Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris

Found via: A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Svetlana (formerly known as Stephanie) Grimm is a vampire. Or, that's her self-diagnosis. After moving with her family and forced to start attending Sunny Hill Middle School (after a lifetime of homeschooling), she changes her name, starts wearing all black, will only eat red foods (blood is impractical, but red foods are the color of blood, so it makes sense a modern vampire would adapt) and sleeps under her bed (a coffin would attract too much attention and wouldn't allow her to roll over in her sleep). Oh, she can also sometimes read people's thoughts - extra sensory powers are a classic symptom of vampire-ness.

Svetlana's diagnosis seems to be confirmed on the first day of school, when her science teacher, Ms. Larch, talks to Svetlana inside her head. However, when Svetlana tentatively asks for confirmation that they're both vampires, all Ms. Larch can do is laugh.

In addition to Ms. Larch's strange behavior, there's also Ms. Bones, the ancient next door neighbor, who's been spying on Svetlana. It turns out, Ms. Bones is a vampire hunter - and Svetlana is one, too. Ms. Bones is a member of a vampire (and other supernatural creatures) hunting group - but everyone else is too sick, injured, or possibly dead, to help destroy Ms. Larch. When three of Svetlana's classmates disappear, it's up to Svetlana to destroy the local vampire and save the day.

More than anything else, I loved Svetlana's dry wit and unique perspective throughout the story. For example, when at the carnival she observes:
Another booth sported a lazy-looking chicken locked inside a glass case. The chicken did math. Honestly it was the cruelest thing I'd ever seen. Why would anybody force a chicken to do math? Why was this allowed?

I feel the same way, Svetlana.

I was hoping this would end up being a little more girl-power-y than it ended up. It's set up that Svetlana and Ms. Bones are going to team up to take down Ms. Larch - but then Ms. Bones breaks her leg, leaving Svetlana to recruit two boys from her class to assist her. Svetlana does do all of the heavy lifting in rescuing her missing classmates, however - the boys think she's nuts but tag along anyway.

This isn't a reinvention of the vampire story, but it's certainly a great addition to the genre for younger readers.
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