Sunday, August 31, 2008

Blood and Chocolate (book) by Annette Curtis Klause

Vivian is a werewolf, part of a community of werewolves living in secret among humans. When a member of her community breaks the rules and kills a human, drawing too much attention, several members of the pack are killed, including Vivian's father. A year later, the pack is almost ready to leave its temporary home and go somewhere everyone can hide better. Before that can happen, however, a new pack leader must be chosen. The new pack leader will be chosen in the traditional way, with the strongest male taking the role, and Vivian isn't happy that Gabriel, who is nothing like her father, seems the one most likely to become leader.

Vivian doesn't feel quite like she fits in. She still grieves for her father and doesn't understand and is embarrassed by her mother, who seems determined to throw herself at Gabriel (Gabriel is 24, Vivian is 16, and Vivian's mother, Esme, is probably at least in her late 30s - the age difference seriously upsets Vivian). She no longer feels like she can be friends with the Five (five male werewolves who are about her age and who have grown up together - the pack delinquents) - for one thing, they now see her as a potential mate, and for another, they were involved in the mess that eventually resulted in the death of her father. Vivian desperately wants friends, however, and can't understand why none of the humans at school have the guts to approach her. Finally, she seeks out Aiden, whose werewolf-themed poem, which appeared opposite her artwork in the school's literary magazine, intrigues her.

Vivian and Aiden begin to fall in love, and Vivian finds herself wanting to reveal her secret to him. When she finally does, things go badly - Aiden doesn't react with the acceptance Vivian expected. When Vivian wakes up the next day, she doesn't remember what happened, but the human blood on her skin make her fearful that she's killed someone. Although Aiden is fine, someone else is dead. Vivian's feelings of guilt and fear become oppressive as the pack tries to find out who's responsible for the murder before more humans get killed.

I loved this book when I first read it - I think I was 16 years old at the time. I still love this book now, although I have the same wish I had then, that Klause had written more, especially more about Gabriel. I never really could see what Vivian sees in Aiden - the "faux hippie" look has never appealed to me, and I didn't find his behavior quite as heart-melting as Vivian did. I know she believed that he would be able to accept her, and I think the main reason he appealed to her was because he treated her differently than she was used to. The Five had no problems leering at her or even trying to cop a feel, and Gabriel was more mature and confident than Vivian was ready to handle. With Aiden, Vivian was the mature, confident, and strong one - I can see how that might appeal to her, even though Aiden didn't appeal to me personally.

Gabriel, on the other hand, did appeal to me. Not at first, though - it's a bit off-putting that he spends the beginning of the book flirting with Esme and Astrid, Vivian's mother and a woman old enough to be Vivian's mother, and then starts flirting with Vivian after he is chosen as the new pack leader and Vivian is chosen as his queen. Although he's certainly a sexy character throughout the book, it's not clear how kind and caring he really is until the end of the book, when he offers Vivian his help, comforts her when she's confused and upset, and explains his painful past to her. There are signs of this other side of him throughout the book, if you know to look for them, so this reread was nice in that way.

I imagine that the age difference between Vivian and Gabriel might be considered a cause for concern by some, since Vivian is only 16 and Gabriel is 8 years older than her. I don't remember thinking much of it when I first read this book. I think that's because of the way Klause depicts this werewolf culture. Vivian acts disgusted at the age difference between Esme and Gabriel, but she's really the only werewolf character in the whole book who finds an age difference like that at all objectionable. When Vivian is named Gabriel's mate at the Ordeal, that's that, as far as the other werewolves are concerned. Because none of the characters focused on any perceived mismatch between Vivian and Gabriel, I didn't really see anything wrong with it either. I also think that the fact that they're both werewolves helps a bit - the normal rules of reality don't necessarily apply when fantasy elements are added to the mix.

A movie version of this book, also called Blood and Chocolate, was released not too long ago. If you read and enjoyed this book, I'd advise against seeing it. The movie's creators picked out whatever elements they wanted from the book and discarded or changed the rest. More action was added, and a European setting was chosen (maybe they thought Europe seemed cooler?). Blood and Chocolate the book was a coming of age story in which Vivian had to come to terms with her feelings and herself. In the end, she chooses Gabriel as her mate, someone she can be with and love in all her forms. In Blood and Chocolate the movie, the coming of age aspect is removed. Vivian lives in an oppressive and violent society that regularly kills humans too lowly for others to notice they're gone. Although Aiden doesn't accept Vivian at first, he quickly learns to do so, and suddenly they're Romeo and Juliet. Vivian ends up with Aiden, because Aiden is good and Gabriel is bad (not to mention dead).

Now that I've got that off my chest, it's time for the read-alike suggestions.

  • Owl in Love (book) by Patrice Kindl - Owl is a shapeshifter. By night, Owl assumes her owl form, but by day she is a regular high school girl who happens to be a bit of a misfit. Owl is in love with her science teacher, Mr. Lindstrom, but it's not a love that's meant to be. Still, this young adult novel has a happy ending. Those who'd like another young adult novel featuring a shapeshifting high school girl with ill-fated feelings of love for a human might like this book.
  • Bitten (book) by Kelley Armstrong - Elena found out that werewolves are real when her boyfriend bit her while in wolf form and turned her into one. Since then, she's worked hard to gain enough control over herself and her abilities so that she can pass as human. She's now living in Toronto, trying to have a pleasant and ordinary relationship with a man who has no idea what she is. However, she's called back to the Pack in order to help out with murderous mutts (the name used for werewolves who aren't affiliated with the Pack), and she's forced to deal with her unresolved issues with her Pack and her feelings for the werewolf who made her what she is. Those who'd like another story with a werewolves who must blend in with regular humans, a strong, introspective female main character, and a bit of romance might like this book, the first in a series. Be aware, however, that the intended audience for this book is adults.
  • Companions of the Night (book) by Vivian Vande Velde - Sixteen-year-old Kerry didn't know vampires existed until she became involved with a handsome one named Ethan. Kerry tries to help save Ethan from a vigilante committee bent on killing him, making the committee believe that she's a vampire as well. They kidnap her brother and father in retaliation, and Kerry suddenly finds herself having to trust the not entirely trustworthy Ethan to help her get her family back. Those who'd like another young adult paranormal fantasy that features a contemporary setting, suspense, and romance might like this book.
  • Hawksong (book) by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes - This is the first book in Atwater-Rhodes' Kiesha'ra series. In the world of this book, there are two main kinds of shapeshifters: avian and serpienten. A war has been going on between the two kinds of shapeshifters for ages, but it might be possible to achieve peace with a marriage alliance. Danica Shardae, the heir to the avian throne, is forced to marry Zane Cobriana, the heir to the serpienten throne. These two young shapeshifters must learn to overcome their differences if their people are to follow suit and finally live in peace. Those who'd like another young adult novel featuring shapeshifters, a proud young female main character who has to come to terms with a forced match (marriage, mating, whatever you want to call it), and romance might like this book.

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