Obsession might even be an understatement.
But first, the boring stuff - I received a free digital copy of Teen Killers in Love from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
There will be some spoilers but this series is so fucking good that I will keep them to a bare bare bare minimum, if they can be avoided I will do so. But I freaking love both of these so much I might inadvertently give something away without realizing it.
Sorry. Read the books anyway. Here we go!
Teen Killers Club and Teen Killers in Love ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
ALL THE STARS FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER
If you've been around a while, you know that I was unintentionally sucked into the world of YA thrillers a few years ago by a certain little novel called One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus. Since then I have discovered some amazing YA authors who write books worthy of all the awards, ever. Tiffany D. Jackson, Courtney Summers, Hannah Capin, just to name a few in addition to Queen McManus.
Well, go on and add Lily Sparks to that list because Holy. Shit. I could not put either of these books down and it is absolutely killing me that I read the second one as an ARC that won't even be published until August, so who knows when the pub date will even be for the third book.
I came across Teen Killers Club completely by accident. I follow BookRiot on Facebook and they had posted a list of YA books and I ended up snagging most of them from the library. They were all decent reads that I liked, but did not intend to read again - you all know I am not a re-reader at all.
This one completely knocked my socks off and I am going to tell you all exactly why and if by the end of this review you still don't want to read them, then I have completely failed in conveying my enthusiasm. These books are seriously SO entertaining. I genuinely enjoyed them, and all the characters introduced along the way. It's been a long time since I can say I was truly entertained by a book, probably since OOUIL, since I did not see the ending coming and was truly worried for a split second that Nate might actually have been guilty but I was in love with this fictional character so would McManus really do that to me? (She's fully capable, but luckily did not.)
Sidenote: I'm a bit concerned about my attachment to both Nate in OOUIL and Erik in Teen Killers. Nate, of course, is the 'bad boy' drug dealer who is actually not so 'bad' after all. Erik, on the other hand, is in a literal Murder Club, so...
Okay, so we meet Signal, who has been convicted for the brutal murder of her former best friend. She and Rose used to be close but drifted apart and Signal eventually became this misfit Goth outcast from the trailer park (where she and Rose met), while Rose was rich (or at least comfortable after her mom remarried), popular, had a boyfriend who adored her, etc.
Signal is designated a Class A. They are the most dangerous kind of criminal, thanks to a little test called the Wylie-Stanton Index, which uses an algorithm to assess whether someone is likely to commit their crimes again and again. It is based on all kinds of data, from web searches to emails, anything and everything that could possibly be used to break a person down into these categories. Everyone convicted of a felony is tested and given a letter designation.
Class As can not appeal their sentences. In order to avoid spending the rest of her life in prison, Signal agrees to become part of a program for 18-and-Under Class As, where she will train as an assassin.
Yes, psychopath teenagers training to kill people that the government needs to get rid of, but can't use pros like the CIA. Think cult leaders, etc.
It's clear from the start, though, that Signal is not like the others who already populate the abandoned sleep-away camp that is designated as their training ground.
For one thing, she's innocent. Unlike the rest of the 'campers', save for Dennis. He's also never killed anyone, but due to his violent fantasies of murder, has been confined to the camp as well. Everyone else though? Definitely have killed people. Maybe. Mostly. Some. You'll find out.
Signal planned to escape from camp, find Rose's real killer, and clear her name. The only problem? This neat little technology called a 'kill switch'. Every camper has them implanted in their neck and they can be activated at the push of a button by their trainers, Dave and Kate. It's what keeps all eight of the teens from killing them, or one another, or running off.
Signal proves to be somewhat of a calming presence to the others: Nobody, Jada, Kurt and Troy (twins), Dennis, Javier, and Erik. All have killed before (presumably, otherwise why would they be there?), and the Wylie-Stanton Index shows all would do so again in a heartbeat. But as they spend more time together, the bonds of friendship truly begin to form. They'll need one another more than ever when a masked intruder is seen on the grounds, and attacks one night.
The intruder is killed and suddenly their world is thrown into chaos because the Director has decided to send the kids out before their training is over in order to complete their missions - which it turns out first is to kill the previous generation of assassins.
Things got even crazier from there and I loved every bloody second of it.
No worries though, there are not any gruesome, intense details of murders, aside from Rose's - she was decapitated. Everything else is implied, mainly by the blood and all.
I found that not only was I invested in Signal's story, but the rest of the teens as well. There's so much more I wanted to know about their backstories. The characters are all so distinct and there is so much room here to flesh them out.
Sidenote: I did not realize there was a sequel to Teen Killers Club until I finished it and went to Goodreads to read other reviews. With the way it ended, I hoped there would be more and was absolutely over the moon to discover the ARC was on NetGalley. I devoured that one the same night because I was approved super fast, which NEVER happens with YA books for me.
The personalities of all the characters really come out during their interactions with one another, and their training as well. Every morning campers must complete an obstacle course that prepares them for some serious B&E type activities. Whoever finishes last has to run it again, and whoever finishes ahead of the last person gets to chase them. It's intense and Signal fails miserably all the time because she's not a Class A and doesn't belong there.
In addition to the daily obstacle course, they are tested on how well they can dismember and hide a corpse (don't forget, the cadaver dogs will be out to check!), make Zap Sauce to dissolve a body, create makeshift weapons from everyday items, and last but not least, kill one another by 'slicing' carotid arteries with a Sharpie.
