Ashleigh Paige

I'm a full-time college sophomore pursuing my B.A. in English with hopes of one day working as an editor. Cats, musicals, documentaries about cults/disasters/tragedies, and curse words are just a few of my favorite things. Also, check out our blog or I WILL FIND YOU.


Review: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

Dear Killer - Katherine Ewell

See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! Because I am so angry, I need to share this one early.


Many implied spoilers for Dear Killer are within. Not lightly implied either. Read even half-attentively and you will see spoilers.


How on earth I went from enjoying the last 90 pages of the adorable, totally-worth-reading Alienated by Melissa Landers to reading all 368 pages of this... THING in a day escapes me. One of my friends started reading it just before me and warned me of what was to come, but the full impact of it did not hit me until I read it myself. Dear Killer is one of the most offensive novels I have ever read. My shame that Alexandra Adornetto wrote the Halo books at my age is nothing compared to the same I feel knowing Katherine Ewell is also my age and put out this sexist, poorly written and researched piece of horse shit. I would rather reread all three Halo books than suffer through this again.


It starts out decent. Not great, not well. Decent. After all, when the first victim is Lily, a woman whose fiance wants her dead because she knows he killed a man while driving drunk and is "blackmailing" him with that, there's only so good it can be. Then a policeman--the policeman who is a major force in Kit's life throughout the novel--says this about the victim and the motive behind her death:

"Most of the time, I find the Perfect Killer disgusting, but other times I wonder why we aren't congratulating him." (Ch.6; around page 88 according to my estimation)

This is where I should have brought out my Colin Mochrie gif and said NOPE. DONE.

But noooooooo. Something told me to persevere. Maybe Kit would see what she was doing wrong and it would result in a great storyline. Or maybe she would start killing people who actually deserved it. Or maybe in her hypocritical moral nihilism, she would start taking the stupid, childish requests like these and forward them to the cops for shit and giggles once she got the money out. After all, she claims not to believe in right or wrong, but her superiority complex shows she DOES believe in stupid--and all the requests we see are stupid. Checkmate, motherfuckers.


NOPE. Why did I ever have hope? Because I am dumb, apparently. These were the motives behind a few more of the detailed killings (in one case, attempted and hilariously bungled murder):


1) She rejected me even though I love her. Kill her.

2) She rejected me even though I love her. Kill her.

3) We hit hard times and I need my husband dead so we can get some money. Kill him.

4) My sister stole my fiance. Kill her. But not my bastard husband even though he chose to go with her.


There were just two detailed killings that were not of women and one of them was ordered by a woman who wanted her husband's insurance policy money. Speaking of this murder, it's committed twenty feet from a busy street and no one notices. That really reduces it to ONE murder (a guy got conned by a stock broker) that did not negatively portray women and even in that one murder, a woman was still harmed. Because women suck and who needs feminism anymore, am I right?


This is not where the true heinousness of the novel stops, but this is where I'll take a short break to go over the mundane things wrong with the novel. For one, it's inauthentically British. It's set in London, but the occasional vocab words are all that's British about it. It feels like this takes place in a London in the USA that just happens to be laid out like the London in the UK without actually being that London. I can't judge it myself because I don't know it myself, but I hear it gets a lot wrong in the British culture department with school and lifestyle and all. Either way, it feels like a bunch of Americans in America speaking like Americans with a British phrase or two every now and then.


It's also ludicrous in how the police and their investigations are portrayed. No matter what, they are NOT going to let a teenage girl into a crime scene so she can investigate it with them. Never. They're so horribly incompetent throughout the book that they can't even use the letter Kit leaves at the scene to do anything. She sprays them down with cooking oil to remove the ability to lift fingerprints, but DNA evidence is not all it takes to convict someone, especially when some of the letters point an obvious finger at the culprit. Handwriting analysis, anyone? If killers can be convicted without a body, then these people can be convicted with a fingerprint-free letter.


Kit herself tells us she's a precise killer and good at what she does, but one way or another, she bungles every single murder she details in the novel except for the first. All her talk about being a great killer is just that: talk. She really ought to start backing it up instead of skipping over the murders she does "right" and all. She even goes to one target, reveals who she is like a bumbling moron, and leaves her alive. Her second rule is be careful and that can be interpreted as trust no one because what is trust when you kill people for a living? But she decides to trust this one woman and it magically works out for her. Her doubts result from something stupid and are easily solved because she's a higher power. It's her job to do horrible stuff and bring people together!


Also, she's been killing people since she was a child and apparently been strong enough to do so with punches, strangling, and more muscle strength when hitting people with stuf. Hard to believe, but considering I know of a five-year-old murderer... Beyond this, I find it hard to believe that after over fifty murders--and more, if you count the many murders she commits in-novel--no one has ever been put under enough pressure by the police to squeal about the location of the letter box.


