Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Author: Dan Wells
I sat at McDonalds this afternoon, lost in reading I am Not a Serial Killer, while Isaac and Maren happily climbed through the bowels of the Playland. I usually let them play for ten minutes, fifteen tops, mostly because I get bored watching them. But today, with I am Not a Serial Killer in front of me, they played for more than an hour, and actually asked me if they could go home. I would have stayed an read for another hour if they'd been willing.
I am Not a Serial Killer is a really entertaining book. I think a lot of parents might look at the book and wonder if it's something they want their kids to be reading. After all, the words "Serial Killer" figure prominently in the title, and subtitle reads "A Sickly-Disturbing, Darkly-Comic Thriller." But I think that I am Not a Serial Killer is exactly the kind of book I'd hand to my fifteen-year-old son (If I had one) and tell him to have fun with it. It's the story of fifteen-year-old John Cleaver, who just happens to be named after two famous serial killers, and happens to lay claim to a triumvirate of traits shared by 95% of serial killers. He's the child of a mortician, and obsessed with death, and more specifically, serial killers. He's terrified that he's destined to become one, that the demon inside of him will somehow get out. Meanwhile, he discovers that he's not the only one in his small North Dakota down who wants to kill people.
Yes, there's quite a bit of blood and gore in this book (but, parents, no swearing, sex, or drugs), but there's also a lot of self-discovery and a lot of potential for readers to learn about empathy and learning to overcome our destructive and self-destructive impulses-- learning to turn our weaknesses into strengths. I also liked the single point-of-view, the action-packed nature of hunting down the "other" serial killer, and the relationship of John and his family. But most of all, I liked John's relationship with himself. I just finished watching all four seasons of Dexter, which I loved (a show to which this book will inevitably be compared, because both are about "good" people with sociopathic, serial killer tendencies) and I liked the way that the book handles John's desire to do good, despite the things he knows about himself and the things he's seen. The difference is that while Dexter is firmly adults-only entertainment, I am Not a Serial Killer works for a teenage audience. I'm now looking forward to the next two books in the story of John Cleaver, and I hope that the book does well when it's published in the US this spring (so far it's been released only in the UK).