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Book Review: Mr. Monster by Dan Wells (Series, #2)

May 12, 2011 1 comment

Knife against a white background.Summary:
John Wayne Cleaver, diagnosed sociopath and assistant in his family’s morgue, is trying to recover from the aftermath of the demonic serial killer that was haunting Clayton County until a few months ago.  A few months ago when he let loose his own inner sociopath, otherwise known as Mr. Monster, and killed the demon.  For the sake of the town.  Now he is struggling to get Mr. Monster back under control as well as deal with new feelings for his neighbor, Brooke, both of which would be easier if the demon hadn’t killed his therapist.  In spite of all this, things seem to be slowly calming down–until new dead bodies start showing up.

Review:
In a series such as this, the second book is rather crucial.  In the first book, we see John trying to deal with his mental illness in the normal ways, only to be confronted with an abnormal solution.  He takes it.  The next book must then show not only if John continues down this path, but also why, not to mention set up the structure so that he may continue down this path indefinitely for most of the rest of the series.  Wells definitely accomplishes this tough task, although not quite as smoothly or uniquely as he set up the initial plot and character of John in the first book.

One thing that this book suffers from is uneven pacing.  Whereas the first book used the classic thriller scenario of gradually amping up the tension, here the tension rises and falls so frequently and to such different levels that it’s a bit off-putting.  It provides too many moments where it’s not too distressing to put the book down and go do something else.  It is only the last few chapters of the book that hold the same tension as in the first entry in the series.  This is problematic when this is supposed to be a thriller, but understandable given all of the set-up and developments that Wells must pull off.

The new demon is definitely well-done and scary in his own way, although I must say I guessed who he was pretty much the instant he showed up in the book.  Thus, what was shocking was not who the demon is, but what he does to his victims, why, and how he pulls it off.  This part is creative and thankfully it is evident that the demons in the series will be variable and non-formulaic.  This is essential if the elements of surprise, disgust, horror, and delight are to remain.

Yet the focus is not just on the demons, thankfully.  Wells skillfully still includes the issues John faces as someone struggling with a rather non-sympathetic mental illness, making him alternately relatable and grotesque.  John struggles.  He is sometimes unlikable, but he tries so damn hard.  Similarly, Wells continues to develop the messed-up family structure John has to deal with, an issue that is absolutely relatable to most readers of YA lit.  There is much more going on here than demon fighting.  Indeed, even John’s first romantic interest is addressed.

I feel the need to say to animal lovers, particularly ones who love the wonderful kitties among us, that there is a very distressing scene in this book involving a cat that almost made me stop reading it.  I do think Wells handles it well, including the aftermath, but if you find animal cruelty incredibly upsetting, um, either skip this book or skim that section.  You’ll know when it’s coming.

Overall, this entry in the series does well for all the tasks it had to do to smoothly connect the set-up in the first book to the running themes of the rest of the series.  Although the pacing struggles a bit, characterization is still strong, as are surprising plot points.  I’m interested to see what Wells does with the next book in the series, and I recommend this one to fans of psychological and paranormal thrillers alike.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Previous Books in Series:
I Am Not a Serial Killer, review

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

July 14, 2010 8 comments

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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