Book Review: How I’ll Kill You by Ren DeStefano

How I'll Kill You by Ren DeStefano is your next stay-up-all-night thriller about identical triplets who have a nasty habit of killing their boyfriends, and what happens when the youngest commits their worst crime yet: falling in love with her mark. Read on for John Valeri's review!

Here’s a bit of backstory for you. Connecticut’s Lauren DeStefano—a graduate of Albertus Magnus College with a concentration in creative writing—was already a New York Times bestselling author of YA and children’s fiction (the Chemical Garden trilogy, the Internment Chronicles, etc.) when she decided to rebrand herself as Ren for her transition to the adult market. The result is her debut thriller, March’s How I’ll Kill You, in which a romance is destined to turn dark—and maybe even deadly.

Identical triplets Sissy (AKA “Jade”), Moody, and Iris were abandoned as children and experienced a string of reunions and separations as they were bounced around foster homes until they aged out of the system. Then, as adults, they agreed that their hearts would only belong to each other—and sealed the deal by leaving a string of dead lovers across the country. Sissy—the youngest by a matter of minutes, and a romantic despite her harsh upbringing—has always been the “fixer,” cleaning up crime scenes and disposing of bodies to protect her sisters. But when they arrive in Arizona, it’s with the understanding that she’ll finally identify her own first kill. It’s the stuff that fantasies are made of.

Of course, real life is more complicated than that—and Sissy soon discovers she may have erred in judgment. Her target, Edison, isn’t just a vulnerable young churchgoer who’s looking for somebody to mend his broken heart; he’s a recent widower with a darkness that lingers just beneath the surface. As Sissy (under the guise of Jade) draws Edison into her web, she finds herself having genuine feelings of affection and protectiveness toward him. Love, even. Grand it ain’t, as such an emotional investment isn’t just dangerous but a betrayal of the sisterhood, which depends on detachment. Sissy’s always known this, and yet she can’t help resenting Moody and Iris for limiting her choices. She can have one or the other—but she can’t have both. And if Sissy can’t make up her mind, it will be made up for her.   

DeStefano constrains her narration to Sissy’s POV, which is refreshing in its limited, linear approach to storytelling (versus the authorial calisthenics of alternating timelines and multiple perspectives). Readers are granted immediate and immersive access to Sissy’s innermost desires and fears, which show the humanity that underlies her apparent psychopathic tendencies. This singular focus not only fosters a sense of intimacy but results in the ratcheting up of tensions, as every action, emotion, and exchange is filtered through Sissy’s interpretation, making it difficult to discern what is preservation and what is paranoia. Consequently, the readers’ uncertainties mirror her own as Sissy reaches the proverbial point of no return.

How I’ll Kill You is a triumph. While comparisons to earlier works are inevitable, the twin sister/serial killer story has never been done quite like this before. DeStefano takes a familiar yarn and spins it into a ferocious thread of femme fatales and familial fidelity that strikes at the jugular before taking aim at the heart. Mark my words: Ren DeStefano—who has achieved a distinctness of voice and vision that is quite rare—is both an author to watch and a name to remember.

Read John Valeri discuss How I’ll Kill You more here.

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