I must admit, that when I started reading this book, I had a vague idea in my head: boarding school, rich kids, teen romance, probably some alcohol/drug abuse, some student surely in love with their teacher (or vice versa), and some above-the-law kids thinking they can get away with murder.
That is not remotely what this book is like. This book is Handmaid’s Tale meets Hunger Games meets Josh Malerman’s Inspection. This is a future where pills have taken away humanity’s ability to feel much of anything, and kids who test high enough on the sociopath scale are sent off to special schools where they are actually trained to be assassins. When they reach their last two years of school, they take part in Killslip Day, when every student is assigned to kill another, and the class size is halved by day’s end.
Enter protagonist Anathema, who discovers a secret diary from the past hidden under a loose floor tile, a diary which makes her start wondering about things she’s never considered before, and maybe even feeling. Add to her new mental muddle the fact that every student in this school must be constantly on alert lest one of their classmates (or teachers) murder them out of turn, AND that she has begun noticing some highly suspicious activity among certain students and faculty, and Anathema is in for one heck of a school year.
The actual plot takes awhile to get going; the first half of the book sometimes feels like a school syllabus of ways to poison and torture people. Once that second half hits, however, and the plot thickens up nicely, with one dangerous mystery piling on top of another, the pace picks up and snowballs to a tense conclusion on Killslip Day, when Anathema must make choices that will alter not only her life, but may possibly put things into motion that will affect the world.
Anathema herself is a character that takes a while to like. In the beginning she’s rather cold and unrelatable. As the story progresses, however, she gains a bit of humanity and I found myself rooting for her in the end.
A school-based thriller unlike any I’ve ever read, this one leaves itself wide open for a sequel and I hope we get one. I’d like to see what the students of the Prep School for Serial Killers do, the choices they make and the beliefs they follow, as they go out into the world.