From the author of The True Meaning of Smekday comes this lyrical, funny story about a fifteen-year-old loser who has just started trying to lose weight when someone bites him, and he becomes a vampire. Forever fat and fifteen in Philadelphia would be depressing enough. But when Doug Lee tries to take control of his unlife, tries to mold himself into something more attractive and powerful than the kid who is always picked last for team activities—well, that’s when things really start to suck.
At first, Doug has a certain underdog charm. He compensates for his powerlessness by being funny. And his sad-sack adventures are funny too. Doug gets thrown out of a party while trying unsuccessfully to mesmerize a pretty girl. He tries drinking animal blood, only to get slapped by a panda at the San Diego Zoo. Desperate for blood, he actually robs a bloodmobile. But the more Doug learns the ropes of this vampire gig, the less you feel them tugging the corners of your mouth into a grin, and the more you feel them twanging at your heart. Doug’s friends and peers in junior high school start to notice that he looks good. But some of them—starting with his best friend Jay, and the Indian exchange student he has a crush on—are also noticing that he isn’t good. And he’s getting worse.
Doug’s descent from loser to monster is tough to watch. But all through it, there remains a hinted possibility of self-redemption. Whatever it is, it has something dangerous tied up in it. And it’s not as if Doug’s adventures are all of the self-obsessed teenager persuasion. Blood-sucking predators are involved. One of them made Doug, or rather the teenaged vampire who made Doug. One of them is threatening the safety of the people Doug cares about, or used to care about. Someone suspects what Doug has become. Plus, a cable-TV vampire hunter is closing in on Doug’s trail, and if he becomes a threat to the vampires of greater Philadelphia, they could become a threat to Doug.
As the proverbial bats come home to roost, you may find yourself sympathizing with Doug less and less, even while he tries more and more to become the hero of his own story. But you may also find yourself uncomfortably re-examining yourself. After all, most of us could stand to be better people in many of the ways Doug falls short. Meanwhile, you can enjoy some of the most intelligent dialogue ever spotted behind the glossy cover of a teen vampire novel, satirical or otherwise. Chapter 22 alone puts this book on a level of its own; though some of Adam Rex’s artistic touches may come across as a bit obscure. Also, besides a lot of adult language and sexual content that cry out for an Adult Content Advisory, it has one of those endings that fans will be arguing about years hence. Maybe you can just pick the ending you like and believe in it. I rather wish Mr. Rex had made his point a bit more obvious, after the build-up he gave it. As it stands, the book leaves you with your head full of interesting ideas and images, and a heart full of troubled feelings.