer to the story. Again, maybe the cold, detached, somewhat clinical tone was intentional given the focus on Lakewood, however, I personally would have preferred some more depth from Lena.
Still, the author does focus on the way racial minorities, in particular Black people, and disadvantaged groups, such as poor and/or disabled individuals, are often the targets of these experiments, and how they are lied to, abused, and ultimately treated as ‘disposable’. The author also shows the hypocrisy of institutions and corporations that perpetuate physical and psychological violence in the name of ‘progress’.
The denouement was anticlimactic and in some ways predictable. That whole last section, which is presented as a letter if I recall correctly, in some ways ruined the surreal atmosphere so far established by the narrative.

I would have liked more. More from the story, the plot, and especially Lena. The premise was certainly intriguing but the execution left a lot to be desired. I went into this excepting something along the lines of Yorgos Lanthimos or Get Out, and while the book does have Black Mirror and even some Severance vibes, the storyline ultimately feels incomplete and it severely lacked in oomph.

Still, just because I didn’t find this to be as gripping a read as I’d hoped does not mean it was a bad book. If you are interested in it I recommend you check out more positive reviews.
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,706 reviews661 followers
February 24, 2021
Lakewood is a disturbing tale of classism, racism, and desperation and those who take advantage of others because they can and for their own gain. It’s horrifying on so many levels and definitely worth reading.

Lena is a young woman grieving the loss of her grandmother when the story opens. Her grandma took care of them all but especially Lena’s mother who suffers from a brain malady. Now Lena and her mother are left alone with their grief and the mounting bills in the aftermath. It soon becomes overwhelming and when Lena receives a strange letter from The Lakewood Project offering her a huge stipend, lodging, and full medical coverage for her family in exchange for research studies into her mind, memory, personality, and perception, she’s more than a little curious as well as a bit skeptical because if it sounds too good to be true, well, you know the rest.

It feels like a scam. The interview makes her uncomfortable but ultimately she agrees to basically become part of an experiment and from there the most terrible things happen, as they will, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Much of this book reads a little like a fever dream as Lena and her fellow test subjects are exposed to tests and drugs and various appalling and chilling things. Despite this, I never felt too off-kilter. Lena is doing her best to keep it all together and the situation is depressingly oppressive and sad and 100% believable. My only complaint, and it is a bit of a big one, is that this book is a super slow burn (this isn’t the complaint) and the last few pages throw SO much backstory and reveals at the reader that it’s a little mind-numbing. I wasn’t quite ready to be hit with all of that in such a brutal manner! I wish more time had been given to some of those reveals and that a few more questions had been answered with some clarity and in all honestly I would’ve liked to see it all unpacked a bit more slowly.

There’s a lot to think about in this book and it’s not a light and easy read but I think it’s worth your time if you know what you’re getting into before you begin.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,026 reviews2,802 followers
November 7, 2021
3.0 Stars
I appreciated the importance of the themes discussed in this book, but if I am honest, I struggled to complete this novel. The story itself was written in a way that I just did not find compelling. The narrative itself is incredibly slow and failed to create a sense of suspense or horror in me. However I fully acknowledge that as a privileged white reader, I am not necessarily the target audience. I just wished the story had been written in a more compelling way because the message behind it is so important to discuss. 
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
566 reviews4,591 followers
March 14, 2023
I was really excited to read this, but it was all concept, no plot. I don't think it needed to be a novel.

Click here to hear more of my thoughts on this book over on my Booktube channel, abookolive.

Profile Image for Tzipora.
207 reviews161 followers
May 11, 2020
Holy. Shit.

That was my feeling while reading and upon finishing this one. I wish I had been able to write my review immediately because now, having read many others, I’m at even more of a loss of how to do this one justice or best sum it up. I needed time to think about this one. It reads fast, like a thriller, though personally I found it more psychological in many ways than medical but then... those two are innately connected. How often, after all, are black, brown, female, queer, disabled, people blown off by doctors, told their suffering or pain is all in their heads?

I almost don’t feel it’s fair of me to review this because I’m in a space right now where I’m dealing with my own myriad issues and traumas with the medical system. I’m white (or as white as an ashkenazi Jew can be, which is a different discussion) but I’m female, young, impoverished, queer, and disabled. So there things I picked up and related to in this book and maybe other things that went a little over my head because of my own biases. I’m not sure. But I feel it would be dishonest not to mention this.

In reading others reviews I actually found it interesting how radically different they are. Some said not enough medical details (really?! I think these people are divorcing the medical from the psychological then and from all the other innately related aspects of race, financial status, etc) some loved the last third while others didn’t. (Me I’m in the camp that the last third- told entirely in letters, loses a little something), and lots of debate on how well this novel accomplished or didn’t it’s goal.

