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Danny Lopez's family has relocated to a quiet Colorado town where he gets to attend an experimental school centered on teaching discipline to children who need "guidance." Some of the rules include school uniforms, including white gloves for sanitation, a rigid teaching script that's read to students and repeated daily, and no socialization among faculty and students- ever. As if this wasn't weird enough, Danny finds himself recruited by secret student organizations determined to find the serial cat killer. As the clues mount up, and the killer becomes more bold, will he make it out alive?

I rarely give one star, but this middle grade novel was...not good. In fact, I made myself finish it even though I wanted to put it away less than halfway through.
The book opens with a very eerie and cryptic cat killer in the process of sacrificing a cat, which grabbed my attention right away. Unfortunately, there was nothing after that scene that prompted tension or suspense because the characters and plot became very mundane. I think that part of this is because the author tried to have too many subplots (romance, conspiracy, teenage angst)in an effort to distract the reader from being able to identify the killer; however, it simply caused the story to go on meaningless tangents rather than weaving a tale of suspense.  

Another problem with this novel was that the characters were extremely shallow. The plot would allude to struggles in characters' pasts without really using those to let the reader get to know them on a deeper level. To use a teacher phrase, the author did a lot of "telling" and not "showing," which is pretty boring. Most readers don't want to have an event summarized for them; they want to experience it with the characters so that they can build a connection. These characters were two-deminsional at best.
 
The ending had a lot of action in it, but by that point, most readers can already figure out who the killer is, so the climax falls flat. Even when there was a twist at the end, if readers pay attention to contextual details, it's not too difficult to see it coming. 

Overall, this novel had an interesting concept but poor execution. 




 
 
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Jasper "Jazz" Dent is the son of the most notorious serial killer of all time. While growing up, Dear Old Dad taught his son valuable lessons, such as how to clean blood stains, how to slice through skin, and how to think like a serial killer. Now, several years after his father's apprehension and conviction, Jazz is trying to lead a normal, teenage life in the same small,
close-knit community that his father committed his final two murders. But, when women start getting murdered, and the killer is copying Billy Dent’s gruesome MO, Jazz is the only one schooled enough in the mind of a sociopath to help the police. The only problem is that Jazz isn’t sure that being around the victims won’t trigger his own need to kill. 

For people who enjoy TV shows like Criminal Minds or CSI, this is an exceptional read. The novel doesn’t go into detail about the killings. Instead, the plotline focuses on the inner workings of the mind of a killer. I know that several people were disappointed that there wasn’t more action and scenes with the murders taking place – they were always described after the fact – but with this type of story, it really would have taken away from the psychological aspect. 

There were a few times that Jazz’s constant whimpering about being destined to kill got old, but Lyga did a good job of using his spunky girlfriend Connie to call him out and voice what the reader was thinking: “Either put up, or shut up.” From that moment forward, Jazz became a stronger character for me. 

This novel alludes to multiple brutal killings and gives details about nailing bodies to a ceiling, vaginal and anal rape, and other forms of brutality. Because of this information, readers need to be mature; however, leaving it out would have taken away vital details from the story. Lyga wanted to show the cruelty to Billy Dent's murders without shifting the focus away from Jazz. Part of Billy's cruelty was making his child watch, and participate, in a number of killings. 
 
I know that Mr. Lyga conducted research to add authenticity to his novel, and his painstaking efforts show. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel because I’m intrigued with how the mind works, and the mind of a sociopath is probably one of the most mysterious to explore. I will definitely check out the sequel. 

*ARC was provided at 2011 NCTE Conference     
Book comes out in April 2012