On the list of things I adore, coming-of-age stories are high on the list. Put a bunch of misfits together in a new environment, be it school, or, let’s say, a camp where they can learn something about themselves and create a found family and I’m there with a goofy smile and popcorn every time. It’s true. The number of times I’ve seen Fired Up (2009) is frankly embarassing.
You know what else I love? Horror movies. Yeah, I love those cerebral slow burns, but put a bunch of misfits togther in a new environment, be it school, or, let’s say, a camp where they can get terrorized by some masked killer in the woods and… well you get it.
Then along comes Teen Killers Club by Lily Sparks.
I saw a book promo post on Twitter about it when it was in pre-release. If you’re on author Twitter like I am, you know it’s a constant deluge of promo posts. It’s how the sausage is made. Hell, I promote my stuff there too. I get it. But most of them I just let wash over me. Not Teen Killers Club. Everything about this book spoke to me. The pretty pink cover (sincerely one of my favorite colors), the catchy title, and then the blurb. “Framed for the murder of her best friend, a young girl joins a super-secret society of teenage assassins to avoid a lifetime behind bars–and discovers her own true self…”
Goddamn. Take my money! I preordered it on the spot.
Well, I finally chewed my way through my TBR pile and got to it last week and boy howdy folks, this was worth the wait.
Teen Killers Club is like the peanut butter in my chocolate. It deftly combines the tropes of a coming of age story with the sinister threat in the woods story. One part Breakfast Club, one part Friday the 13th. Joining innocent young Signal Deere on her quest for the truth is an ensemble of charismatic young killers like smoldering bad-boy Erik, sensitive artist with a dark past Javier, the burned wild card Nobody, Jada the “mean girl,” and others. Perhaps one of my favorite characters is Dennis, the quiet, sensitive genius who, like Signal, never killed anyone. But unlike Signal, Dennis has dark urges and knows that he’s capable of monstrosities which is why he turned himself in before he actualy hurt anyone. And as for the camp administrators, every time I try to picture them I see Gary & Becky, the administrators from the camp in Addams Familiy Values which just makes me cackle with glee. If, you know, Gary & Becky were trying to turn deranged killers into useful deranged killers.
Under the watchful eyes of the two camp staff whose job is to teach the campers “How to not get caught,” Signal and her new friends learn new skills like body disposal, lock picking, and navigating a grueling obstacle course. And if she manages to survive her murderous fellow campers, the sinister stranger in the woods, and the kill-switch implanted in her neck, she might even figure out who was responsible for the murder of her best friend Rose.
Packed with character and charm, Teen Killers Club is a surprisingly funny book. The observations of YA themes and tropes is razor sharp and subversive in this context. Likewise, the Friday the 13th tropes land differently when the camp under threat is filled with “Class-A” murderers. It’s the kind of madness where the usual love-triangle has the added complications of the “bad boy” could be REALLY bad, and even the dreamy “sweet boy” could be a manipulative sociopath. And yet I fell in love with all of them anyway. Even knowing what they’ve done to land them there, even starting as rivals and threats. It’s a testament to the author’s skills that by the time outside threats intrude upon the sinister training camp we see these young killers not as assembly of their worst selves, but as scared and vulnerable as they are scary and dangerous.
So, characters and characterization–check!
As for action, excitement, and terror, I’m pleased to report that Teen Killers Club checks all those boxes for me, too.
The danger feels very real and immediate in Teen Killers Club. And even though I came to love the characters, I wasn’t sure I could trust all of them. Even up until the final chapter I wasn’t sure about everyone’s loyalties and motive and I absolutely loved that. And while I thought I had deciphered some of the plots bigger mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to have those expectations subverted by even cooler truths that I should have seen coming and just missed. The slow reveal of what actually happened to Rose as Signal pieces togther the mystery of her murder never ceased to be compelling.
I’m hard pressed to find fault with Teen Killers Club. Everything meshes so well, the characters and location are so compelling, and it walks a fascinating balance between kindness and absolutely brutallity. I was hard-pressed not to read it all in one sitting as it is a real barn burner of a novel that is nearly impossible to put down.
When all was said and done, I walked away wanting to see more of the characters, more of their adventures, and resolution to some of the unexplained mysteries posed by the book. I was relived to hear that there will be a sequel coming out in Fall of 2022. If not, I might have had to write fan fiction to scratch that itch. I still might. You might, too, because the material is rich enough to demand it.
Yes, Teen Killers Club is violent. At times it’s even a bit gross. But it never feels expoitative and it didn’t feel particularly gory either, which I found to be a pleasant surprise. It’s also genuinely sweet and funny. I would have adored this book when I was younger, having been something of a misfit teen myself. As a misfit adult, I still adore it. Highly recommended.