I eat cereal, but I am not a serial killer (Serial Killers in YA Lit)
The appeal of shows like Criminal Minds isn’t necessarily the serial killer, but the comfort in knowing that the serial killer can be found and stopped. We like to dip our toes into the darkness sometimes, but most of us want to know that at the end of the day (at the end of the book, movie or tv show), the light will shine again. Lately, serial killers have been slaying in the pages of YA lit. Who’s making a killing? Read on . . .
The first time I remember reading about a serial killer in YA lit came in the book Tenderness by Robert Cormier. Tenderness is the story of a teenage serial killer and the young girl who falls in love with him. I’m not really sure why people fall in love with serial killers, but it apparently happens A LOT. Tenderness is obviously a very dark book – I mean hello, Robert Cormier wrote it – but it was also a really well written book. Tenderness was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.
Last year I had the joy of reading The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. The Name of the Star is an interesting twist on the Jack the Ripper tale. And who isn’t fascinated by Jack the Ripper? (I know some smarty pants reading this is raising their hand and saying me, I’m not fascinated by Jack the Ripper. Put your hand down and read on.) When Rory arrives in London to attend school, a series of killings that mimic Jack the Ripper start happening. The twists in this book are very cool. I can’t tell you what they are because it will totally ruin the book for you, you’ll have to trust me. There is a sequel, The Madness Underneath, coming in March 2013.
I have previously reviewed I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga (read it here), but it is a very compelling look at what it is like to grow up as the son of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers. Is Jazz destined to be a serial killer like his father? Think Dexter for teens, except Jazz has more heart than Dexter and I am seriously rooting for him. Because you will want to read more about Jazz, there is a sequel called Game coming.
Velveteen by Daniel Marks is the story of Velveteen Monroe, who is now a ghost. Velveteen slips in and out of purgatory to torment her serial killer and try and stop him form killing again. The beginning of this book was so very good – seriously, the Bonesaw parts are amazing. But when Velveteen slipped into purgatory for the first time there were a lot of characters and world building to sort out and it really slowed down the reading for me. I’m not sure the concept worked as well as Marks wanted it to, but if you make it through the initial stages of purgatory (no pun intended – okay, maybe a little intended), then Velveteen becomes a satisfying read.
Acceleration by Graham McNamee is one of those sleeper books that just sneaks up on you. It has never gotten the buzz of a lot of other titles, but it is a good, adrenaline filled read. Duncan is working in the lost and found of the Toronto subway when he finds a leather journal. Bored and curious, he begins to thumb through the pages and makes a disturbing discovery: This journal belongs to a serial killer who is researching his next victims. Can Duncan stop the serial killer, or will he become the next victim?
Can you guess who Ripper by Stefan Petrucha is about? I love the tag line: You thought you knew him. You were dead wrong. The young orphan Carver dreams of becoming a detective, in part so he can track down his biological father. Soon, he finds himself a part of the Pinkerton Agency, and a part of the investigation of a deadly serial killer. Loyalties will be tested.
“John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous and he knows it.” See, with a name like cleaver, he is destined to be a serial killer. But in I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, John is trying hard not to be one – which I totally support as a goal. When a body turns up at the local Wash-N-Dry, he knows something different is going on. There is a sequel, Mr. Monster.
What if you used your psychics gifts to travel back in time to solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper only to find out that he was part of the family? That’s what happens in My Grandfather Jack the Ripper by Claudio Apone.
In Wish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser, Str-S-d writes the names of those he (or she) wishes were dead and then they die. This is one blog you don’t want to show up on. I’ll begin with Lucy. She is definitely first on the list. You can’t believe how it feels to be in the cafeteria and turn around and there she is staring at me like I’m some disgusting bug or vermin. Does she really think I WANT to be this way? I hate you, Lucy. I really hate you. You are my #1 pick. I wish you were dead.
When I was in school, way back before there was color TV (I kid), we had earthquake and tornado drills instead of “what to do when a serial killer with a gun comes into your school and wants to relive Columbine” drills. My daughter had her first one in Kindergarten (for the record, she is only in 4th grade now – I am not THAT old). But you know, creating a Hate List of people you want to kill would in fact make you a serial killer – which is exactly what the very excellent Hate List by Jennifer Brown is all about. In all seriousness (what? I can totally do serious) this is some seriously good contemporary fiction, read it.
Bonus: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is not in any way, shape or form a young adult book. But it is a seriously good book and older teens reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz can definitely handle this. It is deep, moving, disturbing, worrying, questioning . . . especially if you are a mother. This is hands down one of my favorite adult books. I have even lead book discussion groups about it. But it is also a love it or hate it kind of book. The central question is this: As a mother, what happens if you notice something is not quite right with your child? And are you to blame?
Want more serial killers? Check out this Tagmash on Library Thing or this Kirkus blog or, better yet, share your favorites with us in the comments and talk about the ones above. Why do you think we are drawn to serial killers as readers?
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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