Saturday, March 29, 2014

Eighth Grade Bites (book) by Heather Brewer

Eighth Grade Bites in the first book in Brewer's vampire-focused The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series. I'm not quite sure about the audience it's intended for, but I'm guessing the youngest end of the young adult range.

Synopsis:

Vlad's father was a vampire and his mother was a human. After they died, Vlad figured that he was the last of his kind. At the beginning of the book, Vlad lives with his aunt (who was actually a non-related friend of his mother's) and is best friends with a human boy named Henry. Those two are the only ones in the whole world who know what he is.

Aside from his garlic allergy, increased need for sunblock, and diet largely consisting of blood, Vlad's life is pretty average. Bullies pick on him because they think he looks goth, and he has a huge crush on a girl named Meredith. What Vlad doesn't realize, as he's dealing with his relatively normal worries, is that a murderous vampire is looking for him. In order to survive, Vlad will have to look through the things his father left behind and learn more about his vampiric heritage.

Review:

I bought this because the series title amused me, I loved the cover, and I vaguely remembered hearing good things about it. Unfortunately, it did not work for me.

It started off well enough. Vlad's life was an appealing mix of normalcy and vampiric details. He'd hang out with his friend Henry and basically do “normal 14-year-old boy” things, playing video games, talking, whatever, but mealtime was different. Henry and Vlad's aunt ate normal human food, but Vlad got bloody meat, bagged blood, or warmed-up blood in a mug. Sunblock and blood capsules hidden in the lunches his aunt made for him allowed him to go to school during the day and fake being just like any other human student.

I rapidly grew bored as the book dwelled just a little too long on Vlad's eating habits, Henry and Vlad's corny vampire-related jokes, and Vlad's anxieties about Meredith, his crush. Those things were all well and good for drawing me in, but I needed more to stay hooked. I was hoping for fast-paced action, danger, and excitement. I got very little of that, which gave me too much time to focus on the things that bugged me.

One of those things was all the names. At first, I thought they were kind of fun. Vladimir Tod. Edgar Poe (one of Vlad's former classmates). Bathory (the name of Vlad's hometown). Lugosi Trail. Then I started to wonder about all the vampire-related place names in Vlad's hometown. Was Bathory secretly crawling with vampires that Vlad was somehow unaware about? And, if the town was crawling with vampires, why did one of them have to kill or badly frighten multiple people just to figure out where Vlad lived?

My questions piled up, and I began having serious difficulties buying into Vlad's world. Why couldn't the vampire hunting for Vlad do a tiny bit of research and find him without having to question multiple people? Even Vlad wondered why he hadn't just picked up a phone book (something which I don't think was ever explained, although, who knows, maybe I missed it).

Some of my issues with the world-building were addressed, but only after I had spent dozens of pages wondering about them. I'm talking about basic stuff, like “Considering the vast quantities of blood Vlad consumes, how does Vlad's aunt manage to keep him supplied without raising anyone's suspicions?” The fact that Nelly, Vlad's aunt, was a nurse and therefore had easy access to blood was mentioned early on, but it wasn't until page 93 that an attempt was made to explain how she could steal fairly large quantities of it without anyone noticing.

I spent a good chunk of the book assuming that vampires were born, not made. Telling humans about vampires was against the vampire world's rules – that's why Vlad's father had to cut himself off from other vampires after he fell in love with Vlad's mother. It wasn't until nearly the end of the book that one vampire character mentioned that he'd been turned into a vampire and that all vampires (except Vlad, because he's special) were originally humans before they were transformed into vampires. I was suddenly left wondering how family relationships were determined, why turning a human into a vampire was okay when telling one about vampires wasn't, and whether Vlad's father had ever considered turning Vlad's mother into a vampire. Vlad simply took this information in a stride and wondered none of these things. His only concern was whether he, too, might end up living for centuries.

The ending just made me shake my head. While Vlad happily embraced the knowledge that he wasn't the only vampire in existence and had a whole vampiric heritage to learn about, my mind jumped back to an earlier moment in the book, when a “good” vampire character told Vlad that he needed to find a human to drink from. According to that “good” vampire, vampires must drink from humans. They can resist the urge, but eventually they'll break down and do it. Vlad brushed this aside and apparently completely forgot about the darker aspects of his shiny new heritage by the end of the book. Even though those darker aspects might mean future danger for his human loved ones.

For a while, I thought this would at least be a “meh” read for me, but the problems kept piling up. While Vlad was vaguely appealing, none of the other characters were the least bit interesting. So many “revelations” were blindingly obvious, robbing those moments of any suspense and excitement they might otherwise have had. And the story was just boring.

Read-alikes:
  • Vampire Kisses (book) by Ellen Schreiber - Another series good for reluctant readers who are interested in vampires and main characters who are goth-looking outsiders. There's a good deal more romance in this one, but there are also mystery aspects. I remember enjoying this series but being frustrated by how shallow the books felt and how unsatisfying the romance was. As with Eighth Grade Bites, it's quite possible that I was just too old for it.
  • Son of the Mob (book) by Gordon Korman - When I picked up Eighth Grade Bites, I was hoping for something that would feel like this book - fun and relatively fast-paced. Those who'd like another YA book with a male main character, a slight edge of dark stuff (but not too dark), and a hint of romance may want to give this a try. The main character is the son of a mob boss who just wants to live a normal life. Unfortunately, he falls in love with the daughter of an FBI agent. I have written about this book.
  • Sucks To Be Me (book) by Kimberly Pauley - Another YA vampire book. One review calls it "breezy." The heroine learns her parents are vampires and must decide whether to become one herself.
  • Eighth Grade Bites (graphic novel series) adapted by Tony Lee, original story by Heather Brewer - It seems like every YA series has its own graphic novel/OEL manga adaptation anymore. This one is no different.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book) by J.K. Rowling - Eighth Grade Bites had several elements in common with this book (a male protagonist who's an orphan, gaining new and not quite controlled powers, a teacher who may or may not be an enemy, etc.), although Harry Potter has wizards instead of vampires and a wizarding school instead of an ordinary middle school. I've written about the audiobook version of this.

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