Let me start by saying that this book’s title is abso-frakking-lutely perfect.
Because it gets to the heart of John Wayne Cleaver and it is exactly… exactly why we love this kid so much. He is undeniably sociopathic, his urges are very disturbing, and he fights that part of himself as hard as he can. How could the reader NOT love a kid with such a firm will and a determination to help people?
Early in the book, we see John despairing at a suicide (not a spoiler) and wondering why he bothered to save the townspeople if they’re just going to start offing themselves. This scene is a very effective window into the lad and what drives him.
So I finished I Don’t Want to Kill You nearly two weeks ago. My wife finished it roughly 18 hours after I did. We loved it. I loved the pacing, the characters, the setting, the characters, the tension which sprang so perfectly from characters’ motivations, relationships and goals, and I even liked the prose quite a lot.
Dan Wells also has a great ear for dialogue.
Why is this book, and really the entire series, so good? Why do I think it should not only win the Campbell, but many other awards? Not because I’m a fanboy– How can you be a fanboy of a fellow you actually know? I wish that I had known better what Dan was doing when I first met him; I might have tried to keep in closer touch and learn the craft from him a little.
But what makes these books so good? What makes them such a pleasure to read that I happily compare them to the best limonada I ever had in Brazil? That stuff is so smooth, so sublime and wonderful that you don’t ever want to stop drinking it, despite your thirst being quenched. Dan’s writing is smooth– not flawless– but the dialogue and action flow from the characters with such naturalness that surprises work every time and humor comes at perfect, natural moments.
I ought to mention that I agree with Dan, and have thought this since I was 15, that horror is the most moral of genres. You have darkest evil pitted against flawed characters who must dig deep into themselves and find the best part of themselves to defeat the evil. And there is always a price for victory- which is a correct and true principle. Dan’s books illuminate this idea very well. John Cleaver is a most flawed young man, as readers know by now. But he is aware of his deep flaw, and this is the big point that too much modern literature is missing, he does his best to FIGHT to make himself better.
And even though he doesn’t think he can win a decisive and lasting victory against the monster inside of himself- he is not going to give up.
I don’t like wallowing in one’s true nature. I believe we should lift ourselves from the squalor of the natural and carnal urges. John Cleaver is inspiring because he has, by this book, molded himself an iron determination to not behave sociopathically, despite the fact that he IS A SOCIOPATH.
This series deserves accolades because it deals with regular teen issues, such as suicide, dating, peer pressure, parental interference and guidance, love, physical intimacy and more, while at the same time balancing John’s inner war and his very real war with very real demons. And it does all of this with excellent attention to craft, so the pacing never lags, the dialogue is excellent, and tension builds with remarkable deft. The entire set of books, very much including this one, flows wonderfully, is a pleasure to read, and leaves a very strong impression on the reader.
If a mark of success for a book like this is that the reader laughs out loud on cue, is appalled and disgusted at the right moments, and sits stunned for long moments after the last page– this book succeeds. That ending. Wow. I didn’t see it coming and was mentally arguing that John HAD to find a better way. But then THAT ENDING and it doesn’t come out of nowhere– it comes out of a remarkably well-crafted story.
One critique is that I would have expected John to cotton on to Nobody’s nature a little faster, given that he’s so smart, but I’m 37 and John is 16- so I can’t pick at that thread with any real enthusiasm.
I give this book an unhesitating 5 stars. Seriously. I love Stephen King; he has been my long-time writer hero, in a pantheon that has always included Katherine Paterson, Tracy Hickman and Robert Salvatore. Dan does what Stephen King does.
That’s high praise coming from me.