Review: The Killing Jar, by Jennifer Bosworth

The Killing Jar17-year-old Kenna has been living with a secret for years, the secret of a life she took, the secret of the dark and blissful power with which she took it. She’s grown up keeping everyone at arm’s length for their safety and her own, taking refuge in her music rather than the people around her. Despite her burden, she’s finally started to carve out some happiness for herself when a face from the past returns to take it all away, and forces her to awaken the piece of herself she’d fought so hard to hide. She’s spirited away to the nearby commune at Eclipse, to learn the nature of her power and the means of its control, but her first days among the reclusive Kalyptra yield more questions than answers.

To be honest, I signed up to read this with one of my book clubs almost solely on the basis of the cover. That is one astonishingly effective and beautiful piece of cover art. Young adult supernatural thrillers aren’t really what I’d think of as my forte, but I ended up very glad that I was motivated to pick up The Killing Jar, which is pacy and engaging.

Kenna is a likeable protagonist with an authentic teenage voice, and the majority of the secondary characters are well fleshed out too. There is romance here, but family relationships are what take centre stage. Kenna has a twin sister who is terminally ill, and has been extremely frail throughout their lives, and the guilt of a healthy twin faced by a dying one is exacerbated by the nature of Kenna’s powers. While I would have liked to see that explored in greater depth on the page, it probably would have impacted the already ideal pacing, and as it stands it doesn’t get short shrift. Kenna’s relationship with her mother, Anya, doesn’t lack for complexity either; her mum is the only one who knows the terrible thing she did as a child, and Kenna’s first lesson in keeping the world at arm’s length comes from the distance between the two of them after that first killing. In a way it skirts close to the annoying trope of building a story around complications that wouldn’t exist if the people involved just had a simple conversation, but in this case I think it’s earned because of the totally different relationship that Anya has to Kenna’s power due to its origins and her own.

I mentioned romance, and this novel features a rare and surprising thing for the YA fiction I’ve experienced: A love triangle that isn’t annoying. The main reason why it works is because it’s not really about Kenna choosing between two guys, it’s primarily about her choosing between the two incompatible ways of life that they each represent. Given that one of the central points of the story is Kenna’s need to stop sitting on the fence and make a choice about where, and what, home is, it actually serves the narrative quite well. I do wish, though, that the resolution of the triangle had involved a more active choice on Kenna’s part, in keeping with that theme.

I also really liked the way that Kenna’s power is described. Bosworth captures the feel of being high on life, an almost synaesthetic experience to which I can relate. Her writing flows nicely, it’s descriptive without being overwrought, with evocative imagery used throughout, especially of the moths. Kenna’s experience of the Mother is genuinely chilling.

Overall, the story runs in an easily predictable direction, but that doesn’t detract from the experience. It’s a pleasure just to see the hows and whys of its unfolding.

4 stars

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