Although I have more of the same stacked up, (vampire novels aimed at teenagers that is), I think I’ve worked out why teenage girls love reading them… They have all the features of many traditional favourites:- set in schools pupilled with bullies, geeks, jocks, all the usual stereotypes are there; there’s good/bad, sympathetic/not teachers; an overwhelming hatred of maths; but most importantly the heroine is new to the school – an outsider who is different and sticks out a mile. Mix thoroughly and then spice liberally with vampires to bring a whole new level of fantasy to the staple genre. However given all that, these first two books have totally different approaches …
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.
Although not the first, Twilight is the book that has ignited the current vamp fever.
Isabella is a beautiful yet clumsy girl who has left her Mum, and her new husband, in Phoenix to live with her Dad in the small, rainy, northwestern town of Forks. Enrolling at the local high school she soon makes friends, but then attracts the attention of the mysterious and impossibly good-looking Cullen family. It is love at first sight for Isabella and Edward – but the course of true love never runs smooth, as the Cullens are vampires. As Edward and Bella start to explore whether it is possible for them to have a relationship, some other vampires come on the scene, and Bella is put in danger.
It could have been really brilliant, but to be honest I didn’t warm to Bella – she’s a bit of a whiner and homebody, and so drippy once she falls for Edward. He on the other hand is the business, provided you can forget the slightly creepy fact that he’s a hundred year-old vampire in the body of a seventeen year-old Adonis. Crucially though, it’s so slow in getting to the action as they talk and talk and talk; and the central romance is totally frustrating for an adult read, (younger teens may baulk at the length). The overall feel to me was like one of those über-slick good-looking American TV series like Beverley Hills 90210 (or whatever the number was) with less sex and more talk. Reading Meyer’s website it appears that Bella is the daughter she’s never had, and that there is a certain amount of wish fulfillment going on too. It was compulsive though, and I shall definitely read the rest of the series to find out what finally happens!
Now to a rather different type of high school vampire novel …
Marked by P.C. & Kristin Cast
Written by a mother and daughter team, this is the first in a series called the ‘House of Night’. In the Casts’ world, teenagers are ‘marked’ to become vampires. It has a cracking opening line – “Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse I saw the dead guy standing next to my locker.” Zoey is picked to become a vampyre (yes, with a ‘y’), the tracker marks her forehead and from that moment on her life changes.
She has to abandon everything and go to the ‘House of Night’ – the vampyre finishing school where they will take over her schooling and help her go through the change into becoming a vampyre. She’s happy to leave her mother and her horrible new husband, but has to say goodbye to her Cherokee grandmother who lives out of town. While out looking for her Gran who is out in the hills, Zoey falls and has a vision from the vampyre goddess Nyx who asks her to be her eyes and ears at the House of Night. Once at school, she finds that she’s the centre of attention, for the mark on her forehead has changed – it’s different to all the other fledglings’ ones, and not only is the headmistress Zoey’s mentor, but the head girl Aphrodite is soon on her case!
What ensues is more of a typical boarding school novel with secret clubs, cliques and escapades, and all the stereotypes above are present too. Many have commented that there’s a touch of Hogwarts about it with the pupils learning to be vampyres, but these teenaged vampyres’ blood is full of raging hormones so it’s definitely not suitable for younger teens. It was more fun and definitely has a better sense of humour than Twilight, but I don’t feel the compulsive need to read more of the series, (well – maybe!).
Having read these two, I can understand why teenage girls are adoring them. The presence of the vampires adds a fantasy element to the high-school novel that heightens the romance to a new level, providing the escapist fun that teenagers crave – but I wouldn’t recommend even the sex-free Twilight for any younger readers.
Now I’m reading the first Sookie Stackhouse novel – Dead Until Dark, which is the sexy older cousin to those above. I keep on discovering more vamp fare to add to my reading list though – The Vampire Diaries by L J Smith, which was published in 1991 and thought to be a key influence on those who came after; and Nordic vamp novel Let the right one in by John Ajvide Lindqvist. “Bring it on!” I say.