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The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:
April's Big Picture

The Big Picture is a monthly in-depth look at
selected new titles and trends.

Thirsty written by M.T. Anderson. Candlewick, 1997. [248p]
ISBN 0-7636-0048-2 $17.99
Grades 7-12

No, it's not true that the Bulletin never met a vampire book it didn't like; it's just that the last few years have given us such bloody good ones, if you'll pardon the expression, as Vivian Vande Velde's Companions of the Night (BCC B 7/95) and Mary Downing Hahn's Look for Me by Moonlight (4/95). Anderson's terrific take on the theme features Chris, a typical teenager living in suburban Massachusetts, in a present exactly like our own except for the open acknowledgment of the perennial problem of vampires. Much to his horror, Chris begins to suspect that he is part of this problem; his incipient vampirism is confirmed by an agent of the Forces of Light, who seeks to enlist Chris' help in forestalling the return of Tch'mu chgar, the vampire god against whom the town annually performs preventative rituals (conveniently turning them into a local festival). Promised his own redemption, Chris performs his assigned task, but his thirst for blood grows stronger, the effort to k eep from slaking it grows harder, his would-be brethren grow more insistent, and redemption is nowhere in sight.

One of the pleasures of this book is that it, like its two worthy predecessors, is smart, taking the old vampire story and really thinking about it rather than merely letting the vampire go through his traditional paces until the story ends. Anderson fills out his mundane view of contemporary vampirism with credible yet surprising details: of course vampire imprisonment is a difficult proposition because of the feeding problems; of course television technology has developed speci al lenses to capture vampires on film; of course the waxing and waning of Chris' fangs screws up his new orthodontia. The book is equally perceptive about non-vampirish aspects of daily life, such as the goofy haplessness of Chris' aptly nickn amed friend, Jerk, and the Beavis-esque turn of phrase demonstrated by Chris' deprecating older brother.

Thirsty is also relentlessly and sarcastically funny, often with an adolescent flipness that's bound to please the audience. The prevailing technique is absurd detachment, usually when employing a contrast between the dark grandeur of the v ampire legend and life's trivia ("Tom and Jerk should really not have broken the electric window on the Forces of Light's car"). The vampire missives to Chris are particularly hilarious: there's an engraved invitation to a ritual Gorging in the Shadows with cheerful handwritten addenda about carpooling, and there's a wickedly satiric gushy note filled with felt-tip colors, exclamation points, and smiley faces from a bubble-headed vampire Valley Girl. The tone is deftly handled, however, in that the hum or eventually begins to seem a despairing mockery of defiance, like whistling in a graveyard in flames.

Which is good, because what's ultimately impressive here is the horror. Where Hahn's book emphasized the sensual aspect of vampirism and Vande Velde focused on the cerebral side, Anderson tackles the psychology, the dark emotional horror at the heart of this story. The terror here isn't sexy gore but sheer human despair: Chris has betrayed the vampires, the only ones who could offer him some assistance in surviving; he's a threat to the humans who know they are in danger from the Chris they used to love; he will either soon starve to death or be killed as a vampire. His total isolation from his friends and family means that his greatest misery lies not in being a creature he despises but in being alone. Teenagers, whether with fangs or without, wi ll immediately empathize with that dilemma, and they'll suck this one right up.

--Deborah Stevenson, Assistant Editor

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This page was last updated on April 1, 1997.