Author: Barry Lyga
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Themes: Serial Killers, Family, Identity
Age Range: 10th Grade and Up
Game is the second book in a series about a boy named Jasper Dent. In the first book, I Hunt Killers, we discover that Jasper's father, Billy Dent, is a notorious serial killer. Jasper lives in the small town where he grew up with his horrible, racist grandmother, who is suffering from dementia. In the first book, a copycat killer draws Jasper out, and he makes it his life's mission to capture serial killers, all the while questioning whether his unusual (read: crazy) upbringing by his murderous father made him a sociopath. In the second book, Jasper's hunt for killers continues when he is approached by a New York City detective trying to catch a serial killer called Hat-Dog, because of the distinctive marks he leaves on his victims. Jasper agrees to help the detective in an effort to prove that he is not capable of the horrendous acts his father trained him for. In the process, he discovers that his father, who escaped from prison at the end of the first book, may be involved.
As an avid reader of thrillers, I am very much enjoying this series. The premise is unique-in all of the thrillers that I have read over the years, I have never come across one where the main character is the child of a serial killer, nor one where the main character is a teenager. That said, I must admit to being baffled as to why this book is published as a YA novel at all. Lyga does not pull any punches when it comes to describing the terrible acts committed by his villains. Jasper's character is undergoing one of the most unusual coming-of-age narratives ever described in fiction, but I don't really think that is enough to justify marketing this as a book for young adults.
Not to say that mature readers in their teens won't enjoy this series, especially if they are as fascinated by serial killers and their capacity to do violence as many adult readers. But this book being placed in the YA category means it will be marketed to tweens and teens alike, and I'm just not sure that it fits in that category. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am not squeamish about violence in books for younger readers, nor do I generally shy away from books with controversial topics that some other adults may think are inappropriate for readers of a certain age. My general feeling is that kids and teens will self-select when it comes to reading. If something they pick up is more mature than they are ready for, usually they either don't understand it or put it down as uninteresting to them. But I think that this book really belongs with the other thrillers in the regular fiction section of the store. Adult readers of thrillers will certainly enjoy it, and mature teenage readers who are transitioning to that section will find it, but younger readers aren't as likely to come across it.
The story itself is fast-paced, and Lyga spends more time developing the characters of Jasper's girlfriend and best friend, both of whom play major roles in the plot line. Like many middle books in a series, it opens up more questions than it answers, though there is a resolution to the Hat-Dog business. The ending is very much a cliff-hanger, and since the third book in the series doesn't come out until this fall, if you are an impatient reader you may want to wait to start the whole series.