[Book Review] Vampire Kisses (Vampire Kisses, #1) by Ellen Schreiber

In her small town, dubbed "Dullsville," sixteen-year-old Raven — a vampire-crazed goth-girl — is an outcast. But not for long...

The intriguing and rumored-to-be haunted mansion on top of Benson Hill has stood vacant and boarded-up for years. That is, until its mysteriously strange new occupants move in. Who are these creepy people — especially the handsome, dark, and elusive Alexander Sterling? Or rather, what are they? Could the town prattle actually ring true? Are they vampires? Raven, who secretly covets a vampire kiss, both at the risk of her own mortality and Alexander's loving trust, is dying to uncover the truth.

Vampire Kisses is a series I picked up in middle school, so it's one I read while part of the intended audience. At the time, I enjoyed it, and I think that's the main reason I've opted to give it a three star rating. It's definitely not something I remember with considerable fondness, but during my short vampire phase in middle school (and before you ask, yes, this was before Twilight was all the rage) I found it an entertaining series of stories. In retrospect, there's not a lot here that's good, exactly... but I also think the book gets more flak that in deserves, especially when one remembers that the "victor"--the most famous, most read, and most successful series--of the YA vampire sphere is Twilight, which is every bit as terrible, albeit in different ways. Ways that upset me much more than Vampire Kisses' shortcomings.

So, what's the book about? It's the story of Raven Madison, the eldest child and only daughter of two hippie-dippy parents who grew up into WASPs and moved to a town so boring that Raven, the narrator, doesn't even deign to tell us its real name; instead, she insists upon referring to it as Dullsville. Raven, like her parents, is into the counterculture of her era; but since it's the early 2003s, she's fallen in line with the Goth thing instead of the flower children. She wears all black, she's melodramatic as all get out, her favorite author is Anne Rice, and she's obsessed with vampires--to the point that when the mysterious new kid in town is rumored to be one, she's getting to the bottom of it no matter what anyone else has to say. And she's got her fingers crossed that it's true.

But of course, there are a few big problems standing in the way of Raven's eternal, unholy bliss; first and foremost, the town is as preppy as you can get. Everyone seems to know everyone else. Half the town seems to be in the country club. They hate Raven's quirks, and the rumors about Alexander Sterling and his family being vampires aren't exactly harmless. But most of all, Raven's problem is Trevor, the preppiest of them all, a teenage "soccer snob" who Raven can't seem to stop having (mostly) unwelcome UST with. It'd be kind of funny if it wasn't so awkward and gross, and honestly, I think that's the thing that rings most true about the book. The relationship that eventually develops--no spoilers there, of course--between Raven and Alexander is idealized, heavily romanticized, and not at all a realistic representation of the way sixteen-year-olds interact with one another. Raven's relationship with Trevor, however... that, I found much more believable. Alexander's a perfect little gentlemen, the absolute man of Raven's dreams come true as an attractive sixteen-year-old; Trevor's a pining creep with boundary issues and a vengeful streak, and he's every bit as immature as many real, spoiled sixteen-year-old boys. I feel like I would have been much more on board with the story if it had ended with Trevor resolving to shape up his act to make Raven/Trevor a viable alternative to the main pairing. But no, this is the story of Raven and her too-good-to-be-true Vampire Prince Charming.

Raven herself is a brat. Frankly, I don't buy her as a sixteen-year-old at all. She acts more like a thirteen-year-old, and it makes some of the events of the book--a near-miss sexual encounter with Trevor, the persistent taunting about Raven's supposed sexual history, Trevor's incredibly obvious hateboner for Raven, etcetera--feel rather gross. But for all that Raven's situation (especially her relationship with Trevor) is kind of icky, she herself is a creep, too. While trying to get closer to Alexander, she goes so far as to break into his house. She's exceedingly immature, and while I'm fairly amused that Vampire Kisses essentially has the human girl stalking the immortal vampire dude, it's no more romantic than Edward stalking Bella. (Less creepy, I'll admit, since Raven isn't a century older than Alexander, but the point stands.)

Alexander himself... well, there's not much there. In Vampire Kisses, he's mostly a male, goth take on the Idealized Love Interest--possibly verging into Gary Stu territory, though YMMV. He's there to give Raven someone to pine over, then someone to love, and finally someone to lose. Rinse and repeat. I want to say he gets more characterization in the sequels, but it's been so long since I read them that I honestly can't be sure if I'm remembering correctly; in any case, the best thing I can say for his character is that his relationship with Raven is so fucking awkward and weird that I'm inclined to call it "authentically adolescent" despite his idealized characterization and that by the end, he actually manages to call her out on some of her less-than-loving behavior. Such as, you know, only dating him because she thinks he's a vampire.

Characters aside, I have two big complaints.

Complaint #1: Who talks like that!?

The dialogue is hilarious at times in the worst way possible. Schreiber has a terrible grasp of teen slang, at one point having a character use the line, "This sounds so way out." I still have no fucking clue what that's supposed to mean; I guess she's going for "far out", which, having been a teen of the 2000s myself, I can assure you is definitely not 2003 teen slang. Later she has Raven use the phrase "going together", which I have never in my life heard an actual, meatspace person use. Going out, yes. Going together? Not outside of 80s teen novels.

But most distressingly, there's a scene in which Alexander refers to Raven with, "sassy girl," and I damn near crawled out of my skin. That's some shit I expect a pervy villain to say, not a love interest. Get it together, bro.

Complaint #2: OH GOD THE DRAMA

Everything is so goddamn melodramatic in this, which is the main reason I feel like this doesn't qualify as YA. I honestly would not recommend this novel to anyone over the age of thirteen, unless they're a fan of rolling their eyes so hard that they go blind. When Alexander and Raven have their climactic "oh god, are they gonna break up?" fight, Alexander's dialogue is, "I thought you were different, Raven. But you used me. You're just like everyone else." That's some middle school angst, right there; the kind of shit kids are supposed to scream at their parents in bad teen movies, not at their love interests when they've actually been hurt.

And the scene that prompts this breakup crisis? Well, if your life's been having a lack of serious business school dances lately, Vampire Kisses has the remedy for you, shortly followed by a make-up scenario that'll grab your suspension of belief by the throat and kick it into the dirt.

I mean, it's not the worst book I've ever read. It is some silly shit, though. And there's a point at which I enjoyed that--a point about a decade ago, when I was too young to have more than a very loose understanding of interpersonal relationships, romance, and good writing.

So yeah, Vampire Kisses is a ridiculous book for adults to read. It's a straightforward plot that everyone's seen a million times with a vampire angle tacked onto it to make it shiny and new. It's full of stereotypical characters who are often awkward, creepy, and immature for their supposed ages. It doesn't portray a healthy relationship (though I don't object to Alexander/Raven or even Raven/Trevor anywhere near as much as I object to the stalkerific ew that is Bella/Edward).

On the other hand, I think it's a fairly harmless story for an elementary or middle schoolkid to read. I definitely wouldn't recommend the story to anyone older than that (unless they, like Raven, are immature for their age), but for any boys or girls who are craving some modern UF vampires (you won't find any horror vampires here, that's for sure)... it's not the worst thing you could hand the kid, even if I don't particularly recommend it.

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