The Reformed Vampire Support Group
by Catherine Jinks
I don't hate the Twilight series, but I'm not a fan either. After reading a few of the books and seeing one of the movies, I can appreciate some of its appeal--though I find the concept of bare-chested werewolves preposterous, and I think the books' teen romance emphasis hurts them somewhat. I mean, you can only read Edward, the eternally teeanged vampire, described as the physically ideal male so many times before you start fantasizing about wooden stakes. As for Bella, the vampire-loving narrator of the series, her character's conflicted motives are only captivating for so many hundreds of pages. More needs to happen outside of Bella's head in the first three-quarters of each book, in my opinion.
But what is a writer to do about it? You can whine about it, as I have just done. Or you can present an alternative, which is the tack steered by Catherine Jinks, author of the Evil Genius trilogy. In what could, for the sake of bolstering book sales, be described as a parody of Twilight, Jinks depicts the downside of being a vampire forever frozen at age 15. The result is not only funnier than H-E-double wooden stakes, but it's also a taut, suspenseful thriller with just the right touch of romance (a light touch) and a cast of well-developed, believable, flesh and (ahem) blood characters. There's even a breathtakingly cute werewolf, for your money. He just doesn't have what it takes to hold up his corner of a love triangle. What do you know! Looks aren't everything!
Nina Harrison does not belong to a coven of vampires. She doesn't even live in a fake family of glamorous vampires who move from place to place, changing their identities to maintain their cover. Rather, Nina's "Reformed Vampire Support Group" are a bunch of nebbishes, shlubs, and whiners who meet once a week in the basement of a Catholic church to support each other's abstention from human blood. They survive on guinea pigs and nutritional supplements, they suffer constant headaches and upset tummies, they bleed from the eyes in bright light, and from sunup to sundown they sleep like the dead--preferably in a safe place where the sunlight can't get to them. They can't turn into bats. They don't have super speed or kung-fu powers. They don't heal from injuries any faster than the average person. While it may take a wooden stake to kill them, a bullet (silver or not) can mess them up for life. And when life is endless, that can be a major bummer.
So when a member of Nina's support group gets staked, everyone is worried. They all move, for safety purposes, into the basement of Nina's mum's house--her mum who isn't a vampire, so she can look out for vampire slayers while Nina and her friends sleep through the day. As Nina and her less-pathetic-than-average vampire friend Dave try to solve the mystery of Kasimir's slaying, they get mixed up with a pudgy loser and a father-son pair of werewolf-baiting ne'er-do-wells. Nina finds out whether she has it in herself to rise above her vampire nature and act like the heroine of the mediocre fantasy novels she writes for a living. Dave finds out whether he and Nina might ever get together. And everyone finds out what happens when you put three different kinds of unnatural-born killers in a room together and turn your back on them.
Whatever happens, you can trust that it won't be ideally pretty, or erotically charged, or full of high-paced action and grand heroics, or even particularly scary. Instead, it is just a whimsical mystery full of unexpected twists, rich complexities, and down-to-earth people who just happen to be undead. It is set in a believable present-day Australia where vampires are more likely to stay at home in the suburbs, night after night and decade after decade, watching TV or surfing the internet, rather than running through moonlit forests or massaging grand pianos. I can picture it being made into a movie: not a mass-audience blockbuster, but a quirky independent film with average-looking, unknown actors performing extended scenes in a single take, no musical score, and a washed-out look befitting the vampire's oversensitivity to light. And sequels? I actually look forward to them, beginning with The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group, which comes out in Spring 2011.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 13+
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