Category Archives: Young Adult Fiction

Best. Vampire Story. Ever.

Standard

About the time I was finally quitting Pokemon for good for the first time, my cousin gave me a battered paperback called “Companions of the Night.” This was in the summer of 2005. “Twilight” hadn’t yet hit. Those were great days. Really, really, really great days. Vampires were still kind of an underground deal, particularly among teenage girls. They just weren’t in yet. So I shrugged, feeling absolutely no disgust at myself for reading about vampires, and started reading.

“Companions of the Night” is not Vivian Vande Velde’s first novel, but I think it’s her best. (And yes, I’ve read “Heir Apparent.”) It was original (still is) and, as far as teenage vampire fiction goes, reasonable. The vampire, Ethan Brynne, is ridiculously good-looking, and our heroine Kerry notices, but she doesn’t fall in love with him. By the end, arguably, she loves him, and really wants him. But they aren’t in love.  In fact, for most of the book, Kerry’s primary feeling toward Ethan is fury. Call me what you will, think what you want, but I liked that.  Anyway, here’s my wordy rundown:

16-year-old Kerry is a nice, responsible, normal teenager. She takes care of her brother, gets along with her dad, and though she isn’t insanely popular, she’s got good friends. Perhaps a little melancholy, she’s a cheerful, likeable person.

One night, her baby brother starts crying; he’s left his beloved stuffed animal at the laundromat. Attached as she is to him, Kerry can’t refuse him. Figuring she’ll be back in a couple of minutes, she takes off, enters the laundromat…

And walks in on a ritual murder.

The victim is named Ethan Bryne. The killers believe he is a vampire; that is why they want to destroy him. Terrified and furious, Kerry manages to save his life, and hers; they take off to safety.

Strangely, given what has happened, Ethan won’t let her call the police.

Stunned, Kerry has no choice but to let him go.

She’s a little glum over the next few days, but she slowly returns to normal. A couple of days later, something odd does happen: unable to drive, Kerry relies on her father, neighbors, and friends to get to and from work. When her father doesn’t show up to pick her up, she thinks she’s screwed–until, lo and behold, she runs into Ethan, who obligingly drives her home.

But nobody is home.

Her brother and father are gone; a threatening message is painted on the wall. Knowing exactly what this means, Ethan spirits her away. This time, they’re both on the run.

It turns out Ethan IS a vampire. Kerry is initially scared and disgusted, but as Ethan bares facets of his weird personality, she slowly warms up to him, and he to her. As they run from their pursuers, seeking Kerry’s family all the while, a strange relationship develops between them. It isn’t love–that’s part of what I love about this story, they don’t fall instantly in love, and they don’t become each other’s sole reason for living, as in most other vampire books– but it is a bond. Also, Kerry is a surprisingly strong heroine; she doesn’t let him beguile her. She remains who she is, is confident that she can definitely live without him, and even though she’s sad–even though he’s sad–they do what’s best for both of them in the end.

“Companions of the Night” is a brisk, gripping story. Even you’re not into vampires or paranormal stories, it’s good. It’s not great; the writing, while lean and skillful, is a bit juvenile at times, and we never get to hear all of Ethan’s motives for doing what he does, which is disappointing. However, both characters are likeable–even if Ethan is cause for wariness– the plot is tight, there are no gaping holes, and it moves steadily toward an an exciting, but believable, climax. “Companions of the Night” is definitely recommended.

At any rate, it beats “Twilight” any moment of the year.

My Hyper-Belated Take on the House of Night Novels

Standard

I think most of us can agree that P.C. Cast is a decent writer.

Which begs the question: Where on earth did “House of Night” come from??

Before I go any farther, I’ll admit I only read the first book, called “Marked.” But I think that was enough. To be perfectly blunt, it sucked.

For those of you who are even more behind than me, “Marked” is Cast’s collaboration with her daughter, Kristin. It  follows the progression of Zoey Redbird, a fledgling vampyre in a world (parallel? future?)where vampyres are a fact of life. They’re separate from humans, they’re dangerous, but they’re here, and there’s nothing to do about it.

Zoey’s an interesting heroine. A normal teenage girl, she is reluctantly chosen as a vampyre, which basically means she’s separated from her family. Zoey’s also quite believable within the parameters of the story.

Unfortunately, Zoey is the only likeable part of this book.

