Courtney Summers
Credit: Megan Gunter

Courtney Summers has a new project in store for readers — and EW has an exclusive first look.

Set to arrive in February, The Project is Summers' follow-up to her New York Times best-selling novel Sadie. The book follows two sisters after the death of their parents: Lo is in the care of her great aunt, while Bea joins the Unity Project, a community in Upstate New York that bears a striking resemblance to a full-blown cult. While the Unity Project has won over the hearts and minds of many, Lo sets out to prove that there's something more sinister going on.

Check out the cover reveal for The Project below, and read on as Summers gives the first details on the thriller.

The Project by Courtney Summers
Credit: St. Martin's Publishing Group

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where and when did you start developing the idea for this novel?

COURTNEY SUMMERS: My editor and I were trying to figure out what could follow Sadie. I was intrigued by cults and stories about cults; they feel like a vehicle for fascination with the allure of cult leaders. We want to gauge our own susceptibility to their charms. Most people think they would never join a cult, but after I did research I was like, I don’t think that’s really true anymore. Then I had to find my way into [the story].

Is the Unity Project inspired by a real-life group?

It's very, very lightly inspired by the early days of Peoples Temple and Jim Jones. It's not actually about Jonestown — this book is its own thing. But by immersing myself in that story, it helped center my novel in terms of how to approach this. I wanted to make sure not to sensationalize and not to make cults a spectacle.

What was it about that cult specifically that struck you?

What’s really interesting about Peoples Temple is it appealed to people's better nature. They wanted to do something good, and it’s such a tragic thing that it was ruined by one man’s desire to take control and to hurt people.

What can you tell us about the central characters in the novel?

They are two sisters, whose names are Bea and Lo, and they represent a range of responses to this situation [of the cult]. There’s a challenge to readers to see themselves in Bea or Lo — the moment they do is the moment they realize they might be vulnerable to a similar situation.

How did this cover concept come about?

It was designed by Kerri Resnick, with an illustration by Marie Bergeron. I really liked the illustrator, and then Kerri got a first look at the novel and she got this amazing concept, where the cult is literally in Lo’s head. It’s just so cool, she’s got such a wicked vision and she caught the vibe so perfectly. I’m so excited for people to see it, I keep staring at it — it’s all I have to do right now. The cover reveal is the best part [of the process] to me.

What do you want future readers of this book to know?

My longtime readers should know that they’re in for a certain amount of devastation. And anyone who hasn’t read me, that’s something they can look forward to. [Laughs]

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