Ever-broadening pool of YA urban fantasy

by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix

I am surrounded by ghouls: vampires, witches who hunt vampires, shapeshifters, zombies, and cheerleaders gone awry. They lie in piles all around me.

That is, I’m surrounded by young adult (YA) books with titles like Highway to Hell, Zombie Queen of Newbury High, You Are So Undead to Me, Prom Dates from Hell, Uncle Vampire, Midnight Predator, Shattered Mirror, and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. These are just the tips of the fang fiction I will face in weeks to come.

A nice, tidy ending?
What was intended as the ending to a nice, tidy series on why teens love vampire fiction, has become a new beginning instead. In the weeks to come, I will skim many titles and sink into others, depending on how well the authors grab me by the throat. And then maybe I will figure out what to say about the ever-broadening, ever-deepening pool of young horror into which I have dipped my toes.

Heather of Highlands Ranch Library, who I think of as the Demon Queen of YA, knows her vampire fiction. She explains to me that it is a subset of a broader field called “urban fantasy,” which takes place in ordinary, recognizable places but which involves characters who are extraordinary. For example, she says, nodding at an ordinary looking library patron who is checking out some books, “What if that guy could read minds?”

In their Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), John Clute and John Grant describe urban fantasy as “texts where fantasy and the mundane world interact, intersect, and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city.”

Hmmm…sounds like Forks and Port Angeles, Washington, in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Series. Or Sunnydale, California, the home of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Teens reading on the sly
Heather and I look through the stacks to find authors from  the Twilight read-alike lists of various libraries. She explains that most are checked out due to the summer reading program. There must be a lot of teens reading on the sly, because I visit two other libraries and can find none of the titles on the shelves there either. This thwarts my research, but does my heart good. Teens reading…imagine that!

This article is partly about two popular young writers who began creating creepy stories in their teens—Amelia Atwater-Rhodes and Darren Shan.

I know that some readers will think this strange, but as a writer who covers library stories, I tend to write about what I can get my hands on at the library.

Being compulsive about doing things in order, I would have liked to begin my reading with Atwater-Rhodes first novel, In the Forests of the Night, which she wrote at age 13. It was published in 1999, so that means that she is barely into her twenties. While there were no copies on the library shelves, I was lucky enough to find Midnight Predator and Shattered Mirror.

Midnight Predator concerns a formerly happy teen whose family was murdered by a vampire. This led her to become a vampire hunter. Something about the opening fight scene of this book just doesn’t capture my interest.

Boy vampire meets girl vampire hunter
In contrast, I love the opening of Shattered Mirror in which teenager Sarah (a witch unbeknownst to her classmates) crashes a vampire bash to do a little bashing of her own. Sarah eventually meets Christopher (a vampire unbeknownst to aforesaid classmates), who she befriends despite her prejudices.

Forgive my mind its crazy connections, but this reminds me a bit of Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee, which I just finished reading. One of the major themes in that book concerns overcoming racial prejudice. I’m beginning to see that beneath the vampire and witch personas of modern teen urban fantasy lie, not wolves, but teens with normal concerns.

On to Darren Shan. Once again, I would have liked to indulge my compulsion to start with the first book in his series, Cirque du Freak. But I settled on book number two, The Vampire’s Assistant, and am enjoying the author’s dark humor. A movie of Shan’s first three books is being test marketed in the U.S. according to Shan’s July 2009 newsletter.

The Vampire’s Assistant begins on a lonely village road where we meet a hefty scoutmaster enjoying his walk home in the dark until he realizes he is being followed. “Imagine a man of his age wearing a scout’s uniform,” snorts the vampire master, Mr. Crepsley, after overcoming the man and enjoying a sip.

A day at the morgue, a life writing about ghouls
Similar to many other vampire tales, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in the world of Cirque du Freak you don’t turn into a vampire just by being bitten.

But although Mr. Crepsley’s assistant is half vampire, he still can’t get over his revulsion at the idea of drinking human blood even  if the vile act doesn’t kill the victim or turn him into a creature of the night. So Mr. Crepsley suggests that they should seek out a bunny for the assistant’s dinner.

At 37, Shan is just a touch older than Stephenie Meyer. On his website bio, he notes that he bought his first typewriter at 14 and then, at 15, won a television scriptwriting contest with a story titled “A Day at the Morgue.”

So all you teens who have ideas for vampire romances or adventures, don’t ignore the urge to write. You too could have books flying off the shelves someday. After all young writers have a fresh sense of what is on young people’s minds.

Now excuse me while I get on with my reading.

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