Happy Halloween, Snarklings! For this visit to the Nocturnal House, I’ve decided to take a break from the usual sort of gruesome and terrifying vampires I prefer to read about, and instead, in the spirit of trick-or-treating, indulge in a sweet and spooky treat.
Now, I read a lot of YA vampire books. (I read a lot of vampire books, period.) But the various YA takes on vampire fiction fascinate me, in part because the YA books often have a bit more plot going on than some of the “grown-up” market vampire novels. Probably because YA authors don’t have the easy narrative drive of vampire sex scenes.
(An aside: hey, I’m all for well-written vampire smut! WELL-WRITTEN being the key words there. There are certain authors who rely a bit too heavily on sex scenes, with the end result being kind of boring, and there is nothing sadder in a vampire novel than tedious, yawn-inducing smut.)
Anyway! YA vampire books! There are a couple of series I read which cause me to eagerly wait for the newest volume to be released. My very favorite series has earned a place on my comfort reading shelf, and the first book of the series is one I indulge in when I need cheering up.
Vampire Kisses, by Ellen Schreiber
This book is adorable. It’s a cloud of pink and black cotton candy; fluffy, sugary, but with a sweetly spooky overtone. Here, maybe the opening will show why I mentally draw glittery hearts and bats around this book:
It first happened when I was five.
I had just finished coloring in My Kindergarten Book. It was filled with Picasso-like drawings of my mom and dad, an Elmer’s-glued, tissue-papered collage, and the answers to questions (favorite color, pets, best friend, etc.) written down by our hundred-year-old teacher, Mrs. Peevish.
My classmates and I were sitting in a semicircle on the floor in the reading area. “Bradley, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Mrs. Peevish asked after all the other questions had been answered.
“A fire fighter!” he shouted.
“Uh…a nurse,” Cindi Warren whispered meekly.
Mrs. Peevish went through the rest of the class. Police officers. Astronauts. Football players. Finally it was my turn.
“Raven, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Mrs. Peevish asked, her green eyes staring through me.
I said nothing.
I shook my head.
“Nuh, uh,” I said.
“A flight attendant?”
“Yuck!” I replied.
“Then what?” she asked, annoyed.
I thought for a moment. “I want to be…”
“I want to be…a vampire!” I shouted, to the shock and amazement of Mrs. Peevish and my classmates. For a moment I thought she started to laugh; maybe she really did. The children sitting next to me inched away.
I spent most of my childhood watching others inch away.
How could I not fall in love with the book at that point? Vampire Kisses is about sixteen year-old Raven Madison, the only goth girl in the small town she calls Dullsville. Her parents, little brother, and best friend Becky love her, but don’t necessarily understand her black-clad, vampire-obsessed ways. There’s her nemesis, soccer jock Trevor, who loves to torment her. Then, on Raven’s sixteenth birthday, a family rumored to be vampires move into the haunted Mansion in town!
“I saw a Mercedes parked at the Mansion!” I informed my family at dinner. I was late as usual, this time for my own birthday dinner.
“I heard they looked like the Addams Family,” Nerd Boy said.
“Maybe they have a daughter your age. Someone who doesn’t like to get into trouble,” my mother added.
“Then I’d have no use for her.”
“Maybe she has a father I can play tennis with,” my father said hopefully.
“Whoever it is will need to get rid of all those old mirrors and crates,” I added, not realizing what I had said. They all looked at me.
“What crates?” my mom asked. “Don’t tell me you’ve snuck into that house!”
“It’s just something I heard.”
“Raven!” my mother said in that disapproving mother tone.
It seemed no one in Dullsville had seen the new owners. It was wonderful to have a mystery in this town for a change.
Over the course of the story, Raven gets into assorted scrapes while trying to find out the truth about the Stirling family, including run-ins with golden boy Trevor, a stint in an after-school job to pay for her dad’s tennis racquet, which she lost on Halloween night (why yes, she dressed up as the scariest thing she could think of – a preppy tennis player), sneaking into the Stirling Mansion, and finally, finally meeting Alexander Stirling: seventeen, nocturnal, home-schooled, and the handsomest Goth boy she’d ever dreamed of.
Gothy girl meets Gothy boy, Gothy girl still suspects that her spooky dreamboat really is a vampire. Gothy girl also has to deal with the harassment from Trevor, the gossip around Dullsville about the weird Stirling family, being nervous about asking Alexander to the Snow Ball dance, and why is Becky being so unenthusiastic about the Snow Ball, anyway?
Yes, it’s a teen romance. But Raven rings true as an outcast babybat teen girl longing for a more spooky world. I’m self-aware enough to know that if Vampire Kisses had been around during my adolescence, I would have identified with Raven so hard I might have vanished into the book. As fictional characters to identify with go, Raven isn’t a bad choice. She’s fiercely loyal to her family and friends, she’s determined to be herself in a town full of people who think she needs to fit in, and she refuses to be a doormat. No matter what taunts Trevor throws her way, she returns fire with snarky wit, frequently showing him up as the insecure jerk he is. In fact, the only thing that I didn’t like about Raven is that she’s not that interested in school. Every Goth I’ve ever known is some flavor of bookworm; maybe not everyone liked school, but we all liked reading and learning about the world. When you’re yearning for a darker, more glamorous world than the one around you, books offer a glimpse into other, possible worlds.
As teen romances go, it’s a better one than most. Raven doesn’t make Alexander her whole world, and decides that the reality of having a sweetheart she can relate to is better than her dreams of being swept away by a darkly handsome vampire prince. But because it’s a teen romance, there’s a big scene at the Snow Ball, confusion, and a Big Reveal at a party. Not to mention that Raven may have to revisit some ideas she once held dear, especially ones about vampires …
He walked me to the door and playfully bit me on the neck with his vampire teeth.
I laughed and tried to pull the fake teeth out of his mouth.
“Ouch,” he exclaimed.
“You’re not supposed to Superglue them on!”
“Raven, you don’t still believe in vampires, do you?” he asked.
“I think you’ve cured me of that,” I answered. “But I’m going to keep the black lipstick.”
As I said at the beginning of this post, the entire Vampire Kisses series is a sweet and spooky treat. Each book is just as charming as the one before, and Ellen Schrieber explores some interesting ideas in between dollops of gothy teen romance: Should you change your life to be with the person you love? What about keeping secrets? How difficult is it to live in the daylight world when your heart belongs to the night? My favorite of the series is probably Vampire Kisses 5: The Coffin Club, but as it is a book set primarily in a Goth club with a secret vampire club in the basement, how could it not be?
The Vampire Kisses series is in no way scary, and the vampires aren’t that monstrous. But I find the books adorable, and I re-read them when I am in need of something sweet, comforting, and adorably gothy. What are your favorite dark or spooky comfort books?