The John Cleaver Series & My Rant on Quality YA

My friends and family will be astonished to hear that the same girl who couldn’t get through her fifth grade health class without succumbing to squeamishness recently read not one, or two, but six gory horror novels – and loved them.

I have my job to thank for unearthing Dan Wells’s YA diamonds in the rough. I was first tasked to improve the LDS author’s Wikipedia page in February of this year – if I’m remembering time correctly – and over the summer, while working remotely, I read his entire John Cleaver series and wrote or edited the pages for each of the books. They are as follows:

The series is named after the unsettling yet sympathetic protagonist, John Wayne Cleaver, a sociopathic teenager who (usually) keeps his darker side in check by adhering to a set of self-imposed rules. For example, he doesn’t allow himself to stare at girls, or think too poorly of other people. And while that concept in and of itself is an intriguing premise for novel, it effectively and gratifyingly grows as John matures. Wells artfully weaves the theme of self-control through the series until the strings are tied together into a satisfactorily neat bow of a finale. Particularly when facing the foolish, murderous liberation of others, John leads the fight for morality as the most heroic anti-hero I’ve ever encountered in modern fiction.

“I don’t let a broken brain tell me what to do. Because who you’re supposed to be has nothing to do with who you actually are.”

john cleaver, Nothing Left to Lose

It is painfully obvious that YA fiction has turned into a mudslide of underdeveloped, immature romance and stereotypical, one-dimensional characters. I suppose current market research has shown that young adults prefer that kind of watered-down, predictable drivel, so that is what gets published. I have no qualm with the more casual or even silly corners of libraries; books like that can serve as a release from our more arduous points of life.

But I do have a problem when the books in the silly corner take the place of the more worthy novels in the center of attention. I fiercely dislike it when poorly-written YA triumphs in popularity over the meticulously-developed plots and deeply explored characters of novels that are simply better. And that isn’t to say that the John Cleaver series isn’t popular! I know there are many people out there who adore Wells’s writing just as much as I do. I Am Not a Serial Killer was even made into a movie! I just wish, however, to see the series gain more recognition. How satisfying and inspiring it would be to see the events from I Am Not a Serial Killer all the way through Nothing Left to Lose become a Hulu series! How terribly unjust it is that I Don’t Want to Kill You wasn’t featured on The New York Times Best Seller list! (It is my favorite book in the series and may very well top my Best Reads of 2020.)

Wells’s YA is poetic. It’s meaningful. It’s thought-provoking. It’s not overly dramatic, or predictable, or filled with plot holes and profanity. This is the kind of literature – I will proudly defend it as such – that wholly deserves to be read by teenagers across the globe. It may not be what their friends are reading, or what Netflix thinks will become their next hit movie – but trust me, that’s a good thing. The world is characteristically terrible at detecting the best books, and has been for centuries. I refuse to be roped in to that vicious cycle. I want to support the best authors now, not after they die! I want my children to reject the half-baked content advertised to them and instead spend their time engrossed in books like Nothing Left to Lose. I want new, innovative, quality literature to be published in their time and in all the time to come.

Thank you, Mr. Wells, for making it available in mine.

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