Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Is there a vampire inside you?

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
4Q 4P S*

What this book is not:

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer - no quipping hero/heroine trying to hunt down all the nasty vampires and stake 'em to death
  • Twilight: No girl passionately in love with a vampire and praying he'll bite her
  • Dracula: No evil vampire seducing lovely young women, no humans trying desperately to kill him

What this book is:

  • a whole new take on vampires
  • a bit of a mind game (for the reader and the main character)
  • told from the vampire's point of view (well, he's not exactly a vampire...) for a change

In the typical vampire story, vampire sees beautiful girl, vampire seduces her, and vampire bites her, generally sucking her dry. She either dies or becomes a vampire herself as a result of the bite. Well...that's not the way it works in the Peeps world, as Cal finds out on his very first night in New York. Cal's a hick from Texas about to start his freshman year of college in NYC. Naturally, he wants to see a bit of the city, so he starts exploring, having absolutely no idea where he's been or where he's going. He eventually winds up in a bar. He eventually winds up getting very drunk in that bar. And he eventually winds up going home with a girl he meets at the bar. Bad move. But he doesn't find that out for a few days, until he starts noticing that he's craving meat and that he's thinking about sex constantly. (Not like "every seventeen seconds" constantly... constantly.) In the meantime, he doesn't exactly try to resist all those urges. He sleeps with several girls before he finds out the truth about that girl in the bar that first night. It seems that she was a vampire, and she passed on the vampire parasite to him. Yup, you read that right. Vampirism is an STD, a sexually transmitted disease, passed on via a parasite. (Can't you just imagine what Abstinence Only programs would do with that news?)

The good thing, as far as Cal's situation is concerned, is that the parasite just turns him into a carrier, not a full-blown vampire. The bad thing is that it does turn everyone he's slept with into a vampire. Eventually, Cal finds himself working for the Night Watch, tracking down all those girls so they can be treated (though not cured). But the one girl he can't find is the girl he must find...the girl who started it all. His search will bring him in touch with rats (lots and lots of rats), mysterious cats, a secret bureaucracy hundreds of years old, and Lace, a journalist who gets a lot more than she bargained for when she lets Cal into her apartment.


  • Every other chapter is about a different kind of parasite. It's interesting stuff. But...

  • I read this on my lunch/dinner breaks. This is not necessarily a good idea. Those chapters on the parasites can make you a little queasy. You definitely don't want to be eating Schezuan noodles when you're reading about how hookworms attach to your intestines and start feeding. Trust me on this one!/em>

  • Interesting concept: vampirism is caused by a parasite!
  • *That S for "senior high" at the top of the page is because sex is a fairly predominant theme in the book, given that the premise is that vampirism is caused by an STD and that one of the side effects of being a carrier is a preoccupation with sex. But the sex is basically off screen, and many junior high school students and their parents wouldn't be uncomfortable with the book. I'm being conservative with the S, but I do think it's a book that many junior high school students will like very much.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Don't Eat the Cupcakes!

Devilish by Maureen Johnson
4Q/4P J/S

What a fun book! I've read and liked Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Key to the Golden Firebird, but they didn't prepare me for the humor in this one. Some authors write the same book over and over again, just changing the names of the characters. Like Pete Hautman, it looks as though Maureen Johnson likes to throw her readers a curve ball now and then. I'm all for that.

Jane Jarvis is a senior at Saint Teresa's Preparatory School for Girls. Although highly intelligent, she is hardly their model student, since she is also opinionated, skeptical, and not prone to suffering in silence. She also has a talent for racking up the demerits. This means she's not exactly the nuns' favorite student. She won't win any popularity contests with her fellow students, either. So Jane isn't expecting much from Big-Little Day, the day that each incoming freshman chooses a senior to mentor her through the school year. She has hopes, though, that her best friend Allison will do better. Unfortunately, the Junior Judges, who write reviews of the seniors to help guide the freshmen towards good choices, pan them both. (Jane: If you are the angry, brainy type, consider Jane. She can be your personal Yoda. Allison: If you haven't got anyone else for your big and no one else will take a second...Well, we do what we must.) But maybe all isn't lost after all. Someone has left a red velvet cupcake (the edible kind) in Allison's locker, with a note that reads "WILL YOU BE MY BIG?" But when the ceremony begins, littles flock around all the popular seniors, but nobody comes near Jane, and nobody comes near Allison. Jane's cool with it, but Allison isn't. She starts to sweat. Her skins turns a sick shade of blue-gray. And then, just as a freshman starts to come her way...she projectile vomits. Poor Ally. Poor freshman.

After a disaster like that, it's a shock to both Jane and Allison when a girl wanders into the bathroom where Allison is hiding, sees Ally's humiliation, and offers to be Ally's little. Lanalee Tremone is a sophomore transfer student. She's the kind of girl who instantly attracts attention and revels in it. She's pretty, stylish, smart, and altogether not the kind of girl anyone would ever have expected to choose Ally for a big. It's supposed to be the bigs who help the littles, but in this case, it seems to work the other way around. Within days, Ally's got a new stylish haircut, a new look, and a new confidence in herself. She's also getting more and more distant with Jane. She also seems to have hooked up with Jane's old (but definitely not forgotten) boyfriend. This is not good, Jane thinks.

Little does Jane know - yet - that this is more than not good. This is, in fact, the opposite of good. This is evil. As in, "Anyone bought any good souls lately?" evil. Now it's up to Jane, with a little help from Owen, a freshman from the boy's school across the road, to somehow save Allison. And if that's at the expense of her own soul, well, sometimes that's what a friend has to do.

Musings: Examples of stuff that made me laugh:

Jane has a younger sister named Joan. Joan got the looks in the family. Jane got the brains. ALL of the brains. As Jane says,

...I'm completely used to her looking up at me with that lip-glossy stare of hers and asking questions like, "Is the Tour de France in Spain?" or, "Do they make cotton out of plastic?" This is a girl who I had convinced that Alaska used to be called Frigidaire...She was lovely and happy, even if she was as intelligent as a rubber band.

And then there's this section, where Jane, Owen, and Brother Frank (a teacher at Jane's school) are discussing the nature of hell:

"Demons are always moving up; new ones are always coming in. You always have to keep trying to get promoted."
"Many large corporations are actually modeled on hell," Brother Frank added. "The policies and organization are almost identical."

I think this one might actually be my favorite. I so relate to the sentiments! Jane and Owen are at a party. They are not enjoying themselves.

Many stories below us, costumed adults were making their way to parties in town. "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" came thundering from inside the ballroom.

"DJs are from the other side," I said. "Right?"
"Yeah, a lot of them are," he said. "Especially the ones who do proms and weddings. How'd you know?"
"Just a guess. Anyone who tries to force other people into having fun like that...has to be evil."
"It's an entry-level position."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has snarkiness, humor, tension, suspense, and a few good twists and turns. It doesn't try for totally-freak-you-out horror, but there is a definite creepiness factor. But I'll be honest. I mostly enjoyed it because it made me laugh. I liked Jane for her feistiness, her loyalty, and her sense of humor. I would happily read another book about her. By the way, if you check out Maureen Johnson's blog, you'll see that Jane's sense of humor is genetic: it comes from her "mother".