Friday, July 12, 2013

John Cleaver series - Spoilerific Book Review

I don't normally do book reviews because there are a gazillion blogs out there that review books. But I just finished the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells, and AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!

*note: I knew about these books because I follow Writing Excuses, and Dan Wells talks extensively about his writing process and his experience with these books, so I've been dying to read them for a while. I met him at Conduit last year and ordered the T-shirts for Christmas because, well, wow.... Anyway, my library just got book three, and I have just finished it.

So, !!SPOILERIFIC!! stuff to follow, but I have to talk about these books!  I'm not even sure I have words... and they're all going to gush out in run-on sentences when I find them.

Book 1: I Am Not A Serial Killer

We meet John Cleaver, a fifteen year old sociopath who is obsessed with serial killers and dead bodies. He is aware that he may very well become one. Living over a mortuary is both helpful and not, because he's constantly battling with his inner demons.When someone starts killing people in his town, and because of his obsession, he begins to profile the killer. Then he finds out it's a demon.

The premise itself I found interesting right off the bat. I don't know anything about sociopaths, so I'm gonna learn something new, it's got demons, so my love for paranormal/fantasy/etc is being met, and it's told in first person, so I REALLY got into this kids head. It was fascinating to see his perception of death, of violence, and of life. (See, he's already a real person to me)

In this book, as in book 2 and the beginning of book 3, John considers dead bodies pretty much sacks of meat. Whatever made them who they were was gone. He didn't understand the need for people to say their goodbyes to the dead, because they were gone. He refers to the bodies as it, which makes his mother nuts. She continually makes him refer to the body by gender, and insists he treat the body and speak to the body with respect. And he doesn't get it, at all. I found this perspective fascinating.

John's journey through this book was so very interesting to me because as John tries to obey his rules to respect the living as well as the dead, he finds that the demon is killing people because it fell in love and wants to continue to live with its wife. John trying to understand love is one of his great hurdles in book one, and he doesn't fully come to grasp with it. He does, however, develop a deeper relationship with his mother, albeit a strange one. My favorite thing about John in this book is his self-control; even when he loses it, he finds it.

In book 2, Mr. Monster, another serial killer is in town, only this one is a lot more twisted. To catch him, John has to embrace his inner monster.

This was terrifying and fascinating to watch as John struggled to control his inner urges and appease them at the same time. Brooke, the girl that he loves - kind of? I'm not sure it's really love at this point, but he cares for her a great deal, he just hasn't really learned how to love yet, gets a glimpse of his monster, and at the end of the book she can't figure out how to deal with it.

The things John and Brooke go through in Mr. Monster are right up there with the crazy terror in Silence of the Lambs and most Criminal Minds episodes. John being sociopathic survives it for the most part, but is scarred by the woman he wasn't able to save.

And that was the big thing for me in book two. He managed to save all but one, and that one haunted him. If it didn't, it should have, because the way his thoughts read to me, it haunted me, his inability to get to her. And yet she saved him from himself. Those eyes staring at him, seeing him, she saved him and brought him back to himself when his monster was ready to cut loose and embrace the death and violence he'd dreamed of.

I totally understood Brooke's fear of John, but I wanted so badly for her to keep trying with him. But at this point, yeah, there's a real fear that John might lose it and hurt her, even though he does have some fantastic self  control.

And then book 3. I Don't Want To Kill You. It pulled my heart out and stomped all over it, that's how awesome Dan Wells writes. And the end, oh my gosh, the end. THAT is why this book has this title. I was invested all the way. Page 264 happened and I screamed out loud. And then ten pages later, I'm screaming again and my 13 year old is yelling, "What, what? Tell me!"

And I can't tell her because how do I explain? How do I find the words to express to someone not familiar with John that he's finally learned how to love?? And the girl who taught him how to love, how to connect with someone in a non-violent manner, taught him that it was POSSIBLE for him to connect just through dancing, is dead. DEAD!!! Gone. Because a demon got her, and then, horror of horrors, jumped into Brooke.

There were thoughts of  Johns throughout the book that would get me, like when people told John they loved him, and he couldn't understand why they kept saying that to him. Or when Marci tells him how awesome he is, and all he can think is why would she choose the only guy who had dreamed about killing her.

The part where he leaves when Marci is crying, curled up and looking vulnerable, came out of the blue to me. He suddenly realizes he can kill her, right there, poof, he can satisfy that urge. And part of me was saying, oooooh, I forgot that monster was in there. Crap, it's still dangerous. And the other part of me was saying, NO NO NO! Come on, John, just go hug her! And then he tells himself to leave.

She wants him to stay and he's telling himself to leave in order to save her, knowing it might destroy their relationship because he can't comfort her when she's sad. Her very vulnerability made the predator inside of him dangerous, so he left. I hurt for him and was scared for Marci all at the same time. And it reminded me that sociopathy isn't something you just flip a switch and 'get better' from.

But the end. AAAAAAAAH. When John realizes Brooke has the demon inside of her, how it works, and how it kills, he gets physically sick knowing he has to kill Brooke to kill the demon. And it's killing him because he doesn't want to kill her. But he doesn't have a choice, because the demon will just kill her anyway and better to do it when he can rather than wait for the demon to jump to another host.

His mom finds him and thinks he's grieving over Marci's death. Which he is. Kind of. In his sociopathic way, but he's more worried about Brook and the fact that he has to kill a girl he loves to kill a demon, and he doesn't want to become that monster.

I read it with dread and absolute fascination, could NOT put it down, because what was he going to do? Was he really going to do it?? How was he going to save the day?? And lo... he didn't save the day, his mother did. And he learned he did have a heart after all.

Ok, best part of the book for me? Very last couple of pages, where he's talking to Marci's dead body in the embalming room. I know, I know, this sounds morbid taken out of context. Taken in context, though, John sees her body and doesn't think of her as an it. He sees her as her. And he recognizes that he's learned how to love and how to connect with people, and that she taught him how. And it was the sweetest, saddest thing, even though I knew he and Brooke were going to go on and hunt demons and have great adventures, and it was quite likely that John wouldn't kill Brooke, now.

So in a way, he did get a happily ever after, in the kind of way a sociopath who wants to be good and understand people gets a happily ever after? Not that he was 'better', and he'd definitely still be fighting his inner demons as well as the real ones, but he had learned how to love, and that meant something. It was a BIG DEAL that he saw Marci's body as a her at the end. She went from being a broken thing that resembled Marci, to her. He even kissed her goodbye, and that was so very sweet and heartbreaking all at the same time. I loved her, I was so very sad she died. I'm still sad, because I'm still freaking out about it.

The writer in me wants to be able to evoke this kind of emotion, to connect so deeply with a character that the reader falls in love with them, feels like they're real, and feels the heartache and sorrows, aches, grief, and joy with them. Cheers them on, dreads the mistakes, and cannot wait to turn the page to see what happens next.

Dan Wells is my hero. These books are awesome. Yes, they are scary and horrific, and probably not for everyone. But for those in his audience, go buy them. Go read them. Now. Go. Why are you still here reading this?

I now have to get Hollow City. Partials is sitting on my desk waiting for me to pick it up next.

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