A New York high schooler aims his teen angst squarely at animal abusers, becoming increasingly more violent and ultimately lethal, in Taylor’s debut thriller.
Like most kids his age, Travis struggles as a high school sophomore, with no real friends and the occasional target of bullies. But he sees humanity in general as the problem, best exemplified by a couple of punks he spies in the early morning hours tormenting a stray puppy. Travis confronts the goons and luckily comes out on top; the guys flee and the dog’s OK. This, however, seems to awaken in Travis a deep-rooted animosity for people guilty of animal cruelty. So he actively seeks those who harm pets (typically dogs), looking into documented animal abuse cases and getting a job with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Travis comes face to face with atrocious men, and he slowly becomes unhinged. To handle the more brutal side of the assaults, he develops an alter ego—a “trusted friend” that begins as a voice but is eventually a physical manifestation that Travis regularly sees and engages in conversation. Travis’ attacks turn into full-scale torture, and he doesn’t always leave his victims still breathing. He tries his best to hide his late-night excursions from his mom, Carol, and his stepdad, Big Mike, not an easy feat when cops investigating recent murders are Big Mike’s buddies. Travis will undoubtedly be a champion for animal lovers, a fact that the narrative overstates a bit, declaring his intentions “nothing short of divine.” But Taylor doesn’t glorify Travis’ rage: a scene of the boy cooing over a rescued kitty soon after he’s stabbed someone manages to be simultaneously endearing and unsettling. Travis, too, garners sympathy through his adolescent life: a potential romance with college girl Kelly is cut short by a thoughtless joke, leading her friends to label him a racist unjustly. Taylor loads his story with colloquialisms that are unpolished but to the point, like “bleak-ass world.” And the ending, while somewhat anticlimactic, is wonderfully open-ended, leaving Travis’ fate—will he pay for his crimes or not? —subject to interpretation.
A consummate fusion of serial killer tale and coming-of-age story; disturbing but unquestionably captivating.