I was drawn in from the get go- Lena’s grandmother Toni has just died from cancer. Toni was more of a mother to Lena than her actual mother Deziree because Deziree has dealt with a mysterious jumble of severe health issues. All of this, the many medical treatments and the inability to earn enough while disabled have lead the family into extreme debt. Lena receives a letter inviting her to partake in medical research- and if she does it not only will she be paid but very generously but she will also get top notch health insurance for her mother. So it’s really no surprise that Lena chooses to do this and even to ignore the red flags that pop up early on....

So I have a few caveats just recounting the basics here. I really struggled to believe even the most dangerous medical studies would include medical insurance for family. Especially some kind of magic high end zero copay insurance. The cost of Deziree’s care alone would be enough for them to find someone else and not rake Lena (and this is a veeery real issue with work based health insurance overall. What happens when one of your workers has an extremely sick and resource intensive family member).

Then Deziree’s health issues this gets tied into the story in a way I wasn’t expecting, reality is so many women, so many minorities of all kinds but especially women, are dealing with complex and mysterious health issues and not getting what they deserve. So I’m not sure this needed to be tied into things in quite the way it ends up being. Because it may have told a wider reaching story in some ways if it hadn’t honestly. That the medical community fails black people and especially black women every single day. Even if they aren’t directly experimenting upon them.

But small critiques aside (and clearly I’m far too wrapped up in the utter brokenness of the american medical system) this book was gripping. And horrifying. And ironically I think it may have worked better for me than many precisely because of how well acquainted I am with the brokenness of the health care system. And the history. I like the juxtaposition here of this occurring in the present day, that poverty and societal issues (all so interconnected with racism) are what lead Lena into this study even though supposedly things like the Tuskegee Syphilis “couldn’t happen” in today’s world with informed consent and such. The book is proof that it can. And it does. And how much choice then did Lena or any of the other participants have when this was the only way to get out of debt and certainly the only way Lena could’ve afforded to help her mother with all her medical issues.

I’m rambling and I still don’t think I’m doing this book justice. But maybe this is exactly a sign of how valuable it is, that I’m jumping off on a thousand interrelated issues. It reads like a fast paced horror or thriller novel but leaves you with so much to think about and to discuss. I think it’d be an incredible book club pick and a really interesting book to discuss with a wide range of people because perhaps different aspects will jump out to different people. A lot of reviews seem so focused on the past but I think Giddings point is on the problems of the present or on things like my question of what does informed consent really mean if you’re in a situation like Lena’s. Is it fair to offer these kinds of monetary benefits for medical studies? So many questions here and racism in medicine is alive and well, not just a piece of history.

4 stars for the writing but rounded up as this is one of the most valuable books I’ve read in a long time for the sheer amount of questions and thoughts and issues it brings up.
February 17, 2020
3.5 stars

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.

For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Karl Jorgenson.
520 reviews25 followers
October 14, 2022
This 'book' receives a DNQ in the novel test. It has characters, writing, setting, themes of racism, but no discernable story. Lena's family is broke, so she signs on as a study subject in a secret project in the town of Lakewood. (This is a sign of a failed book: the title is the meaningless name of this nothing town. Even the clever title inventors at the publisher couldn't find a phrase that evoked emotion or curiosity AND related to the book.)
Lena has tests of the nature: banana, Iceland, pocket, assumption. Remember those words. Now, do the words make you feel more middle, left, or right? They also give her experimental drugs, some of which harm the subjects, some don't. Then the study shuts down and she goes back to her life. Plot spoiler: there is no plot. That's it.
Twice, a subject-character says to a study doctor, 'sometimes it feels like you're just torturing us.' I could say the same about reading this book.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Olesh.
147 reviews4 followers
January 10, 2020
Lena's mother has a chronic illness and the family struggles to cover the costs for her treatment, so when Lena is invited to participate in a lucrative research project, as a subject, she accepts.

This books has been described as "The Handmaid's Tale meets Henrietta Lacks", and I suppose that is true, but I found that the sum of the parts was not great enough. The narrative switches back and forth from third-person to first-person in the form of Lena's letters. I think it would have been more effective as a strictly epistolary novel, as the letters allow the reader to discover the horrors along with Lena. It's ok - it just could have been much better.
Profile Image for lady h.
639 reviews181 followers
February 26, 2021
I did not like this. From the get-go I didn't get along with the writing style; there was a weird sort of detachment between me and the narrator that prevented me from getting into her head or connecting with her. I guess this is kind of more literary horror, which means that there's a lot of the kind of pointless waffling/musing that I tend to dislike in literary fiction.

