Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “I Am Not a Serial Killer (John Cleaver #1)” as Want to Read:
I Am Not a Serial Killer (John Cleaver #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

I Am Not a Serial Killer

(John Cleaver #1)

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  34,264 ratings  ·  4,215 reviews

John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He's spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He's obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn't want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he's written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could sav

Trade Paperback, 271 pages
Published March 30th 2010 by Tor Books (first published March 30th 2009)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about I Am Not a Serial Killer, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Travis I'm really disapointed it went supernatural. I was enjoying this more when I thought it was like a teenaged Dexter. Now it's just another fantasy stor…moreI'm really disapointed it went supernatural. I was enjoying this more when I thought it was like a teenaged Dexter. Now it's just another fantasy story it's not as much fun. :((less)
Mary The John Cleaver books are not considered YA even though they have a young adult protagonist. They are considered adult horror and they can get pretty…moreThe John Cleaver books are not considered YA even though they have a young adult protagonist. They are considered adult horror and they can get pretty dark. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  34,264 ratings  ·  4,215 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of I Am Not a Serial Killer (John Cleaver #1)
Miranda Reads
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stuck at home? Got some time on your hands? Want to start a long series? But you don't want a dud?

Check out this booktube video all about which series are worth your time (and which ones aren't)!

Here's the Written Review!

What if a serial killer...doesn't want to become a murderer?

John Wayne Cleaver knows he has all the hallmarks of a serial killer.

He likes to stalk people, hurt animals and fantasizes about killing friends and family.
Fear is a ... it's a weird thing, when you thi
Dan Wells
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Quite possibly the best book ever written.
My reaction when a third of the way through the book “IT” happened was something like…

For those of you that have read the book, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. For everyone else, let me explain as best I can without any spoilers.

Our story begins in a small town with a wonderful introduction to John Wayne Cleaver. John is 15 years old boy who is obsessed with serial killers. This obsession is the result of he himself having many of the traits and characteristics of a serial killer
Alright. I really didn't quite know what I was getting into with this book.
I thought it was some sort of a YA mystery/thriller with a young sociopath as the main character. And, yes. It is that.
But it's also a paranormal story with real demons in it.
So...yeah. I think that's something you should probably know upfront.


Ok, so the gist is that this kid named John, who is trying his dead-level best not to turn into a serial killer, ends up becoming the only one who can save his town from potentially
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Flannery by: Linda
John Wayne Cleaver lives in a mortuary. But before you go thinking this is all fun and games like My Girl (well, at least before Thomas J and the bees), you should know that John Wayne is a killer. Well, at least he thinks he is. As a teenager, his internal monster makes life considerably harder, especially because John feels no connection to his peers and little to no emotion. I Am Not A Serial Killer follows John as he deals with having a serial killer in his town--Will being so close to an ac ...more
Lyn❤Loves❤Listening #AUDIOBOOKADDICT
Audio - 5+++ stars
Story - 5 stars!!

This really needs to be a Netflix series!
May 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Ever since Hannibal Lector flirted with Clarice Starling by telling her about his favorite recipes, it seems like every other thriller features some kind of deranged but brilliant serial killer. It’s gotten beyond boring, but occasionally some writer will manage to come up with a fresh perspective on the genre. Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series put a unique twist on the notion of the serial killer. (Or at least he did until he wrote the utterly crappy Dexter in the Dark.) Now Dan Wells is taking a ne ...more
Feb 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: `
I wanted to read this book because of my fascination with serial killers and the intriguing slant in the main character's relationship with himself.
While reading, I was put off by Wells' writing style. It came off as juvenile in that he writes as though he doesn't trust his readers to figure out fairly obvious things for themselves. He posts many unnecessary/rhetorical questions that the reader is (hopefully, or rather should be) already wondering about on her own. It's muddled in redundancy.
Jason Brown (Toastx2)
May 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I think my wife is a serial killer waiting to be unleashed on the world.

I had not heard of this novel but ran across a Powell’s Books author reading late last month by Dan Wells. I read a summary of his recent book and then scheduled appropriately to go and listen to him. Jenn went with me and whispered creepy serial killer/mass murderer stats in my ear.. it was disturbing how much she knew.. When Dan asked people to name 5 killers in order to win a t-shirt, she stayed quiet and named 14 under h
Chelsea ❤Peril Please❤

You are evil, said myself. You are Mr. Monster. You are nothing. You are me.

