Anna (_ocelott_) wrote in genrereviews,

Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

Publisher: Balzer & Bray, 2010
Genre: Horror
Sub-genre: Paranormal, YA
Rating: 4 pints of blood

I love this cover. I really do. It's simple, it's relevant, it has something to say. Honestly, the cover could stand by itself as a piece of art. Ok, maybe not high art, but art nonetheless. It's memorable, it stands out, and it tells you a lot about this book. And, as the husband said, it's nice to have a change from the "random hot chick" on the cover of every other novel in the YA section.

Basically, I picked this up because my friendly neighbourhood crackdealer bookseller told me to. I walked into the bookstore and the conversation went like this:

Him: "Anna, I found this book you have to read. It's about this awkward, overweight fifteen-year-old who gets turned into a vampire and STAYS an awkward, overweight fifteen-year-old."
Me: "Wait, so he isn't instantly beautiful and awesome? He gets to be horribly fifteen forever?"
Him: "Yup."
Me: "Huh."

One would think being turned into a vampire, even accidently, would have improved the quality of the chubby and uncool Doug. Unfortunately, it turns out that while he does sprout fangs, he still remains Doug, with all the geekiness that brings.

Now struggling to learn how to be a vampire while having to deal with his usual life as a teenage outcast, Doug only has his best friend Jay to help him adjust. It's not exactly a smooth transition, and in his fumbling, he gets himself noticed by a "reality" show devoted to hunting vampires.

Of course, even more important is new transfer student Sejal from India. She's smart, she's pretty, and she doesn't know Doug well enough to instantly reject him as a geek like the rest of the kids at school. Now if only he could figure out how to impress the girl, figure out high school, and learn to manage vampirism without any further embarrassments...

One of the things this book does that's interesting is introduce us to a very sympathetic character and then proceed to slowly transform him into something that isn't. While Doug doesn't instantly transform into hot, hot awesomeness, it does affect him. When he starts to think "hey, vampire = awesome, Doug = vampire, therefore Doug = awesome," he finds his self-confidence, but in a bad way. This isn't the standard YA novel where the outcast bonds with other outcasts and discovers he's not so bad in his own way.

One of the best things about the book is its handling of Sejal. She's sent from India to stay with an American family and is treated like a racial minority. She has to deal with assumptions, side-long looks, racist remarks, and cultural misunderstandings. While the American kids think of her as exotic, however, the narrative never does. She's simply a teenage girl, like any other. She has her own quirks, of course, but no more or less than Cat, the girl whose family Sejal is staying with.

Fat Vampire is very self-aware, and while that doesn't always work for me, it did here. In a lot of ways, the book is a subversion of every other YA fantasy/horror novel out there. It explores a variety of vampire myths and how they might co-exist, references other books in the genre (everything from Stoker's Dracula to Gaiman's Sandman) and pokes a bit at the expectation that the protagonist of the YA novel will always get the girl/guy. After having established itself as a novel that embraces variety, with teens of different races and sexual orientations presented, it has this to say:

Doug, for his part, didn't think he really had much of an opinion about gay people. He didn't know any. Except maybe Ophelia, now. If anything, he was possibly a little sick of them. They were always popping up in shows and movies and in the books he read. They used to be comic relief, but at some point it was like you weren't allowed to laugh anymore, and the gay characters were Very Serious. Their whole character would be about them being gay, and how serious and unfunny and also completely normal it was. In each new book, especially, there seemed to be one or two. Like the author wanted to prove what an open-minded, big-tent guy he was.

This paragraph is loaded with so very many things, it's hard to know where to start. First, it's a pretty honest dissection of the depictions of LGBT characters in popular fiction. It's also very much the author poking fun at himself. And it's an interesting look at the main character, who is growing steadily less sympathetic and likeable. A few chapters earlier, when faced with evidence that Ophelia was likely gay or bisexual, Doug and the rest of the teens in his social group were pretty non-reactive. "Oh, her hot date's a chick? That's cool." It's not until later in the book, when Doug makes his transition into jerkland, that he starts analyzing things and decides he's sick of gay people. There's actually a lot of that sort of thing going on in the book, where there's a lot more going on than would appear on the surface. The reference to Sandman, for example, is far more of an ingenius insertion than a mere throwaway mention.

The end of the book is one of those that will divide people. Usually I try not to divulge endings (or at least do so in magic spoiler-vision), but in this case the ending is impossible to spoil because of its ambiguity. Readers will either love it and think it's genius or hate it and wish for something more concrete. Basically, the last chapter runs through several possible scenarios for an ending instead of picking one and narrating to the end. It also runs through "alternate histories" as food for thought, things such as "what if he had become a werewolf," "if he'd been born a Russian" or "if Jay had been the vampire instead." Personally, after having spent more than 300 pages with these characters, I would have liked a more definitive answer as to what happened to them. Then again, nothing else about this book is standard, so why should the ending be?

Fat Vampire is available in hardcover and will be available in paperback July 26.
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Tags: 4 pints of blood, genre: horror, paranormal, poc, ya

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