The Other Side of the Page: Books and Comics
The Problem with Virgin Vampire Killers: A Review of Eva Darrows' THE AWESOME
I read THE AWESOME for two reasons: first off, GREAT COVER. Come on with these colors and graphics. Secondly, I’d seen some great reviews from people I trusted. People who like strong, mouthy women and are unafraid of a little sex and violence peppered into their YA. On those counts, I was not disappointed.
Maggie Cunningham is a seventeen-year-old monster killer who lives in a slightly alternate universe where there is open knowledge of vampires, werewolves, and other ghoulish ghosties. Such open knowledge that there is, in fact, a Department of Paranormal Relations. Monster killers (Journeymen) are licensed and contracted out through the government to contain and subdue all that is evil. We meet Maggie and her badass Journeyman mother right as Janice has explained that Maggie will not get her permit until she loses her V card, and that is final. Here is the gist:
“The problem with vampires is they love virgins, and not in the biblical humpy-humpy way. They love to eat them. Apparently, they can smell someone’s innocence- unplucked flesh contains the sweetest blood- and when they catch a whiff, they go nuts to get their hands on it…As vamps are stronger and faster than humans, roid-raging them up for virgin blood doesn’t exactly tip the odds in the hunter’s favor, which meant until I did the nasty with a dong of my choosing, I was a liability.”
I think this premise is freaking genius. Absolutely revolutionary. In one fell swoop, Darrows takes the precious, hold-your-breath-until-you-find-Prince-Charming theory of sex and flips it on it’s head. Loss of virginity is not the foot-shuffling romantic side plot of this monster story; it’s the first burst of action in an exciting narrative about a self-aware teenage girl, and it’s refreshing. Dating, drinking, foreplay, and sexual pleasure are all dealt with frankly, with not a single smoldering gaze or profession of lifelong love in sight. Now, I enjoy a good romance (quite a bit, actually), but this was different than anything I’d read before, and I loved it.
THE AWESOME is about more than sex (sorry, loves) and the rest of the plot unfolds mainly in the second half of the book. Maggie’s friends Ian and Julie are pretty one dimensional, but I found the supernatural characters to be much more compelling than the humans. We meet Lauren, an anomaly of a zombie teen who teams up with Janice and Maggie, and Jeff, a vampire with secrets who infuriates Maggie by having a relationship with her mother. Both Lauren and Jeff raise tons of questions and their different talents solve problems/make things interesting. There is enough unexplained in their plot lines that I would not be surprised to find out Darrows is working on a sequel.
The relationship between Janice and Maggie is another major component of THE AWESOME. As the story opens, it’s just the two of them, and their reliance on each other is carefully presented through jabs and salty one-liners. While I sometimes tired of their raunchy banter, I appreciated the way that Darrows crafted their interactions to make it clear that they loved each other, supported each other, and despite the non-traditional nature of their day-to-day life, there were clear boundaries and appropriate mother/daughter roles in place. The dedication (For my mum, who is infinitely cooler than Janice) and acknowledgements both stress that this central relationship was based on the admiration Darrows has for her own mother. Take this snippet, which may or may not have made me tear up: “Janice teaches Maggie to respect her voice, her body, and in turn, herself. These lessons came directly from my mother to me. Without my mom, Maggie wouldn’t be possible.”
At the end of her acknowledgements, Darrows says “If people take anything away from this book (beyond the bawdy humor and a few new creative curse words) it’s that the world isn’t ever going to validate you, so you better get good at doing it yourself.” Is there ANY better message for teenage girls (or people anywhere)? I think the author did an awesome job packaging that sentiment in an entertaining book that kept me interested from the make out sessions to the blood drinking to the balloons full of holy water.
If you’re looking for more awesome along these lines, I’d suggest EVIL LIBRARIAN by Michelle Knudsen (less raunchy but very fun high school paranormal adventure), or BLACKBIRDS, the first in the Miriam Black series by Chuck Wendig (less fun but severely raunchy adult paranormal adventure).
Have you read THE AWESOME? Agree/disagree with what I’ve laid out? I’d love theories on the story behind Jeff’s true age or what the actual deal with Lauren is- fingers crossed for a sequel!