I Hunt Killers: A Review

I Hunt Killers by Barry LygaJasper “Jazz” Dent is used to being an outsider in the small town of Lobo’s Nod. It’s kind of the only choice when your dad is arrested after a committing a string of horrific murders that number in the triple digits.

It’s kind of the only choice when Jazz isn’t entirely convinced he can be anything but what “Dear Old Dad” trained Jazz to be right up until his arrest.

Jazz might not know much about how to act like a regular human being most of the time. But he definitely knows serial killers. When a dead body is found in an isolated field, Jazz is certain that Lobo’s Nod has another killer in the town’s midst.

The problem is that no one believes Jazz. Even when more bodies show up. Even when they may or may not start wondering if Jazz might know more than he’s letting on in I Hunt Killers (2012) by Barry Lyga.

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I Hunt Killers is the first in Lyga’s Jasper Dent Series which continues in Game.

Lyga, in any genre or capacity, is an excellent writer. His debut The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl is fantastic and Boy Toy is as heartbreaking as it is stunning. Lyga always brings a lot of skill and enthusiasm to his subjects which comes through in the writing and his (well-researched) expertise with each subject.

The problem with I Hunt Killers is that it involves a very narrow subject: serial killers.

Readers who enjoy being scared or horrified will love this book. It is gory and gritty and there are tons of dead bodies as would be expected in any quality thriller. Jazz’s desperate efforts to be a better person than his father add another dimension to the plot and help elevate I Hunt Killers above a cheap thrill with lots of blood. It has the same substance that I would imagine draws fans to both Dexter (in book or TV form) and The Following.

That said, this book is clearly not for everyone. Most of the story focuses on Jazz but there are brief chapters from a killer’s perspective and fragmented flashbacks to Jazz’s childhood “lessons” from his father. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Jazz is a very well-realized character. He is flawed and broken as well as being very multi-faceted. Despite–or maybe because of–his past, readers can’t help identifying with Jazz and cheering him on. Will he become exactly who his father groomer him to be? Will he transcend that and become something better? It’s not always clear. But Jazz’s internal struggle with those very questions is what makes him so very interesting.

Unfortunately, none of the other characters in I Hunt Killers are quite as exciting. Howie is a goofy but likeable sidekick who often comes across as cartoonish (as intended it seems but still a caricature). Meanwhile all of the female characters, such as they are, come across as shockingly one-dimensional. There is a possibility that this has to do with Jazz’s warped upbringing and his father’s brainwashing, although the fact remains that it’s disappointing when an otherwise strong book has weak characters.

The plotting is admirable and will keep most readers guessing (not to mention on the edge of their seats). While this book is an excellent mystery, there is a decided lack of closure. I Hunt Killers is an entertaining read but it is very gory and extremely serialized with a lack of closure that is largely unsatisfying. Make of that what you will.

Possible Pairings: Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, Legend by Marie Lu, Proxy by Alex London, Acceleration by Graham McNamee, Black City by Elizabeth Richards, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Dexter, The Following

Boy Toy: A Review

Boy ToyJosh Mendel has a secret. Except everyone knows what it is.

Everyone seems to know what happened five years ago. Everyone seems to think they understand.

But no one does. Not really.

Years later, Josh is graduating high school soon and still trying to make sense of the pieces left in the aftermath.

But with so many broken parts Josh isn’t sure any of it–not baseball or Rachel or even closure with Eve–will be enough to make him whole again in Boy Toy (2007) by Barry Lyga.

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When Josh was 12 his history teacher sexually abused him. Repeatedly. Since then Josh has been haunted by both the abuse itself and the fact that he is certain everyone in his small town knows exactly what happened thanks to Eve’s detailed confession.

Now 18, Josh is still processing what happened and his own part in moments he’d rather forget. His best friend never asks Josh about what happened. And Rachel, a girl he accidentally frightened shortly before the abuse came to light, suddenly wants to be a part of Josh’s life again.

Josh still isn’t sure what he wants. Chapters alternate between Josh’s present and past as he sifts through the beginning of Eve’s interest in him, the actual abuse, straight through to the disastrous day his parents found out what had been happening. The dual stories blend together seamlessly to create one complete picture of a broken young man who is still trying to put himself back together.