While the opening sentence is certainly a gripper, the book swiftly falls flat from there. The writing is much too lean, and it seems unskillful; the progression is a little too fast, there aren’t any smooth transitions–it’s always very jarring, jarring enough to let you know you definitely are reading, and aren’t lost in the book–and with the exception of Zoey, nobody’s a sympathetic character. In fact, ALL of the sideline characters are incredibly shallow. Neferet is the deepest character after Zoey, and even she’s a stereotype.

For instance, Aphrodite is so openly self-centered that, from her first or second sentence, I wondered if I was reading a bullying scene written by a 2nd-grader. Most of the writing style is like that, but Aphrodite saying, “This place is awesome because of me” is so incredibly stupid, even for a villainess, that I almost stopped reading. Aphrodite can easily be a nasty character without throwing it in our faces that like. Having to be so obvious is a mark of bad writing; if the writer has to tell that tidbit, and has no way of showing it for the reader to infer him or herself first, then there’s a problem.

Also, Zoey’s friends are just as unbelievable: one’s the hick-stupid country girl, her human best friend is so without depth, so snarky and vapid, that it was boring; and even her love interest is your basic two-dimensional hero template. Excluding one dirty scene early in the novel, he’s the boy next door–without anything to his personality or history beyond that. NONE of them have any personality beyond stereotypical high school roles. It’s not that fitting the high school roles into this story is bad; in this novel, which has the potential to be funny, it could have been hysterical. But instead it’s only ridiculous.

The plot is also so insanely juvenile. While you expect high school drama here–it’s a vampire boarding school– you would think the underlying plot would be deeper, or at least not so submerged in adolescent melodrama.

I do apologize for the severity here, but for any reader who likes story depth and character development is going to be so disappointed. The story was shallow, a thin plot developed in time to cash in on the vampire craze, an excuse for more adolescent fantasy in relatively clean book-form. I know we all need escapism, but I do think it could be better than this. The writers could have done much better; I don’t know why they welshed here.

I’d advise you to skip it. Still, take this with a grain of salt; one man’s trash, and all that. 

For the record, though, I think it’s definitely trash.

Everyone Needs to Read “Rotters”, and Here’s Why

Standard

Back in March, I was lucky enough to get a review copy of “Rotters”, by Daniel Kraus. Initially, I wasn’t all that excited, but that changed about nine words in. It’s about grave robbers. For me, of course, that happens to be a deal breaker. I love scary, macabre weirdness. And oh boy is it weird.

Now, on the surface, “Rotters” is a simple story. Joey Crouch lives with his mom in Chicago. They’re very close. Sometimes it borders on smothering, but he’s all right with that. He’s never been out of Chicago, but that doesn’t bother him too much, either. He’s basically a normal kid living a mostly normal life.

This changes when his mother dies. Crushed and shocked, Joey is even more horrified when he finds out he must go live with his father. A man he’s never met, a person his mother never even spoke of. Someone he’s barely heard of, the reason his mother refused to leave Chicago.

And Joey has to uproot and live with him.

Life is harder for Joey than he had ever imagined. For no reason, he is immediately ostracized and tormented at the school. Joey has no room there, no bed. There isn’t even any food. When, several days into his stay, he desperately searches a classmate’s purse for lunch money, a teacher catches him. Rather than pry and see what the trouble is, the teacher takes it as an excuse to torment Joey as terribly as any classmate.

As for Joey’s new home: the house reeks. The rotten stench infiltrates everything.

Joey’s father Harnett is a mystery, and a mean one at that. He has a reputation in this new town. He’s known as the Garbage Man. Yet it’s obvious he doesn’t have any part in public service. He disappears for days at a time. Joey doesn’t mind too much, though.

But this shaky peace dissolves when he finds a container full of gold teeth in his father’s room.

The awful truth tumbles out swiftly. The stench, the absences, the strange behavior of his father–it all comes togeter. Ken Harnett is a graverobber.

To my surprise, “Rotters” was stunning. Lyrical and poetic even in the midst of its darkness, it broke my heart and made me laugh just as often as it disgusted me. High school cruelty and teenage pettiness mixes perfectly with meth-head graverobbers and ongoing tragedy. All through the story, Joey’s character develops beautifully, and so does that of his father. In fact, all of the characters are fantastic. The plot is by turns delightful, shattering, triumphant, and, as so many others have noted, demented. Don’t let the subject matter turn you away. “Rotters” is a gorgeous piece that is ultimately about one young man’s plunge into the abyss and his struggle to climb out.