A surprisingly affecting vampire story.
Larranaga’s debut YA novel focuses on high school freshman Darius Hunter, who lives in a world where vampires live among normal humans. Young vampires like Darius are kept on a government-mandated medication that prevents them from becoming fully undead until they’re 18. He’s smart, sensitive and all-too human—a struggling outsider who’s just trying to fit in, find a girlfriend and escape the attention of football bully Bao Wang. It’s his humanity that often keeps him from his hopes and dreams, so Darius’ “cool uncle” Jack, a vampire, introduces him to a substance called Blood Orange Soda. This strange analog of steroids can speed Darius’ maturation into his full vampire state, but it can’t guarantee that he’ll avoid disrupting the lives of his mother and sister, win the love of Angel Martin or successfully face up to Bao. It also doesn’t make him immune to heartbreak and loss. The author takes familiar themes of YA fiction—vampires and teen romance—and treats them with a surprising empathy and respect that gives them real weight. The novel notably pays attention to modern teenage obsessions, such as Facebook and iPads, and the changing popular culture. Its greatest strengths are its relatable characters, who are brought to life by Larranaga’s involving prose style. Darius moves beyond mere believability to seem truly real; no matter how fantastical or commonplace his situation is, readers will likely accept Darius from Page 1—and keep turning the pages. The book aims to launch a series of novels, and as happy as that might be for the author’s career, it seems a shame to dilute such a natural and strong story by making it a mere unit in a series.
A standout paranormal YA novel.