Illumiate is Amiee Agresti’s first novel for teens. I hope she continues to write for them because this book was an absolute pleasure to read. Haven Terra is tapped to do an internship under the toast of Chicago, the young, beautiful and highly successful Aurelia Brown. She is the owner of the Lexington Hotel which is restored and about to open to much fanfare. The Lexington Hotel was the notorious home of Al Capone. Haven and her best friend Dante and another classmate named Lance move into the hotel. The employees are unnaturally beautiful and part of an exclusive club called “The Outfit” after Capone’s gang. The three figure out quickly there is something off about the whole thing. The members of “The Outfit” do not seem entirely human. When the photos Haven takes of the staff start changing, strange and scary things start to happen. The spirit of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is very much alive in this book. Having a book club or class read the two books together would be a rich experience. Haven discovers a mysterious blank book with her name on it. When an unknown person or spirit starts writing to her in the book, her adventure truly begins and turns into an intense battle between good and evil. Haven is not your average teen. She was found in a puddle of mud as a five year old without any memories. She is also marked with strange scars on her shoulder blades and her chest. Aurelia and the very handsome Lucien keep telling her she is special, but Haven can’t figure out why. Agresti is brilliant at world building. She describes this hotel with its deep underground nightclub and tunnels with great detail. I felt like I was there experiencing this rich, luxurious hotel. I even felt a little claustrophobic when she described Haven’s hotel room in the basement. The underground “Alcatraz” dining room was particularly fun to read about. The characters were multidimensional and believable. Watching both Lance and Lucien evolve as characters was fascinating. I highly recommend this book and cannot wait for the next installment!
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Talk about why people are attracted to danger.
Why do you think Haven was chosen for this assignment?
Who do you think gave Haven the mysterious book?
Talk about how the members of the outfit seem beautiful but without personality. Why would someone want to be part of that group? Would you want to be part of that group?
Talk about Haven’s attraction to Lucien.
What do you think of Aurelia? Would you want to work for her?
What did you think was behind the door that was as hot as a stove?
The one who wrote in the book kept the instructions vague. Do you think that helped or hurt Haven?
Discuss Al Capone history and the history of the Lexington Hotel.
What is it about Haven that made her stronger than Lucien and Aurelia?
How did your thoughts about Dante and Lance change throughout the book?
Have the group study the painting, “La Jeune Martyre” and discuss.