I was really intrigued by the plot, which had some moments that were really eerie and gross, but ultimately none of it came together in a satisfactory manner. There were no real answers given; not only that, but it felt like the book was building up to a big climax but then it just...fizzled out. Nothing really happened. And then in the end there was a weird plot swerve, with a new element introduced that wasn't properly explored. The plot also dragged a lot; it was really repetitive. It felt like it was more an exploration of ideas and themes than an actual story, but even those themes weren't really explored as explicitly as I would have liked.

Ultimately the creepy vibes did not make up for how poorly paced and constructed this was.
Profile Image for Bri.
Author 1 book174 followers
December 6, 2020
OKAY OKAY OKAY so in the month of December I have read and identified my favorite book of the year!

There are like maybe 1 or 2 books I can think of that I would’ve liked to be longer, and this is one of them, clocking in at about 270 pages. I was okay with the ending, but I wished there was a little more about the aftermath of the experiments and the exposure of the dangerous water in Lakewood.

I feel like it’s best going into this book w/o the expectation that it’ll be a combo of Handmaid’s Tale and Get Out, as advertised. I feel like the paranoia and dystopian feelings throughout maybe give those vibes, but this story is an important one on its own. I’m glad I decided to pick it up despite the somewhat low GR rating (cough RACISM cough).

This book absolutely falls under the genres of thriller and horror. I was TERRIFIED reading this. Shaking and sweating and everything. The apathy on the part of the researchers really got me. Underneath the obvious plot of experimentation on Black and poor people is a bigger story about generational trauma and strong familial bonds and friendship and grief.

My only complaint is about Lena’s willingness to comply in the study even knowing the history of experimentation on Black people...but that spoke to her desperation, I guess. Also anyone who has taken a college level science class knows that “study” was absolutely unethical and wouldn’t have passed and IRB and therefore the NDA would’ve been null and void!! But I digress :)

I will be thinking about this book for a LONG time.

I really need to breathe into a paper bag before I review this. Good gawd.
Profile Image for Julia971.
264 reviews23 followers
April 5, 2020
If you read Lakewood, you will follow Lena's path: the path of a young black woman enlisted in an experiment, in exchange for money to take care of her sick mother. For the sake of the experience, she'll move in and live with strangers for a few months. She will also be submitted to strange questions, stranger painful assignments and more.

Up to 93 % of the book, I felt like because I kept reading, I deserved a cookie. It was teadious, for me. It seemed a bit repetitive. Questions over questions, tests on tests, no answers...

And then: answers, explanations ! It was too late for me. I love a good take on the exploitation of black bodies but... it didn't work for me.

This book family tree ? If this book has parents, I guess it could be "Go ask Alice" and " Get out" (the movie).
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
789 reviews244 followers
April 24, 2021
I really wanted to love this book, but I wasn’t emotionally attached.
There is so much potential for a groundbreaking drama/horror with this thought provoking concept.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the writing. I just missed some raw emotion.
The “observers” felt very robotic, but I guess that’s how they should act, cold and unattached, after all they were just assessing the effect of the drugs used (on African Americans) during the experience.
The creepy atmosphere is awesome, but the storyline gets a bit confusing and repetitive and there are lots of unanswered questions. The book is divided into two parts, the second being letters written to the main character’s sister, and although this part was my favourite I still thought that this work felt incomplete.
Regardless, I would read her next work, as I see a great potential.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,972 reviews3,292 followers
December 22, 2020
Lakewood is a chilling debut about the horrors of medical experimentation on Black people and the desperation of losing parts of yourself in order to care for someone else. It's a slow burn horror novel that becomes increasingly disturbing and hearkens to the horrific real-world history of unethical experimentation such as the Tuskegee Project.

When Lena's grandmother dies, she becomes the only means of support for her mother who regularly struggles with her health and mental health. So when Lena is offered a spot in an unorthodox medical study that could solve all her financial problems and provide good health insurance, she jumps at the opportunity. She will live in Lakewood with a fake cover story while undergoing experiments that become increasingly invasive and disturbing, alongside other text subjects of color under the watch of all white teams who sometimes say and do deeply racist things.

It is a stunning debut that shines a light on important topics. Do note that there are graphic depictions of body horror, medical horror, drug use and others.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
226 reviews32 followers
April 10, 2020
I listened to this on audio, and rather liked the narrator. Though, her ability to do voices for the male characters wasn't the best.
I wanted to like this book because the idea of it is so interesting. But I thought the execution was lackluster, hollow.

The ending is abrupt and made no sense to me, and seems completely out of nowhere. There are no consequences for anything anyone does, and things just basically fade to black.

I feel like the novel should've started with the events that take place three quarters of the way through; when it starts getting really interesting.

I wasn't invested enough to be disappointed. But I do feel an emptiness that happens when I've finished a book I didn't enjoy enjoy but had felt drawn to because of the plot.
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