But now we get back the most heinous part of the novel. This whole section hit me on a very deep, personal level and was offensive enough to make me cry. Why? The general message is that girls like me should die because we are complex people who are happy to see bad things happen to the people that hurt us.


When I was twelve, my brother's best friend sexually abused me. This has never been a secret and I carry that weight with me every day. It makes me happy to hear about bad things happen to him and as you can imagine, I get sick when I hear good things are happening to him or he's coming to visit. When the submarine he served on had serious issues and he got in multiple car accidents, I wanted something awful to happen to him. It was the least he deserved for how he scarred me. It is not a good thing for me to feel this vengeful, yes, but it is how I feel. It's how I deal with knowing there will never be justice for me.


This is highly relevant because Kit accepts a letter from her classmate Michael, who wants a girl named Maggie dead for rejecting him and his love. He's shown to be a very angry man and may be the only person in the novel that really scares Kit. After he violates Kit's morals even though she is supposedly a moral nihilist, she kills him. Maggie, free from the guy who hurt her and harassed her because he "loved" her and she didn't love him back, is very happy. Why shouldn't she be? The ghost is gone, though the memories remain.


Kit doesn't like this, no sir no ma'am. She basically threw her plans to kill Maggie out the window when she realized Michael was such a threat and killed him, but seeing her unabashedly happy he is dead makes Kit decides Maggie must die this time--and she means it. The rest of the novel is a will-she-won't-she question of if she'll go through with killing Maggie with other deaths and doubts in between.


Oh yeah, and the death that makes her doubt herself and her role? Michael's. Because this violent man most armchair-diagnose with a personality disorder and all but call a ticking time bomb is what makes her think she shouldn't be killing because it's ruining young lives. You know what it reminds me of? A toned-down version of CNN crying over the ruined futures of the Steubenville rapists. Because screw the victim's feelings. The perps have it the worst, suffering for what they did and getting what they deserve.


For one, everything about Michael is a bunch of Wikipedia'd traits of mental illness thrown into a character that comes out a poor portrayal of mental illness. That's horrid in and of itself, but what really gets me about it all is the message that girls like Maggie and me--we should die because we are hurt and we express those scars in such ways. How dare we be happy to think or know our abuser is no longer of this earth or otherwise screwed over? That means we should join him.


This is a conversation Kit and Maggie have in the novel, word-for-word:

Kit: "Don't you feel guilty? You know, looking all happy like that. He's dead, Maggie. It's not like he just moved away or something or went on a very long vacation. He's dead."


Maggie: "I don't care. He never did anything but harass me. Why should I care that he's dead? Why should I be unhappy that he's gone?"


Kit: "He's... He loved you. However crazy he might have been, he loved you. Don't you have any pity?" (Ch. 13; around page 183 by my estimation)

There are no words because ANGRY ASHLEIGH SMASH IDEA OF VICTIMS NEEDING TO HAVE SYMPATHY FOR THEIR ABUSERS, so have a gif of what I SHOULD have said at this conversation yet again but didn't:


So what? It's told through Kit's highly unreliable point of view. But that doesn't matter because the narrative supports all this. It is a narrative choice to detail mostly murders in which women are targeted for rejecting men or embody harmful stereotypes. It is a narrative choice for Kit to take the path she does and not a very similar path that diverges in a single way that would have helped the girl who could be me and killed the novel's most toxic message. These narrative choices and others come back to support the novel's toxicity and the overwhelming violence against women.


You know what would have been great? A letter or two from victims of domestic abuse begging Kit for help because they are so desperate to escape their abuser they risked their life to get out and send her a letter knowing there was only a slight chance of it being fulfilled and they think that's the only way they can be free. Though the novel still would have been very toxic in terms of how it treats women, this would have helped just a little. But no. No.


How do you think that storyline turns out? Well, I won't outright state it, but I think my reaction will tell you exactly what happened.


Since the age of sixteen, I have been working on a novel with a struggle for female agency at its core. Its seventeen-year-old main character loses her own agency due to uncontrollable forces and has to deal with it while protecting another girl who lost hers the moment she was born. I lost most of my drive to work on it a year ago because I knew a vampire novel like that would never get anywhere in this market, but it's still dear to my heart and I want to see it through one day. That THIS REPUGNANT NOVEL got an agent, got a deal, and is due to be published soon is depressing. It makes me want to get in bed and never get out.


Originally, I was going to give this novel two stars grudgingly because despite my long, detailed list of issues, seeing Kit start to doubt herself and change of her own volition with no romance involved was nice and it really made me think about morality for a bit. Once I got to the end and that failed attempt at a redemptive ending, I lowered it to one. Once I finished crying because of the personal offense and the message it delivered to me, it fell to ZERO. It deserves nothing because the bad overwhelms the very little good there is. Not a hate read, not a passing glance--nothing. Let it fade. Let it fail. Let it learn we are not to be abused like this.