Well well well...what an odd slice of fun this was. Simplistic and understated, this book really doesn't try to be anything other than what it says it is, making for not only a fun, easy read, but a very touching one, as well. It's not easy to read about a diagnosed sociopath...well, at least not for the average person. For me? It felt more authentic and real. I became entwined and engrossed with this character in th
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Surprisingly good...
With all the mixed reviews I've read, I wasn't expecting to enjoy it so much.

John Wayne Cleaver is a TEENAGER. A loner and freak. His mother and aunt owns a mortuary and he helps with the dead bodies when they arrive. His father has all but disappeared from his life.
John Wayne Cleaver is a SOCIOPATH. He is obsessed with serial killers and knows exactly what he is, but he makes himself follow some self-imposed rules to keep from becoming a killer himself.
John Wayne Cleaver is
Oct 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very nice, Mr. Dan Wells. Very nice, indeed.

First Impressions:
1. Slow at first, but after 100 *BAM*! What I'd like to call a 'double tap twist'. Not one, but two twists in the span of 2 pages!
2. I really enjoyed the therapy sessions between John and Dr. Neblin.
3. The plot was a general 'good'. The twist made things more interesting.
4. Book focuses on character analysis of John's character. VERY interesting, reading from the mind of a sociopath. Sometimes though, he makes really stupid decisions.
C.G. Drews
I'm going to stay nice and calm during this review. You know, calm. Ha. Ha.


But I will be calm. I promise.

If you're looking for a freaky YA book, this is it. I'm not a YA horror expert, or anything, but this is the most scary book I've read. Which is why it got 5-stars, of course. Who doesn't like to be freaked out of their fuzzy socks?

Characters? Our narrator is 15-year-old John Wayne Cleaver. He has sociopathic think of a person w
Claude's Bookzone
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm struggling between a 3.5 or 4 Stars. 4 Stars for the story but 3.5 for the actual writing etc. I'll go with a 3.75 rounded up to 4 Stars.

CW: Gruesome murder scenes, thoughts of killing, thoughts of animal cruelty, previous acts of animal cruelty, pyromania ( well he lights fires as a release instead of fulfilling his desire to kill), deaths of loved ones, described brutality, described preparation of bodies by mortician.

John is an expert on serial killers. He understands their motives, needs
Victoria Schwab
Well that was not what I expected! But still very good. I have a weakness for serial killers.
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
1.5 stars

Despite the obvious similarity to Jeff Lindsay's Dexter series and the overwhelming feeling of revulsion from a YA-ish novel wallowing in the realm of real-life serial killers, I still was somewhat intrigued by Dan Wells' I Am Not a Serial Killer and plowed through the the first 100 pages like a starving man breaking a fast with an Italian BMT from Subway...

...but then realized that the delicious sandwich I'd been nom-noming on was made of inedible food stuff. (Wax? Offal? Fecal matte
Mar 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: dark psychology and crime thrillers without the grit
Recommended to Annalisa by: Cami
John Wayne Cleaver knows he's a sociopath. He loves fire; he's curious about the insides of animals (and the dead bodies that come to mortuary owned by his mother); and he was a bed wetter. Anyone fascinated by serial killers (like John, okay and me) knows those are the three characteristics attributed to serial killers. In fear of his own dark potential, he follows rules to keep up the appearance of a normal teenager and keep himself safely away from danger. Then a serial killer strikes his tow ...more
Jun 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I actively avoid horror in books, movies, or on television. Ironically, I had a hard time putting this book down, and finished it in what is (for me) record time (three days).

Wells creates a main character that is simultaneously disturbing, sympathetic and likable. What amazed me even more than that was Wells' ability to forge the character in such a plausible way that I ended up seeing things through the eyes of John Cleaver: sociopath.

I'll admit that there's some gore in the book, but I give c
Mary ♥
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
4/5 stars

I simply felt alone, one leaf sitting miles away from a giant, communal pile.


