Monday, November 10, 2014

Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

One of the more popular electives at my high school is Sociology, and a great deal of that popularity stems from one unit in particular: Serial Killers. But these teens are not alone in their fascination with the subject. From John Wayne Gacy to Jeffrey Dahmer, the lurid crimes and deviant minds of serial killers fascinate our society as a whole, as we seek to understand whether such serial killers are born evil or whether their evil was created by their upbringing. Inherent evil is scary enough, but the thought that American society somehow creates such evil leads us to wonder what might be wrong with all of us.

This question of nature versus nurture is made explicit in Barry Lyga’s Blood of My Blood, the third installment of the I Hunt Killers trilogy. Jasper Dent, son of notorious serial killer Billy Dent, was trained from birth to follow in his father’s footsteps and knife strokes. But after Billy is finally caught and imprisoned, is Jasper now free to break from his training and choose his own destiny? Or is he fated by genetics and childhood experiences to become what he fears most? And now that he knows his mother is alive, can he save her and find out the truth behind some of his hazy childhood memories?

These questions, with all their Freudian/Oedipal resonance, were introduced in the first volume of the series, and Lyga makes them the visceral core of Blood of My Blood. This relentless thriller picks up immediately after the conclusion of Game, as Jasper is driven to find answers to his questions (semi-spoiler alert if you haven’t read the first two books). Did my childhood twist me beyond recovery and redemption, and how can I stop Billy without becoming Billy? (Another riff on the classic theme of how to destroy the monster without becoming the monster.) Ultimately, Blood of My Blood fulfills the promise of I Hunt Killers by fulfilling all of the thriller genre conventions: A shocking late-stage revelation, shifting focal points as the plot converges upon the inevitable showdown, and a satisfying conclusion.

Blood of My Blood, nominated for a Cybils Award in the Young Adult Fiction category, reminds me in some ways of Mockingjay, the third book in the The Hunger Games series. The horrors the main characters have lived through in the first volumes have left them shell-shocked, forced to face the bleak reality of a final confrontation. Howie the wisecracking sidekick and Connie the humanizing girlfriend still have roles to play in Blood of My Blood, but the humor and romance are subsumed by the darkness. A thriller with real insight, Blood of My Blood recognizes we must enter that darkness to see the light.

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