This is all fun and games to everyone else. These kids LOVE the challenges and pretty much revel in being psychopath murderers (some like it more than others, and everyone has landed in camp for crimes that are only similar because they were murders. Their victims and stories are all unique). Signal fails at everything, no matter how hard she tries to blend in.
Erik figures it out almost immediately that Signal is not one of them and he is drawn to her for his own reasons - of which there are more than a few. Erik is referred to as an apex manipulator. He's handsome, charming, and incredibly intelligent. Talking to him could literally kill you, and he would never have to do a single other thing in order to make it happen. He shrugs it off to Signal, saying he has a knack for psychology and getting into peoples' heads. This makes her incredibly wary of him, especially when later on he insists it will take three weeks or less to get her to fall in love with him. Easy to see why Signal has to stay on her guard around her new friends, even when it is clear they really have actually become friends.
Jada's backstory involves sexual abuse at the hands of her step-brother; Kurt and Troy are simply referred to as hedonistic killers who enjoy long, drawn-out kills; Nobody killed her uncle and five men at a strip club; Javier doesn't say much but his scarred knuckles tell quite a story, and then there is Dennis, who has explained all of this to Signal. He is the one I mentioned previously, who did not actually have any kills to his name, but ran a website on the darkweb which drew all kinds of people with similar fantasies of torture, mutilation, and murder. He is most dangerous at a keyboard, where he can hack into any system in the world and kill from afar. Javier later explains his story in more detail to Signal, about how he beat a man to death with his bare hands, hence why the scars.
There's so much more I wanted to know about all of these teens. The second book did not disappoint at all when we got Erik's backstory as he and Signal are on the run, trying to get back to her hometown so she can clear her name and find Rose's real killer.
The second book focuses much more on Signal and Erik, and it is so hard to tell whether he is truly falling for her like she clearly is him, or if she is a means to an end for his ultimate goal. I won't spill those beans, but it is a huge part of the story. He's definitely easy to fall for and we see Signal try to fight it for a long time. I gave up trying fairly early.
When the first book ended, Signal and Erik are set up on their way back to Ledmonton to find Rose's killer. They've cut out their kill switches and can't be traced. Unfortunately, some of the group still have their switches in; Dennis was not able to deactivate them all in time before he was caught. So, those that have the switches are sent on a new mission - kill Signal and bring Erik back to camp alive. Failure to do so will result in their own deaths.
Signal, Nobody, and Erik get tons of help along the way as they make their way to Ledmonton and the journey is never boring. The book is fast-paced and there is so much action to follow, that it would be incredibly difficult to get bored. Over the course of the book I found myself not nearly as interested in Rose's murder as how the teens would save themselves and each other. Rose was a shitty friend and yeah, she should not have been murdered so brutally, but I was drawn much more to Signal and the rest of the Killers club.
I love seeing all of the characters interact together. They are just about as ragtag a bunch as you could find, but together they gel. Sometimes I find myself bored by side characters, but none of them even really fit that title, even though it is obvious Signal is the main character. Sparks does such a fantastic job bringing them all to life and making them stand out from one another, but not in a way that was gimmicky or weird. All had their 'talents', and put them to good use.
Signal, Erik, and Nobody head to Rose's house as Signal has put some of the pieces together from the night Rose was murdered. Hard to do when one was blacked out and had no memories of the night, thus not enabling her to have assisted in her defense - not that he attorneys tried very hard, since she ended up convicted and designated a Class A anyway, right?
Book two ended up having just as many twists and turns as the first. Some I guessed, some I did not, and all were well-timed in their revelations. It was impossible to know who to trust at times, though I will say the only character I never doubted for a moment was Nobody. She is probably my most favorite of all the Killers and her fierce loyalty to Signal, and those she loves in general, was unmatched.
Through (some) not-totally unexpected series of events. Signal ends up on her own and Erik heads back to camp. Javier sends her off with a warning that if she ever sees any of them again, even him, to run. The rest know what is waiting for them when they get back to camp, but they all also know that Signal is innocent. If push comes to shove, someone WILL kill her. The Director had wanted it to be Erik, or to at least have the appearance of having been Erik. This way the whole Bonnie-and-Clyde thing they had going on while on the run would have further cemented proof in the eyes of the public that a Class A could never be trusted, never be fixed or rehabilitated. Erik is the ultimate Class A and the Director needed him - though I can't explain why without major spoilers.
I seriously need book three NOW, which is impossible because book two isn't even published yet. But if Sparks continues with the pace she has set in the first two books, I have no doubt that the third will be amazing as well. I want more backstory on the others, how they came to be at camp. Erik's whole story is laid out in this one, and it's pretty crucial to the plot.
I want to know what will happen to everyone else now that the world is aware of the camp, what the Director did to these kids, and what it means for the Wylie-Stanton Index and all of those already designated as Class As.
There is so much more story to tell and both books kept me wanting more, long after I turned the final pages. It seems kind of weird to love books full of teenage murderers who are okay being teenage murderers, but that's why the backstories are so important. Nothing is as it seems and Signal keeps discovering this over and over again.
I love Spark's ability to write some really good villains as well - let's face it, the Killers are not the actual bad guys here. The true blue villains are written just as well as the teens and made for compelling reading. Especially the Director, as well as Skye, Erik's brother.
Highly highly highly recommend both books. And the other(s, hopefully) yet to come.