A fun combination of past and present today. First, Dracula’s Guest, a compilation of stories and excerpts from the past, which nicely presage modern stories. Hand this one to young readers who enjoyed Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Even the original fans of Twilight, now older and reading more sophisticated literature, should be persuaded to take a look.
Second, one of the blockbusters of the year — The Passage by Justin Cronin. So much has already been written about this first in a projected trilogy, nearly 800 pages long. As for potential teen interest, it is definitely there. Comparisons have been made to Stephen King’s The Stand, and teens are no strangers to the patience needed to wait out a trilogy. The movie version is already underway.
The Passage is a mix of character development and big action set pieces. The principle draw is the mystery of how the virals communicate and how Amy is connected to them. My favorite part of the book by far was set in the present, as Amy and her rescuer wait out the end of the world as we know it in an abandoned summer camp high in the mountains. Cronin’s writing in this section captures the hush and the dread, the approaching nostalgia and knowledge that this is probably the last peace either of these people will know. As a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, I was disappointed in later sections of the book, but I will definitely be returning for the next installments. The mystery is just too great.
It is worth noting that Cronin pays homage to Stoker’s Dracula by interspersing diary entries, newspaper articles, and other documents.
Adult/High School–In 22 chronologically arranged short stories, excerpts, and semi-factual accounts, Sims relays 150 years of vampire tales, years during which a motley assortment of folktales and superstitions from Eastern Europe evolved into a hugely popular literary genre. The quality of these tales is intentionally varied–the inclusion of an excerpt from Varney the Vampyre, for example, reminds us that Charlaine Harris is not the first hack to write trashy vampire novels–as are the styles and themes. Nevertheless, certain generalizations are possible. One notices, for example, that authors again and again hide their vampires beneath layers of narrators, each of whom attests to the story’s truth. At the same time, one finds that almost uniformly the authors presume that their readers, their characters, or both are entirely ignorant of the vampiric tradition. This delicate balance between skeptical literary rationality and credulous superstitious belief results in vampires that are at once more myth-shrouded and more horrifyingly real than our postmodern age generally allows. For teens whose interest in vampires goes beyond forbidden romance, the menace, horror, sexuality, and death in this outstanding collection should leave them clamoring for more.–Mark Flowers, John Kennedy Library, Solano County, CA
Adult/High School–The epic begins with Amy, six years old when she is abandoned by her mother and kidnapped by a government group. She is taken to the mountains of Colorado where they have gathered several death-row inmates and infected them with a virus that results in superhuman strength, increased violent tendencies, and vampirelike symptoms. Amy has a different reaction to being infected. When the original 12 virals escape the compound, she and her rescuer hunker down in an abandoned summer camp, experiencing the end of the world as readers know it through the occasional newspaper report. Skip ahead to 92 A.V. and readers slowly get to know a colony of humans in California, protected by high walls and bright lights. During an expedition outside the walls, Peter is pursued by virals when Amy suddenly appears and saves him. Days later she arrives at the colony, coinciding with its collapse. A small, brave group (including Peter and Amy) flees east across post-apocalyptic America in a desperate attempt to find other survivors. The virals are monsters, completely unrelated to the romantic creatures so popular in recent literature. They do not drink the blood of their victims, they decimate them. They do not speak, they communicate soundlessly as they hunt the few remaining humans. By the end, it is clear that Amy and Peter are key to humanity’s survival. But how? Cronin’s confident writing, action-packed narrative, and focus on a small group of engaging survivors make most vampire fare seem insubstantial.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City