No… just, no
Reviewed in the United States on October 20, 2020
Warning: THEMATIC SPOILERS
Megan, the heroine of Just Kill Me, is a precocious high school student who suffers from the usual insecurities of adolescents everywhere. She fights with her mom, feels insecure about her physical appearance, and expresses herself through creative writing. She also longs for romance; she has never been kissed. A chance meeting with her favorite ex-babysitter (from when she was a kid) opens up the adult world—the world beyond her home— to her. The ex-babysitter gets her a job as a guide on a ghost tours start-up that is jostling its way to the front of the competitive tour businesses of Chicago. Through this job, young Megan launches herself into adulthood.
The author, Adam Selzer, has an extensive knowledge of Chicago ghost lore as well as experience in the business of recreational ghost tours. He puts that knowledge to good use in this book, and the reader learns a lot about local lore. Having married a guy who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, I appreciated this glimpse into the haunted history of my adopted hometown.
But I found myself shaking my head in frustration at the shallow moral universe the protagonist inhabits. I’m a Baby Boomer, born in 1949. Younger readers will no doubt feel justified in greeting my dismay over the morally shallow universe with their ubiquitous put-down, “Okay, boomer!” But the world of adolescent choices portrayed here is one that makes me sad. Is it really the case that sexting with a stranger on the internet is a neutral and acceptable rite of passage into one’s first romantic relationship? Is the mercy-killing of old folks an acceptable way among today’s young folks to gain an edge over one’s business competitors? Is it considered normal to respond to an unfortunate social media discovery by trying to destroy a person’s reputation? Are my grandchildren really growing up in such a cutthroat, morally shallow social milieu?
I do not want to give away the plot lines, so I won’t go into detail to explain how these ethical questions find their way into this not-quite-paranormal coming of age story. Suffice it to say that I love stories about the intersection of the world of the living with the world of the dead. I like a good exploration of hauntings. But the author of this YA novel has provided no moral compass for his protagonist at all. I found it very disappointing. Coming of age is a more complex and humanistically comic process than this surface look at growing up suggests.