I Am Not A Serial Killer was a book the existence of which I learned exactly this year. I found it, put it in my TBR, and that was it. Once I had it in my hands, I started reading and found myself absolutely absorbed by the story of a child obsessed with serial killers, who was ready to go to great lenghts to prevent himself from becoming one too. I read about mysterious murders that shook a small town to its
Rachel Aranda
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-rentals
How has it taken me so long to find and read this book!? It's absolutely fantastic and might be a new favorite book and series for me.

Lately I've read books that have been meh or okay. Think it might have been a mini reading slump as it was hard for me to have interest in reading. I'd grown a bit bored so I took a break when the holidays came. Decided to try this book as it was suggested by my fiance purely on the fact that he found the title amusing. Haha he was definitely right about the titl
Lisa Dunckley
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Wayne Cleaver shares a name with a famous serial killer—and that's not all he shares. He has a fascination with dead bodies. He likes to see them, touch them, open them up. Luckily for him, his family owns a mortuary. He gets to help with the bodies, although his mother has noticed that he likes it maybe a little bit TOO much.

Unfortunately, this is not John's worst trait. He also fantasizes about harming and killing other people.

Or rather, he would fantasize about it, if he didn't have Ru
Sep 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
4.5 Stars

What a surprisingly good book. The pacing was great, the plotting tight, and John Wayne Cleaver is a great, if not utterly bizarre, kid with whom to enjoy the ride. Seriously, this was one of the weirdest books I've ever read, let alone enjoyed this much.

What are the three things 95% of serial killers have in common? Bed-wetting, pyromania, and animal cruelty...and John has all three.

The story is told in first person by John Wayne Cleaver, who recently entered high school...and also h
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: youngadult, fantasy
Apparently, it really is "always the quiet ones." I've known Dan Wells for a couple of years. He's nice, unassuming, Battlestar Galactica fan, so not unlike most of the people I know, really. But it turns out that Dan has intimate knowledge of embalming techniques and is a walking serial killer encyclopedia. Not to mention he possesses a talent for writing scenes which will make you regret eating lunch. Ever again. (I will also never be able to eat liver or anything that looks like liver ever ag ...more
Apr 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-own
Truthfully, I'm not sure what to rate this! John Cleaver (the MC) is so fascinating, but he's not always likable. But he's not supposed to be. And the writing is so good that I'm not sure what to rate it: a 3, 4, or a 5.(3 because I usually like my characters more likable, 4 for plot, and tension, 5 because the writing is amazing.)
I'm not really sure who I'd recommend this to. It's dark and disturbing, but the most disturbing thing is just how much I enjoyed it.
Don't get me wrong, I like John
Bark  |  Laurie  |  LOHF
This is a weird book but I think I liked it well enough. Let’s see if I can work out a rating by the time I stop writing out my feelings here.

“I think that fate wants me to become a serial killer.”

John Wayne Cleaver is a teen doing his best not to murder the cretins that surround him. I’m not joking about this either. He has serious serial killer in the making vibes. Even his therapist thinks so. His family runs a mortuary and he’s been exposed to death since he was a child but he’s the only one
WOW! Highly recommend this. John Wayne Cleaved is 15, lives with his mother in their home attached to a mortuary, his father left them when John was 7 or so, he has a sister, one friend, and is a sociopath with a monster inside him that wants to kill. John is a killer who has yet to kill.

He has rules for himself so he doesn't kill anyone. But when an active serial killer shows up in his town, John's rules are broken in an effort to stop the killer. Because John doesn't want to be a serial killer
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
A quirky book that blends a few genres together to make an interesting story. The hero is high school freshman John Wayne Cleaver, who's interested in serial killers and diagnosed by his therapist as having antisocial personality disorder. He lives over his family's mortuary, where he assists his mother with the embalming. John knows he has certain tendencies in common with the serial killers he studies, so he strictly keeps all such urges under control.

But when multiple unresolved murders occur
Vignesh Ashok Kumar
Serial Killer with a supernatural twist
Emm C²
"Fear is about things you can't control. The future or the dark, or someone trying to kill you. You don't get scared of yourself because you always know what you're going to do."

