Published by Sourcebooks Fire on August 2, 2016
Genres: Mystery, YA, YA Thriller
Who will be left after lights out?
Tag, you’re it…
It’s 4:00 a.m. when they come for me. I am already awake, strung out on the fear that they will come, and the fear that they won’t. When I finally hear the click of the latch on the dormitory door, I have only a second to brace myself before—
At Cate's isolated boarding school, Killer is more than a game—it’s an elite secret society. Members must avoid being “Killed” during a series of thrilling pranks, and only the Game Master knows who the “Killer” is. When Cate’s finally invited to join the Assassins’ Guild, she know it’s her ticket to finally feeling like she belongs.
But when the game becomes all too real, the school threatens to shut it down. Cate will do anything to keep playing and save the Guild. But can she find the real assassin before she’s the next target?
Since I started letting my little TBR Jar decide what I read back in early 2016, I’ve gotten hilariously, terrifyingly behind on my review copies. I feel less stressed about reading in general because it’s technically out of my hands, but that’s been replaced by the lesser stress of OH GOD, I HAVE 80+ REVIEW COPIES UNREAD AND MOST OF THEM HAVE ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED.
The Assassin Game here? Yeah, it’s one of the victims. It was published close to a year ago and I felt so guilty for being behind on it that I actually bought a finished copy of it. If I can’t be on time with the review, I can at least give them my money, you know?
But The Assassin Game is bad. Badly written, throws around microaggressions with aplomb, and simply not fun.
I admit, part of what annoys me comes from personal experience. The kids of Umfraville, an exclusive school for extraordinary students, take it Very Very seriously. A few students are “harvested” every year by older students as new participants and those newbies get kidnapped from their rooms in the middle of the night like the fraternity or sorority hazing ritual that inevitably ends up on the news for killing someone. Every time the players meet in a cave on the island, they have to be Very Very Careful they aren’t followed by non-players.
Look, I watched two of my college roommates play Killer’s sister game Assassin as members of Improv Club. Their version made everyone both killer and target, saw you “killed” when another player marked your skin with Sharpie, and could see its rules change at the drop of a hat if the game master (the club vice president and moderator of the club Facebook page for the duration of the game) got bored or wanted to shake things up. Last one standing wins.
For instance, one standing rule was that you couldn’t kill anyone indoors. The vice president changed their mind one year and simply posted, “I want our president dead. ‘No killing under a roof’ is lifted, so go get ’em.”
Fortunately, war did not break out between my two roommates because one of them had already died and thus was out of the game.
Anyway, after seeing how fun that game was, how was I supposed to take Killer seriously in its over-the-top seriousness? I can’t, that’s how. I’d rather tell these kids to CHILL THE FUCK OUT and have some actual fun because they don’t seem like they’re having any at all. It’s more hazing than game and even even my dorm had better hazing rituals.
(Those hazing rituals were watching Gabriel Iglesias’s routine The Racist Gift Basket and the Shia LaBeouf song as well as being sandwiched in the Awkward Hug, if you’re curious. We were an eccentric dorm.)
The bad writing and microaggressions show themselves as early as the first chapter, wherein game master Alex is described as having an “athlete OCD neatness” (p.5) about him. As someone who has OCD that leaves me with regularly bleeding wounds, constellations of scars, and bitten-up fingers, saying it’s irritating to see the “OCD = freakishly clean” thing yet again in a book is an understatement.
Later on, a girl is described as having caramel skin. Food-based descriptions of POC skin? Yeah, that’s a no from me. Cate’s description of her is also so romanticized with gleaming skin, gentle curves, and lovely hair that I refuse to believe Cate is heterosexual the way I’m supposed to. THAT GIRL IS AS QUEER AS A PRIDE PARADE.
Anyway, Cate also says something super transphobic that ultimately sealed The Assassin Game‘s fate. When the caramel-skinned girl takes a shower, powdered dye placed in the showerhead turns the water red as blood, making the first Kill of the game. It’s while speculating with her love interest Vaughan about the Killer’s gender that Cate says the following:
“The probability is that the Killer is female. This Kill was set up at night, and that means no easy access for anyone with a Y chromosome.” (p. 73)
Did you know some women do in fact have a Y chromosome? THEY’RE CALLED TRANS WOMEN. I sure hope no trans people are attending Umfraville. They deserve better.
It’s a throwaway remark, true, but that’s exactly why it’s so bad: this casual transphobia is seen as nothing. Our chromosomes determine things like hair color, eye color, and what happens to our bodies during puberty, but they don’t determine our gender. They just determine what gender we’re assigned at birth. When that assignation matches the person, it matches. When it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
After that gem of a line, I stopped caring. I did my damnedest to go back to caring so I could see the book through, but Cate’s remarks just kept coming back.
To give the book some credit, what I saw at the end indicated The Assassin Game could be ripe for feminist analysis since part of the villain’s motivation is how he feels entitled to Cate–and that’s not going to give away who the villain is, don’t worry. Cate is quite highly desired by other characters in the book, though exactly why that is escapes me. This book is meant for someone much more determined and who actually gives a fuck what the characters are up to.
So that’s why I DNFed The Assassin Game 141 pages in.