At first glance John Wayne Cleaver seems like a normal fifteen-year-old midwestern teenager. He hangs out with his best friend, has an after school job, and is obsessed with his hobby.
Of course, he only hangs out with his “friend” – the one kid in school weirder than he is – to camouflage his complete lack of social skills, he works as an assistant mortician, and his hobby… well, it’s serial killers.
The reason Cleaver finds serial killers so interesting is because he believes it’s his fate to become one. That belief is reinforced when his therapist officially diagnoses him as a sociopath.
Naturally, Cleaver wants to learn as much about what makes his fellow sociopaths tick as possible. However, his point in learning about them is not to perfect his fated craft, but so that he can try to find a way to prevent himself from fulfilling his perceived destiny.
To that end Cleaver has established an elaborate set of rules he lives by in order to remove any potential temptation that may lure his inner demon – which he calls Mr. Monster – out from behind the mental wall Cleaver has constructed to contain it.
Things seem to be going well. Working in his family’s mortuary satisfies his curiosities and allows him to get hands-on with dead people, and the weekly visits with his therapist Dr. Neblin (wonderfully written interactions) give him someone he can speak with frankly about his internal struggles. But when horribly mutilated bodies start turning up indicating the presence of an honest-to-goodness serial killer right in his town, it’s all Cleaver can do to try and keep Mr. Monster under wraps while he attempts to track down the killer.
I Am Not A Serial Killer may be the most unique coming of age story ever written. For as much as it is a serial killer story, with a touch of supernatural horror, at its heart it is really a character study. Wells has done a masterful job taking the reader into the mind of a teenage sociopath struggling to come to terms with himself and his inner demon. The matter of fact manner in which Cleaver accepts his condition is at turns honorable, humorous, horrifying, and always, always fascinating.
One may be tempted to compare Cleaver to a teenage Dexter, but there is a crucial difference: where Dexter embraces his sociopathic urges, Cleaver wants desperately to defeat his. Fortunately there are two sequels to I Am Not A Serial Killer already in the works, so we’ll all get to see whether Cleaver is able to keep Mr. Monster harnessed… or whether he really is destined to be a serial killer.