Kill Switch

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
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Psychological thriller about ex-assassin proves unsettling.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kill Switch tangentially addresses the difficulties family members face while dealing with a loved one experiencing dementia. However, the realistic details are skimmed over, and Da's mental alertness waxes and wanes, more due to the necessities of the plot than to any commitment to being realistic.

Positive Messages

Kill Switch examines the costs of familial loyalty, of putting the needs of another before one's own. Daniel will do almost anything to protect his grandfather, which at first seems like an admirable trait. But is that really the best approach to their problem?

Positive Role Models & Representations

Daniel and Da enjoy a rough-edged yet loving relationship, and each looks out for the other. Nevertheless, it is clear that Da's past behavior is darker than anyone has been led to believe and that his dementia is only bringing out some of his worst personality traits. Daniel is fiercely loyal, but how far is he willing to go when he and his Da are backed into a corner?


Da's problems in the novel start when he begins reminiscing about his career as an assassin who was involved in coups in foreign countries. As the plot progresses, he becomes more belligerent. One supporting character is beaten badly and another is killed, perhaps in self-defense or perhaps not.


Kill Switch contains a very small amount of impolite language. While a character might be referred to as a "jackass" or declare that something "sucks," someone else is just as likely to say, "Holy macaroni, you doofus."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Da smokes cigarettes and drinks alcohol as long as he can get away with it, which, given his dementia, is not too often. Daniel's adult cousin Jarrod is presented as a hapless stoner. Jarrod supplies marijuana to Da and also procures and sells other illegal pharmaceuticals. Daniel does not partake of any of these substances.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kill Switch is a disturbing psychological thriller about a high school senior's loyalty to his beloved grandfather, Da, who suffers from dementia and may have spent his career as a secret agent and assassin. The novel features a couple of violent scenes, the most harrowing of which involve the protagonist, Daniel. One supporting character is beaten badly, and another is killed. Daniel's adult cousin Jarrod is presented as a hapless stoner who supplies marijuana to Da and also procures and sells other illegal pharmaceuticals. But Daniel does not partake of any of these substances.

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What's the story?

High school senior Daniel adores his grandfather, Da, who is in the grips of dementia. But when the old man begins telling stories of secret missions and assassination attempts, Daniel begins to worry that some of Da's former collegues are out to silence him permanently. The old man and young boy set off on a quest for sanctuary. But which one is ultimately more dangerous?

Is it any good?

KILL SWITCH has an intriguing premise and a likeable, if gritty, pair of main characters. But the execution of the plot feels somewhat labored and, ultimately, unrealistic. Some readers will find the direction of the final chapters unsettling, but others may enjoy the novel's dark ambiguity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes a novel a thriller. How is a thriller different from a mystery?

  • How is it possible to lead a double life -- to present yourself as one kind of person to your family and as another to your professional colleagues? What might be the difficulties of that kind of existence?

  • How do Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia alter the personalities of older people? Do you have any loved ones with dementia?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries and thrillers

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