Think vampires have had their day? Gardner’s debut graphic novel proves the vein is not completely tapped.
Eleven-year-old AJ feels utterly unremarkable. He spent the summer before sixth grade reading and at the library, while his ultracompetitive besties, Ivy and Hunter, spent theirs scaling volcanoes and bungee jumping. AJ harbors an adorable middle school crush on Nia, a fellow bookworm obsessed with vampires. Trying to catch Nia’s eye, AJ decides to impersonate a bloodsucker, sprinkling himself with glitter, painting dark circles under his eyes, and slathering his gums with fake blood. However, things do not go as planned when Nia does suspect him as the undead. When AJ’s deception is revealed, he and Nia discover an actual vampire in their midst believed his ruse—and that more than one person in his life has secrets of their own. While many might say the vampire genre bled out years ago, Gardner has imbued it with new life, poking fun at well-known tropes—especially Twilight—in a manner sure to inspire hearty belly laughs. Her full-color illustrations are eye-catching, and her plotting is tightly wrought; think Raina Telgemeier with a Noelle Stevenson slant. At a hefty but highly enjoyable 336 pages, Gardner’s middle school romp is a magnum opus; here’s hoping all her work is as wonderful. Main character AJ is white, as is Ivy, but Hunter and Nia have brown skin, and Nia wears her hair in cornrows.
A dazzling debut from a new author to watch. (Graphic fantasy. 8-12)