My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 480 pages
Release date: 6 September 2018
Harry and Charlie are teenagers whose lives are shaped by a society that’s shifting around them. He is a lonely Brit in his first term at a Las Vegas high school. She is an unlikely friend, who gets accused of mixing a batch of explosives that blew up a football player.
The two of them are drawn together at a time when gene editing technology is starting to explode. With a lab in the garage anyone can beat cancer, enhance their brain to pass exams, or tweak a few genes for that year-round tan and perfect beach body. But in the wrong hands, cheap gene editing is the most deadly weapon in history. Killer T is a synthetic virus with a ninety per-cent mortality rate, and the terrorists who created it want a billion dollars before they’ll release a vaccine.
Terrifying. Romantic. Huge in scope. A story for our times.
It took me a long time to figure out what was missing from Killer T.
I spent nearly a week reading it, and all the while I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind telling me something was off. I didn’t know what to make of a novel that only got weirder and crazier with every chapter. There were parts at which I was tempted to DNF, and parts at which I thought this might be a solid 4-star read. What was going on here?
Then yesterday it hit me. After all that searching, my biggest gripe with Killer T is that I don’t understand its purpose.
Novels, after all, are written for one purpose or another. Whether that’s to entertain, convey a political message, or reveal some truth about the human condition, stories say or do something. And I just can’t figure out, even after reading the entire book, what Killer T is trying to say. It flirts with entertainment but never gains momentum as a thriller, incorporates elements of dystopia but lacks the social relevance of a true dystopian work, and reads like contemporary realism but with protagonists too remarkable to apply to most teenagers.
I went into Killer T expecting, maybe foolishly, something like Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series–teenaged spies, MG level reading. Obviously I was wrong. Killer T is a lot darker and arguably more grounded in the real world, even if it’s still not exactly a realistic story.
Split into five parts with significant time skips in between, the plot spans a full eight years from the time when Harry is fourteen and Charlie thirteen to their adulthoods. I was expecting a continuous thriller, so the time skips were quite jarring. However, it was interesting to see how the main characters had changed after each jump of two or three years. That I think was quite realistic, and deeply preferable to spending the whole novel with Harry as his insufferable fourteen-year-old self.
In fact, Parts 3 to 5 were head and shoulders above Parts 1 and 2. My near-DNF moments came mostly in Parts 1 and 2, which turned the trashy up to eleven. I understand wanting to write a gritty novel, but personally trashy was the word that flashed in my mind again and again while I was reading the first half of Killer T at the expense of all other adjectives. It didn’t matter what their socioeconomic status or level of intelligence, all the characters behaved in ways that made me want to drop the book and wash my hands.
Call me a prude–I feel uncomfortable when one of the protagonists befriends the other exclusively because she turns him on when he meets her the first time at which point she’s thirteen, and turns against her as soon as she sleeps with another guy because, it’s implied, she owes HIM a relationship for treating her nice. The other protagonist sleeps with aforementioned guy multiple times despite having met his girlfriend and knowing in no uncertain terms that she’s his girlfriend. Neither of them are particularly likeable; I was only able to root for them because the antagonists were so irredeemably awful, you wonder if they’re not the secret love children of Hitler and Satan.
Yeah, this was a pretty depressing book. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel until Part 4 or 5. A bit late if you ask me. The trashiness became a bit more palatable as soon as I realised that this was a coming-of-age story with elements of sci-fi thriller and not the other way round. It was still not my cup of tea, but at least it was meant to be gross and a learning experience, rather than the glorified author-endorsed actions of hero protagonists?
Harry and Charlie in fact spent the entire novel getting their shit together, and it wasn’t until the final two, maybe three parts that they became characters I supported. Before I just felt sorry for Charlie and annoyed by Harry for the most part.
At this point I remember yet another of my misconceptions regarding this book: From the synopsis and cover, I thought there’d be much higher stakes, that the main characters would be at the heart of the Killer T crisis. The truth was, it was only a backdrop for two teenagers learning how to adult. In the end, maybe that’s the most faithful description of Killer T. After all, this is not a lighthearted or a fun read. It’s an adequate, occasionally insightful coming-of-age drama digging into the grittiest parts of the adolescent experience. Read at your own discretion.
*Thanks to Bonnier Zaffre and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*