A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its symptoms.
Keep searching for the truth, trust your instincts, and don't give up, even when the whole world seems to be against you.
Positive Role Models
Thoughtful, independent, and fearless, Emily insists on getting to the truth. Fellow high school student Damon excels at his studies and is loyal to his friends; he's capable of controlling his occasional violent impulses, but he drinks to excess and uses drugs recreationally. The only two adults with real presence are Emily's parents: Dad, who's the prime suspect in a murder, appears mostly as a loving father suffering from PTSD; and her mom, who uses alcohol to cope with emotional problems and is the first to believe her husband is guilty, although she and Emily ultimately reconcile.
Violence & Scariness
Punching, shoving, and wrestling are part of frequent but rarely bloody fight scenes, which occur mostly in the context of a hide-and-seek-style game being played willingly by all participants. One game participant likes to be choked to get high; there's brief discussion of this behavior, called by such names as Seven Seconds and Gasp. Video footage of a crime leads to solving the mystery. Some descriptions are vague; others, including the last moments of the victim's life, are more clear and detailed but not gory. Minor characters' experiences reflect the violence of war: One suffers from PTSD after shooting a civilian; another's father was killed by an exploding IED, and at one point a friend speculates graphically about that moment. There's some mild gore when a rabbit is being skinned and rare, nongraphic mentions of blood elsewhere in the story.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sexual incidents are infrequent but emotionally powerful. The victim's boyfriend frequently remembers sexual aspects of their relationship; he mentions being hard and being inside her, describes oral sex briefly, and vaguely describes bringing her to orgasm manually. An emerging portrait of the victim reveals someone who uses the promise of sex to get what she wants: "She'd sat on my lap and wiggled her bum in just the right way. She'd known it would make me want her."
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"F--k" and variations are used frequently. Other strong language occuring half a dozen times or less includes "piss," "s--t," "bastard," "dick," and "p---y" in the context of name-calling. Strong British language includes rare uses of "bollocks," "wanker," and "poof" and calling someone a "knob end" ("knob" being slang for "penis"). Twice characters "flip the bird."
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Products & Purchases
One mention each of Juicy Fruit and (Ford) Fiesta. The author's note thanks the band Quiet Marauder for "providing the soundtrack" to the book and includes the band's Web address.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Damon, one of the two teen narrators, drinks and uses drugs; focused on one night in particular when excessive drink and drugs caused blackout and memory loss, the story revisits his physical and mental state frequently. Emily's mother drinks to excess. Characters frequently smell of booze; some recall a past incident of getting drunk in a pub when underage. "Fairy dust," a nonspecified drug in powder form, plays a prominent role on the night of the crime. Damon smokes an entire joint one night and hallucinates. Friend Mack offers marijuana, booze, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and more of the unknown powder to Damon to help him sleep. Teens are occasionally depicted smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Killing Woods is a teen murder mystery that frequently revisits events leading up to the killing, including characters drinking and using drugs to the point of blackouts and memory loss. Violence (aside from the backdrop of murder) is infrequent, not gory, and usually involves wrestling-style fighting, although there's some mention of war-related violence. Infrequent sexual content is very powerful emotionally. Strangulation -- as a thrill and an emotional escape mechanism -- comes up for discussion. Strong language includes frequent use of "f--k," and occasional instances of other words. Teens frequently refer to "fairy dust," an unspecified drug in powder form, which they apply to their gums.
Is It Any Good?
With THE KILLING WOODS, author Lucy Christopher has constructed a taut, gripping teen whodunit. Told by the two narrators, the story cleverly reveals the solution piece by piece. All the classic mystery elements -- including red herrings -- are there to keep the reader guessing to the very end. Poetic language gives the psychological thriller an eerie, shadowy atmosphere.
Emily's voice is believable, but Damon's is inconsistent, which can distract the reader from the story. The surprising ending satisfies, despite the "summing up" at the police station, when the stilted, textbook-style language comes across as a contrived, gratuitous attempt to reinforce the "kids, don't do drugs" message. However, this a minor flaw in an otherwise suspenseful and compelling read.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.