One of the blog goals I had set for myself this year was to read YA crime fiction in the mix of my regular crime fiction to give more diversity to the genre representation (was that wordy enough or what?). At first I was having trouble finding some YA I was willing to read--paranormal seems to be all the rage in YA these days. But I've found some I'm excited to share with you and today is the first of those. Read on...
First line: "She had screamed, but she had not cried."
Barry Lyga's Game is the sequel to I Hunt Killers. I missed I Hunt Killers the first time around, but it didn't keep me from understanding and enjoying Game.
Jasper "Jazz" Dent is the son of Billy Dent, one of the most notorious serial killers in the world. The seventeen-year-old boy lives with his paternal grandmother who is suffering from dementia and most days is a threat to herself. So when a NYC police detective shows up at his door asking for Jazz's help with the Hat-Dog murders, Jazz is resistant. Not only does he not want to get caught up in more murder and carnage, but he can't leave his grandmother alone in their small Southern town of Lobo's Nod. The detective is persistent. He believes that Jazz's knowledge of serial killers--from growing up under the tutelage of his father--is exactly what the NYPD needs to find the Hat-Dog killer.
Jazz's resistance is short-lived. The need to prove that he isn't his father, that killing isn't genetic, wins out. Jazz recruits the help of his Aunt Samantha, Billy's sister, and his best friend Howie to take care of Grandma while Jazz heads off to NYC with his girlfriend Connie.
The unabridged audiobook of Game is narrated by Charlie Thurston who does a stellar job of balancing the seriousness of a serial killer with the humor that Lyga peppers throughout. The humor doesn't diminish the authenticity of the plot, rather it enhances the authenticity of the characters. Lyga is writing about teenagers after all. And he does so without condescension.
Thurston's job as narrator is a challenging one as he volleys back and forth between the teenage issues and the adult world of crime--his careful blending of the two makes for an engaging story. And his representation of Howie is probably my favorite. Lyga has created a supporting character rich enough to take the lead himself, at times even overshadowing his protagonist, which is not at all a bad thing. Howie is both endearing and hysterically funny! Thurston nails that combination.
The relationship between Jazz and Howie is also a major strength of this series. Two outcasts of different sorts using their unique strengths and talents to compliment the other's.
There are a few elements of the novel that felt awkward to me, but I wasn't sure if these were overall awkward or if they're awkward from an adult perspective, not so much from a YA perspective. Jazz's dream scenes were one of these times as well as the teenagers' mentality that they were "adults" once they turned eighteen. Several times Connie tells her parents that she will be eighteen in a matter of months and can do whatever she wants. For Jazz, as an orphan of sorts, this makes sense. But for Connie, it isn't as straight forward. At least, it wasn't straight forward in MY house as a teenage. If I was still living under my parents' roof, then it didn't matter if I was eight or eighteen. I still had to live by their rules. So, the parents' reaction to her demands didn't exactly ring true to me. Teens, however, will likely connect with the feeling.
Lyga's grip on the teenage dialogue is strong, and Thurston enhances it even more. From humor to sarcasm to teen angst, the duo creates a smooth and natural sound.
The overall production of Game is excellent. The focus stays on the story with no distracting breaths, edits or other outside noises. It's an engaging, suspenseful novel that listeners of all ages can enjoy, whether they are familiar with I Hunt Killers or not.
Game is available as an unabridged audio download from Hachette Audio and in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0316125871) from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.