Annotation: After his mom gets a new job, Danny Lopez leaves his Las Vegas home and begins school at Cobalt Junior High Charter School in Colorado. Danny soon discovers that something is odd about Cobalt: the school practices a scripted teaching method, and everyone must wear a uniform, including white gloves. Even stranger than the school, however, is the mysterious disappearances of house cats, who later turn up ritualistically mutilated. Is there a serial killer in Cobalt?
Personal thoughts: I have to say that, although I enjoyed this novel, I am not surprised to read that it received quite a few negative reviews. It definitely is not for everyone, but I think that many teen readers, especially boys, will “get it” like I did. The subject matter is, admittedly, unusual: serial cat killer stalks small town. I am personally a moderate cat lover, but I could see how someone who treasures all things feline might throw the book down after the first chapter in revulsion. I have to admit that if the animal was changed from cats to dogs I probably would do the same thing. Once the initial “creep-out” factor is overcome, however, there is a lot to be enjoyed in the story. I’m looking forward to seeing what Adrian McKinty comes up with next for the young adult audience.
Plot summary: Fifteen-year-old Danny Lopez has never been a model student at his Las Vegas school. Caring more about skateboarding than studying, his mom, Juanita, and his stepdad, Walt, hope that the move to Colorado will be good for him academically. Juanita has been offered the job of managing a new casino on the Ute Indian Reservation, so Danny finds himself in the small town of Cobalt, near Colorado Springs. Shortly after moving into their new house, Danny meets Antonia “Tony” Meadows, a pretty but quirky girl his age who lives across the street and warns him that the school he is going to attend, Cobalt Junior High Charter School, is different than what he’s used to. On his first day, Danny learns just how different CJHCS is. The principal, Mr. Lebkuchen, has instituted the Direct Instruction method, which requires that teachers and students follow a script throughout the school day, and forbids any communication between students of any kind on school grounds. Everyone at CJHCS must also wear stifling uniforms complete with white gloves. Tony introduces Danny to her friends, and he soon learns that the students at CJHCS have other methods of communication besides talking. Just as Danny thinks things couldn’t get any stranger, however, he learns that several housecats in Cobalt have gone missing, only to turn up days later ritualistically mutilated. Danny also starts receiving unsettling and cryptic letters from someone named “Indrid Cold,” and they seem to be tied to the cat killings. Convinced that there is a serial killer in Cobalt, Danny and his friends decide to find out who the killer is, before they begin murdering people instead of cats.
Review: Quirky and unique, this tale from veteran crime novelist, Adrian McKinty, is certainly not for everyone, but will definitely prove interesting to many. Set in the fictional town of Cobalt, Colorado, the author’s crime novel background shines through in establishing the setting, the cast of characters, and the mystery surrounding the cat killer that is terrorizing Danny Lopez and his new friends. Squeamish readers beware, the story contains quite a bit of graphic detail concerning the cat killings, and cat lovers might immediately put the book down as the first chapter describes a (fortunately) nearly successful cat murder. The author takes the reader straight into the mind of the murderer (though the identity is left unknown until the end), creating an effective sense of foreboding as the killer begins to resent Danny and his friends meddling in the crime spree. The situation at Danny’s new school, where students have to be quiet and wear strange white gloves, takes a backseat to the murder mystery aspect of the novel, which is unfortunate since it was one of the most interesting parts of the story. Despite this slight shortcoming, however, Deviant has a lot to offer the reader, especially teen boys who will like Danny’s style of narration and the brisk pace of the story. The novel is definitely a departure from typical young adult fare, and bold readers should give it a try.
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: All Good Children by Catherine Austen, Rotters by Daniel Kraus,
Themes: Serial killers, cats, mystery, friendship, Colorado.
Awards/Reviews: Written by award-winning author.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:- Was this book difficult for you to read given the subject matter? Why or why not?
- Would you want to go to a school like Cobalt Junior High Charter School? Why or why not?
- Do you think the Direct Instruction method would work?
- What was the significance of the letters from Indrid Cold in the novel?
- Do you think that Bob was a reliable source of information about the cat killings? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Danny was mean to Walt?
- Were you surprised by the identity of the cat killer?