“You Still Must Dream Alone”: The Killing Jar by Jennifer Bosworth


If the title and cover alone don’t get your attention, Jennifer Bosworth makes sure she has it with the first two sentences of The Killing Jar: “I try not to think about it. That time I killed a boy.” From there, Bosworth takes the reader on a visceral, stomach churning journey of self-discovery and truth-finding until a climatic ending that will have you turning the pages at light speed.

So now you know that protagonist Kenna Marsden killed a boy, but you don’t quite now the when, the why, or the how. I can answer those without spoiling the rest of the book and it’ll give you a good idea of what kind of character Kenna is. She was ten when she killed the neighbor boy, Jason Dunn, in the forest behind their homes. Jason liked to torture things like adolescent serial killers do, and Kenna had a wicked sense of justice. She didn’t mean to do it, but once she touched his skin and took his energy (in a Rogue-like way) it was all over. No one found out, because who would suspect a ten year old girl of murder?

Flash forward to the present as Kenna’s life finally begins to improve after years of isolation. She’s got a great friend/maybe more named Blake who pushes her out of her comfort zone. Her twin sister, Erin, has far exceeded the life expectancy doctors put her at time and time again. Her mother seems to have forgiven Kenna for sucking the life out of Jason Dunn. Then—of course—everything goes wrong. A tragic and mortifying loss pushes Kenna into the spotlight and toward a mysterious commune known as Eclipse.

Eclipse is full of artists and stereotypical hipster/hippie/outcast type of people who live off the grid, farm their own land and take care of crops, raise and cull livestock, and generally remind you of your aunt that makes her own soap. They welcome Kenna with open arms, giving her a sense of belonging she hasn’t felt in seven years, but is there more to these “Kalyptra” people?

(If anyone is or knows an entomologist [like I do] this should be a familiar word to you).

There are so many twists and turns to the plot that I can’t say much else without giving the surprises and jumps away, so I won’t. Instead I can only praise the visceral descriptions that beam off of the page and directly into the reader’s skull. There is suspense, horror, and revulsion in equal turns, but there are also poignant moments of self-discovery. The scenes that take place in Eclipse seem idyllic and are basically advertisements for communal living without technology. They’ll also persuade you to the benefits of owning a goat.

The characters are charming and distinct, even if they all fit into stock character categories. Kenna is the Unusual Protagonist Who Doesn’t Fit In, Erin is the Holier Than Thou Counter to Kenna’s Darkness, their mother is Secretive and Keeping a Large Secret While Being Distant, Blake is Boy at Home Who Symbolizes Normality and Hope…there is also Mysterious Lost Relative, Attractive New Boy Who Tempts Kenna Away From Normality, Hostile Person Who Has Good Intentions, Evil Person Who Has Selfish Intentions, and First Antagonist Who Isn’t that Big of a Deal. However stock these characters are, their personalities, dialogue, and interactions are what make them different from every other book out there. Erin and Kenna’s relationship is central to a subplot of the book and it’s developed and changed in realistic, yet heartbreaking ways. The love triangle (if you can call it that) is cliché as all hell, but the ending changes what we expect and makes it better.

You have to trust my word when I say that the plot is unpredictable and glorious, that the characters will surprise you, and that it’s worth the read. If you enjoy YA horror, kale salad with organic tomatoes, insects, and sisterhood then pick up The Killing Jar and let it take your life for a few hours.