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Dear Killer

Teen serial killer faces moral dilemma in gripping read.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn some details about how to kill someone without a weapon. For example, they'll learn that a blow to the temple can kill, but where exactly to land the blow and the force needed aren't specified. They'll also learn how a murderer can cover his or her tracks, for example by eliminating fingerprints from the inside of surgical gloves and using hydrogen peroxide to erase DNA samples from silverware. They'll also learn about moral nihilism from a philosophy class discussion. 

Positive messages

Trained from a very young age to be a serial killer, narrator Kit, now 17 and in high school, was taught that nothing is right, nothing is wrong, and morality is an opinion. Over the course of the story she begins to struggle with this view, and ultimately must choose whether to continue as she always has or stop struggling and surrender to the justice system.

Positive role models

Although she's a typical 17-year-old in many ways, narrator Kit is a serial killer who admits she enjoys the killing. Her father's mostly absent and emotionally unavailable when he's around. Her mother's nurturing and emotionally very close to Kit, but she's a former serial killer who trained Kit to replace her and inculcated the "nothing is right, nothing is wrong" philosophy into Kit. The police detective on her trail models sticking to a difficult task even when it seems hopeless, but isn't a well-developed character otherwise and mostly represents the justice system. The two classmate characters, Michael and Maggie, are also vague and mainly serve to represent Kit’s two reasons for killing: Michael’s a violent sociopath who arguably deserves to die, and Maggie's supposed to die just because Kit’s set of self-imposed rules require it, even though Maggie's likeable and harmless.

Violence

Blood's mentioned a lot, but it's not described in detail. A couple of murders are narrated with some detail: One briefly describes the killing blow to the temple, and the other graphically but briefly mentions broken nasal bones penetrating the brain as the cause of death. There are a few fights with punches, broken bones, and blood from injuries mentioned. 

Sex

Kit feels attracted to police detective Alex but doesn't describe the feelings in detail or act on them.

Language

The teen narrator uses a variety of swear words, but only a few times each:  "S--t" (also used once by an adult), "arse," "arsehole," "bitch," "whore," "bulls--t," "bastard," and "bloody hell."

Consumerism

Pepsi is ordered once in a restaurant. Teh London store Harrod's is mentioned several times and depicted as having desirable merchandise.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Kit's describes her mom as acting drunk when she's tired, slurring her speech and rambling. Kit goes to a nightclub and notes the smell of alcohol.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Dear Killer, written by first-time author Katherine Ewell when she was 17 (she's still in college at Stanford), takes the reader inside the mind of a serial killer who's a high-school girl and typical teen in many ways. Blood's mentioned a lot and a couple of murders are described, one somewhat graphically. Overall, though, the violence is fairly mild given the subject matter, and the book is much more about Kit's journey to understanding morality and where it comes from than it is about the killing itself.

Parents say

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What's the story?

Trained from a very young age to carry on her mother's serial-killing tradition, Kit killed her first victim when she was only 9. Now that she's 17, her mother has retired from killing and Kit carries on alone. She's been dubbed the Perfect Killer because she never leaves a trace behind. She's proud of her record and even admits to enjoying killing. One day she receives a request to kill a classmate and decides to take on the challenge. When she learns that her intended victim is also the victim of an abusive boyfriend, she begins to question the truth behind what she was always taught, that there's no right and no wrong. As she continues to kill, she comes under the increasing suspicion of the police and eventually must decide between a life forever on the run or forever behind bars.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Coming as it does from such a young author, DEAR KILLER is a remarkably mature achievement. The narrator's voice is rock solid and believable, and the story is very well constructed and realized. The book's not so much a page-turning thriller as it is a study in morality, but the compelling protagonist-killer and well-paced action hold the reader's interest in a vice-like grip.

A minor flaw that many teens won't notice, but if they do will take them out of the story at times, is the inauthentic vocabulary. The story's set in London, but Kit uses words like "tennis shoe" instead of "trainer." Her narrative voice lacks any sort of British cadence, and the occasional use of "arse" becomes a bit jarring in contrast. Again, a minor flaw, and we have every reason to look forward with high expectations to more from this talented young woman.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Kit's "nothing is right and nothing is wrong" morality. Where does our morality come from? Are there things that are always right or always wrong no matter the circumstances?

  • Why are stories about killers so intriguing? What makes a good thriller? 

  • Kit justifies her killing because she thinks "people need something to be afraid of" and scared people join together more than people who aren't afraid. What's wrong with that justification?

Book details

Author:Katherine Ewell
Genre:Mystery
Topics:Friendship, High school
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Katherine Tegen Books
Publication date:April 1, 2014
Number of pages:368
Publisher's recommended age(s):13 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Audiobook (abridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Kid, 12 years old November 13, 2014

A very nice book

Very well written. It is a little violent but then again what did you expect? A very good read. It has made my favorite's list. -Hoped this helped
Kid, 12 years old July 21, 2015

Confusing messages could give kids the wrong insight.

Dear Killer has a lot of confusing messages that not all kids will interpret the right way. The protagonist is a firm believer in moral nihilism, or in other words, the belief that nothing is right and nothing is wrong. As interesting as it is to see a villain's side of the story, some kids may take this philosophy to heart and begin to think that Kit's behavior is okay, based on her disturbingly convincing argument. In addition, there are also a ton of graphic descriptions in which Kit (or her alter ego "Diana") kills many innocents in brutal ways, which in general should be something to steer clear of as best as possible. All in all, Dear Killer is a beautifully written book that although some kids may have to be patient for a few years before they can enjoy it, but it will undoubtedly will be worth the wait. :-)
What other families should know
Educational value
Too much violence