I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, 2012, ISBN: 9780316125840
Plot Summary: Jazz has never lived the life of an ordinary teen. His father was a prolific serial killer who raised Jazz to follow in his footsteps, until four years ago when he was finally caught and put behind bars. But Jazz’s problems don’t end there. Now he fends off nosy reporters, takes care of his senile and sometimes dangerous grandmother, tries to stay out of a foster home, and deals with his own complicated relationship with violence. Then someone starts replicating his father’s crimes and Jazz feels compelled to find the killer, even if it puts himself, his hemophiliac best friend, and his girlfriend in harm’s way.
Critical Evaluation: This book was engrossing and difficult to put down. Characters are well thought out, complex, and sympathetic (with the exception of the nosy reporter perhaps). Jazz seems totally believable, as someone struggling with not only being a teenager, but also what he has been taught by his father and his own dangerous urges. The book focuses more on Jazz struggling with his internal drama at the beginning, but there is plenty of plot development to keep the story moving. There is one element of character that left me confused: at one point, Jazz talks about how he could never hurt his girlfriend, Connie, for some specific reason that was not necessarily romantic, though I never felt like that reason was fully developed. Perhaps the sequel would shed more light on that.
As the reader is drawn into Jazz’s inner turmoil they are also drawn into the drama unfolding in his town. For me, I’d say character development played a primary role, but was closely followed by plot and the rising action that takes place as Jazz works to solve the mystery. It becomes more and more difficult to put the book down the further into the story gets, as murders keep happening and Jazz continues to unearth clues to find the killer.
As far as expert reviews go, Kirkus says, “Readers of Dan Wells’ John Wayne Cleaver novels (I Am Not a Serial Killer, 2010, etc.) will find echoes of them here, though the writing is not as tight and the creep factor is lower. Also, the certain-sequel open ending is a bit of a letdown.” I will say that I wished for a more conclusive ending to the story, but will be happy to continue on the journey for at least one more book.
Reader’s Annotation: Jazz’s serial killer father is behind bars, but someone is recreating his crimes. The whole town suspects Jazz, so he must expose the killer himself, but what if some of his own violent tendencies surface in the process?
Information about the author: Barry Lyga is the author of many young adult novels, such as The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Mangaman. He was born in 1971 in Southbridge, Massachusetts. As a child and teen, he was obsessed with comic books, even though the adults around him discouraged that interest.
He majored in English at Yale, where he looked at comic books from an academic standpoint. He then went on to work for Diamond Comic Distributors. He now lives in New York. His first book was published in 2006 and his writing is highly regarded by critics and teens alike.
Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Mystery
Curriculum ties, if any: None.
Booktalking Ideas: I think this book would fit well with other creepy ones, especially the Shades of London series (the first book is also about a copycat killer) and could be construed as mystery as well. I would also highlight the friendship between Jazz and Howie, as well as their quirky humor.
Reading Level/Interest Age: The main character is 17, and there are somewhat detailed descriptions of murder victims, so I would recommend this for more mature readers. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus recommend this title for 15 year olds and up. School Library Journal and Booklist list it as appropriate for grades 9-12.
- some sexual situations
- First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
- Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
- Bibliographic Citation of the book.
- A description of who the book is best suited for.
- A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
- My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
- Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
- ALA Library Bill of Rights
- Good and bad reviews of the book
- Alternative works a student could read
- Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
- When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
- If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.
For “I Hunt Killers”, I would argue that this is an important title to have in the collection because it presents insight into how people struggle with doing the right thing and giving in to urges. I also gained insight into the way a serial killer thinks, so I think it might give the reader a heightened awareness of potential warning signs and maybe keep them safer. It’s also an empowering story, that demonstrates what a teen is capable of accomplishing, but it doesn’t glorify disobeying adults; Jazz faces a lot of danger and gets in trouble quite a few times for his involvement.
Why did you include this book? : This title is a thriller and mystery, so it represents the broad spectrum of genres in YA fiction. I also appreciate that it deals with a teen struggling with emotional issues and the scars left behind by a very troubling childhood.