Lyga is an excellent writer and brings a nuanced, unexpected edge to this story of abuse and healing. Boy Toy has some troubling, gritty moments but it is an ultimately compelling must-read.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Leverage by Joshua Cohen, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Sprout by Dale Peck, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales

Goth Girl Rising: A Review

Goth Girl Rising by Barry LygaTime is a funny thing in the hospital. Especially in the mental ward. You lose track of it easily. When Kyra, otherwise known as Goth Girl, is finally released from the Maryland Mental Health Unit after six long months, she is ready to pick up right where she left off.

She’s ready to make up with Fanboy and continue helping him with his graphic novel. He might have been a jerk and it might have been his fault that she got committed again. But Fanboy might be the only person who really understands her just as she is, and that’s worth something.

Except a lot can change in six months. Especially outside of the mental ward. When Kyra returns to Brookdale she expects everything to be the same. But nothing is.

Her goth friends Simone and Jecca don’t seem quite so interesting. Roger isn’t the standoffish father he once was. And Fanboy, well, he isn’t Fanboy anymore.

Suddenly popular and self-assured, Fanboy has become someone Goth Girl doesn’t recognize. Someone who doesn’t even need her. Someone who forgot her.

All of Kyra’s plans for a grudging reconciliation with Fanboy are soon replaced by frustration, and only one acceptable course of action–to destroy him and all of her other enemies in Goth Girl Rising (2009) by Barry Lyga.

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Goth Girl is a complex character whose story was largely up in the air at the end of this book’s prequel The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. In addition to explaining what happened to Kyra between books, Lyga provides a window into Kyra’s world by narrating Goth Girl Rising in her voice.

Unfortunately,  the peripheral characters in this story are not as well-developed. Simone and Jecca especially are not as complex, appearing, by the end of the story, to be more like annoying nuisances than Kyra’s best friends.The homoerotic subplot between Jecca and Kyra is also problematic not so much because it’s in the book as because it is so scattered and does little to add to the plot or even the character development.

Fanboy and Goth Girl are both, in their own ways, comic book geeks. This book is rife with references to Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series but instead of adding to the story these references feel more like a crutch device filling the pages of this story with explanations of different aspect of Gaiman’s work.

Lyga does still manage to tackle some heavy themes effectively here. Kyra’s narrative voice rings true as talks through her depression and suicidal thoughts. By the end of Goth Girl Rising readers will understand what Kyra has been through even if they can’t quite grasp her rage.

Really, the main problem with this book is that there was not enough Fanboy. Having read about and loved that charming comic geek before, it was disappointing to find him in a relatively small part of Goth Girl Rising as seeing Goth Girl and Fanboy reunited was one of the best parts of this novel.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl: A Review

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry LygaFanboy wants three things more than anything in the world–he’ll even tell you two of them. But there are also things that Fanboy needs, especially now that his sophomore year is morphing into his own personal hell.

Senior Goddess Dina Jurgens doesn’t know he exists and his part-time-best-friend/full-time-jock, Cal, is distant. Nothing new there.

But at home his pregnant mother and stepfather (that would the Step-Fascist to anyone paying attention) are anxiously awaiting the birth of his half-brother or half-sister. As if that could make them into a real family. School isn’t much better once the bullies and the Jock Jerks decide to make Fanboy their own personal target Every. Single. Day.

But that’s okay because Fanboy knows exactly what he wants and he has a plan: a secret scheme that will get him out of his lame little town and prove his worth to everyone once and for all.

When the mysterious and angry Goth Girl bursts into his life, he might even have an accomplice in The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (2007) by Barry Lyga.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl is the first of Lyga’s intertwining books set in Brookdale. It’s also a total powerhouse of a novel. Lyga brings an impressive amount of depth to Fanboy’s narration about both his stifling discontent and his hope for something more.

What had the potential to be a devastating story turns into a tale of optimism as Fanboy realizes that some of the fundamental truths of his life might be based on falsehoods, like the ones he tells so easily throughout the novel.

Fanboy is a really great narrator with charm that comes through even when he is as his lowest as seen in “The Great Ecuadorian Tortoise Blight of 1928”–one of my most favorite passages.

And Goth Girl, well, she’s Goth Girl. Part catalyst, part friend, all angry, Goth Girl might just be the girl Fanboy never knew he always wanted. Or she might be a train wreck waiting to happen. Readers who feel the ending of her story is underdeveloped in this novel should also read this book’s recent sequel Goth Girl Rising (2009).

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going, Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales