Tag Archives: YA Fiction

Best. Vampire Story. Ever.

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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.

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

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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.