Home > Book, Causes, Genre, Mental Illnesses and Disorders, paranormal, Review, thriller, YA > Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Torn notebook with blood on it.Summary:
Fifteen year old John Wayne Cleaver has an odd fascination with the bodies he helps cremate in the family mortuary.  He also has difficulty feeling any emotions.  He even has been studying serial killers for years.  He is not one, however.  At least, not yet.  His therapist believes John may have Antisocial Personality Disorder, but both he and John hope John can learn to control his illness, an illness John refers to as Mr. Monster.  However, when bodies start appearing on the streets of the town gruesomely murdered, John wonders how long he can keep Mr. Monster in check.

Review:
I originally had high expectations for this book.  Then I had to wait for it so long that they waned, and I felt that it was probably just going to be a watered down YA version of Dexter.  Then I grabbed it for my camping trip because I am insane and love to terrify myself when sleeping in the middle of nowhere in the woods with strange men with hatchets I don’t know a mere campsite away.  It didn’t turn out to be a watered down Dexter.  It also isn’t terrifying.  The best word I can think to describe this book is relatable.

Dan Wells chose to write a YA book about mental illness and couch it with some supernatural features and a premise that will appeal to any teens, not just those struggling with a mental illness themselves.  These were both smart moves as it makes I Am Not a Serial Killer more widely appealing.  However, he not only chose to depict a mental illness, he chose to depict one of the ones that is the most difficult for healthy people to sympathize with and relate to–antisocial personality disorder.  John Cleaver has no empathy, and this baffles those who naturally feel it.

Yet Wells manages to not only depict what makes John scary to those around him, but also how it feels to be John.  He simultaneously depicts the scary parts of having a mental illness with the painful parts for the one struggling with it.  John makes up rules for himself to try to control his behavior.  He has to think things through every time he interacts with people or he will do or say the wrong thing.  John is fully aware that he doesn’t fit in, but he wants to.  He wants to be healthy and normal, but he also wants to be himself, which at this point in time includes the behavior that is his illness.

Of course, this is a book about a serial killer, and it delivers there.  The death scenes hold just the right level of gruesomeness without going over the top.  Anyone with a love of the macabre will also enjoy the mortuary scenes, which depict the right combination of science and John’s morbid fascination.  There also is a tentatively forming teen dating relationship that is simultaneously sweet and bit nerve-wracking.

I feel I would be amiss not to mention that there is some self-harm in this book.  It is very brief and is clearly shown as a part of John’s illness.  In fact for the first time in reading about it in any book I can say the author handled it quite well, depicting the self-injurer and his reasons for doing so sympathetically and correctly, but without making it seem like something the reader should copy.

Overall this book delivers the thrills and chills it promises, but does so without demonizing John Cleaver.  It depicts what it feels like to have a mental illness in a powerful, relatable manner while still managing to be a fast-paced YA thriller.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA, books dealing with mental illness, or thrillers.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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  1. July 14, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Great review. And “relatable” is a good word to use.

    • July 14, 2010 at 9:24 am

      Thanks. :-) I worry when I love a book that my review will just devolve into mindless ravings, lol.

  2. July 14, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    It is difficult not to think “Dexter Lite” when hearing about this book. (And to have taken it camping does seem insane!) Yet I actually didn’t really like the Dexter book so much … it is the TV show that I prefer actually.

    I have to say, I do have a weird fascination with this type of story line even though it makes me feel icky afterwards.

    • July 15, 2010 at 8:17 am

      A review I read on LibraryThing said that Dexter is about a sociopath just accepting that fact and going with it, whereas this series is about someone struggling to not be a sociopath. I think that’s true, and I’m wondering if that difference is what leads people to like one and not the other.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  1. December 30, 2010 at 1:08 am
  2. May 12, 2011 at 1:16 am
  3. March 2, 2013 at 4:24 pm
  4. March 6, 2013 at 11:54 am

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