Nick Hayes, fifteen years old, is diagnosed with cancer and begins the grueling treatments to try to save his life. He and his friends play Dungeons and Dragons once a week, and they’ve recently added a girl to the group. What great timing to start losing his hair… But when a mysterious stranger begins semi-stalking Nick and then reveals himself, Nick gets involved in a plot that goes way over his head.
What is One Word Kill about?
This book is about a time loop that Nick Hayes finds himself in. After a bald man seems to stalk him from the chemo ward to the park with his friends, Nick learns that in the future a friend of his requires technology from the past to recover from a major accident. He also learns that if he participates in the completion of the time loop, ensuring that the events of the past for the future version of himself happen, then he guarantees his survival of cancer. As confusing as the time travel is for Nick, he understands the basics of life versus death.
This book takes place in the 1980’s as they really happened, and the main characters are living in their present. The one time traveler involved supposedly comes from 2011, but as the book was published in 2019 the author doesn’t linger on the future of innovation too much to establish whether or not the 2011 he imagined was realistic or not. The novel itself never really gets into time travel, aside from attempting to explain how it works in this case. So much of the novel functions as just another fiction story, not a whole lot of sci-fi elements.
Tropes: Life Imitates Fantasy
An important feature of this novel is Nick’s D&D group, his best friends. At various points, events in the game are used to figure out and explain events in real life. The game seems intimately tied up with the escalating plot involving the future and what Nick has to do to ensure things happen as they are meant to.
Plot: A Closed Loop
Though Nick, and subsequently the reader, do not know what will happen through the novel, the time traveler does. In explaining how time travel works at all, the traveler also explains that it should be impossible to create a closed loop in which his interference in the past still leads to the future that he experienced. This creates a sort of sense of finality about the book, which I found myself liking. The stakes were high, but already figured out, so choices and fears and hopes really didn’t matter. It went a long way to make the characters’ choices easier, and helped with the fact that so much of the book is dedicated to their friendships and Nick’s disease.
I found that I did enjoy Nick’s perspective and him as a character. I also liked the combination of the D&D game and its usefulness in opening the group’s minds up to the possibilities of what was happening around them. The explanation of time travel and how complicated and finicky it was I found surprisingly interesting. I also enjoyed the friendships and relationships in the book for the most part.
I found that the ending felt rushed. So long was spent on the build up, and while the knowledge that it was sure to happen meant there would be a trick somewhere along the way, I felt that the way things unraveled was sticky. Due to the explanation for how it was possible to interfere in the past and not change the future, it shouldn’t have been possible for the time traveler to know things he knew in the final conflict. There were just too many random loose ends that were tied together in that one moment, and I wasn’t wholly convinced by the explanations if I’m totally honest.
I found that the villain–the whole reason this book made it to my Fortune Teller Readathon TBR–was disappointing to the extreme. The primary conflict of the novel could have been resolved without the cartoonish antagonist who pops up at unexpected moments simply to raise the stakes of everything going on. High school bully turned gangster, the villain–Rust–takes everything he does to an extreme level that seems unrealistic.
Aside from the things I criticized, I really did enjoy this book thoroughly. The writing style surprised me in its ability to convincingly portray a fifteen-year-old as well as keep up an absorbing story. There was also a surprising amount of empathy and compassion written into the little details, the side characters, and the way Nick views the world. Though it had no bearing on the plot, seeing Nick express compassionate views about others was a nice addition to his character development. I was also worried that much of the book would include pop culture references to reassert the time period, but luckily despite the odd reference to something here or there, the author definitely knows that pop culture references don’t automatically make a book a hit. Ultimately, I found this an entertaining read that shouldn’t take up too much time, and would work as a decent short read if you’re feeling burned out on longer and more complex books.