Dan Wells's debut is an unusual witches' brew of dark humor, cerebral horror and bleak small-town life. The writing has jagged edges in its beginnings, but I have yet to find another series that I love with so little wavering. This is one of those rarities where I feel it was written specifically for me, with everything
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Book 1 is a Killer!

Story – 4.5/5
Narration - 5/5

“I’m Not a Serial Killer” by Dan Wells is, in my opinion, a Psychological Thriller. I stress that because, unlike the many books that are NOT psychological thrillers, this book never mentions that it is.

I can’t really say anything that isn’t some kind of spoiler, but I can say that if you want Romance or relaxation, this isn’t for you!

Recommendation- get the book, get the Audio, or get both… but get this!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Smith English 4250: I am Not a Serial Killer 1 20 Dec 04, 2018 02:33PM  
What did you think? 4 37 May 18, 2018 03:10PM  
DFW Planetary Soc...: Sidebar book: I am Not a Serial Killer 11 10 Jan 19, 2017 04:57PM  
Desafío 'La Cosa ...: I Am Not A Serial Killer (John Cleaver #1), por Dan Wells 10 31 Oct 19, 2016 06:16AM  
YA Spanish Reads: I am not a serial killer (Marzo) 16 161 Mar 26, 2014 07:19AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • I Hunt Killers (I Hunt Killers, #1)
  • The Zombie Room
  • Betrayal of Faith (Zachary Blake Legal Thriller #1)
  • The Elephant Tree
  • Battle Royale
  • The Sadist's Bible
  • The Room
  • Tres Espejos: Luna-Espada
  • Median Gray
  • Colegio Maldito II
  • Mania (The Night Walkers, #3)
  • Game (I Hunt Killers, #2)
  • Killer of Enemies (Killer of Enemies, #1)
  • Beszterce ostroma
  • Career Day (I Hunt Killers, #0.3)
  • Dearly Devoted Dexter (Dexter, #2)
  • Paranoia (The Night Walkers, #2)
  • The Drowned World
See similar books…
Dan Wells is a thriller and science fiction writer. Born in Utah, he spent his early years reading and writing. He is he author of the Partials series (Partials, Isolation, Fragments, and Ruins), the John Cleaver series (I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don't Want To Kill You), and a few others (The Hollow City, A Night of Blacker Darkness, etc). He was a Campbell nomine for best new w ...more

Other books in the series

John Cleaver (6 books)
  • Mr. Monster (John Cleaver, #2)
  • I Don't Want to Kill You (John Cleaver, #3)
  • The Devil's Only Friend (John Cleaver, #4)
  • Over Your Dead Body (John Cleaver, #5)
  • Nothing Left to Lose (John Cleaver, #6)

Related Articles

Sarah J. Maas is an author who almost needs no introduction, at least in the world of young and new adult fiction. She's a multiple New York...
223 likes · 27 comments
“I've been clinically diagnosed with sociopathy,' I said. 'Do you know what that means?'
'It means you're a freak,' he said.
'It means that you're about as important to me as a cardboard box,' I said. 'You're just a thing - a piece of garbage that no one's thrown away yet. Is that what you want me to say?'
'Shut up,' said Rob. He was still acting tough, but I could see his bluster was starting to fail. He didn't know what to say.
'The thing about boxes,' I said, 'is that you can open them up. Even though they're completely boring on the outside, there might be something interesting inside. So while you're saying all of these stupid, boring things I'm imagining what it would be like to cut you open and see what you've got in there.”
“In my biology class, we'd talked about the definition of life: to be classified as a living creature, a thing needs to eat, breathe, reproduce, and grow. Dogs do, rocks don't, trees do, plastic doesn't. Fire, by that definition, is vibrantly alive. It eats everything from wood to flesh, excreting the waste as ash, and it breathes air just like a human, taking in oxygen and emitting carbon. Fire grows, and as it spreads, it creates new fires that spread out and make new fires of their own. Fire drinks gasoline and excretes cinders, it fights for territory, it loves and hates. Sometimes when I watch people trudging through their daily routines, I think that fire is more alive than we are–brighter, hotter, more sure of itself and where it wants to go. Fire doesn't settle; fire doesn't tolerate; fire doesn't 'get by.'
Fire does.
Fire is.”
More quotes…