The new kid in a near-reform school finds himself caught up in a disturbing animal-abuse case.
Accused of theft at his Las Vegas school, Danny Lopez needs a fresh start in a structured environment, and his parents think they've found just the place in Colorado: Cobalt Junior High Charter School, with a strict dress code, a draconian policy on communication and tightly outlined class instruction. As Danny adjusts to the silence and the scripts, he also gets caught up in the student sects, each of which claims to run the school. Meanwhile, a serial killer is murdering cats, and Danny is determined to uncover the secret before his cat is sacrificed. Generic protagonist Danny's lack of personality and distinctive voice is underscored by the stream of pop-culture references that pepper the narrative, seemingly in an attempt to reach out to the teen audience. Many of the plot points (rote memorization over critical thinking, absentee parents, religious instruction in schools) come across as social critique rather than narrative elements, and none of them feel particularly suited to the middle-school audience. Though the cat killings are slightly gruesome, the serial killer is never truly scary and has flimsiest motivation at best. The publisher has labeled this book for ages 14 and up, perhaps because of the serial killings. The gore isn't particularly gory, though, and protagonist, writing and setting all seem to skew this book to middle-school audiences.
Bloody without terror, this tale barely deviates from formula. (Mystery. 12-13)