EIGHTH GRADE BITES (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod #1)
Paranormal Young Adult
Received from publisher for review
Being the skinny, pale kid with the best friend all the girls swoon over is difficult enough. Add in a preference for blood and a pair of fangs, and you have the somewhat unenviable life of eighth-grader Vladimir Tod.
Vlad lives with his mom's best friend who took him in after the tragic death of both his parents. Though he knows his dad was a vampire and his mother was human, Vlad doesn't know anything else about the vampire way of life as he strives to pass as normal each and every day.
Soon, one of Vlad's teacher's goes missing, and there is just a little something off about his substitute: he seems to know Vlad's best kept secret. He also seems to know things about Vlad's father, and very quickly a whole new world full of mysteries, life and death circumstances, and family history opens up and shows Vlad that he's not nearly as alone in the vampire world as he originally thought.
Cute, with that little bit of awkwardness we're all so familiar with but have made every attempt to forget from our early teen years, Eighth Grade Bites recounts this socially uncomfortable phase of life, yet increases the intensity of all those relatable feelings by adding a supernatural hurdle to the mix. Now, not only does Vlad have to face bullies, but he has to ensure he doesn't introduce them to his fangs in much deserved retaliation. He can't trade lunch items with friends because it would be absolutely mortifying should they bite into his twinkie and find the capsule of blood included as a special extra filling. And, as though stressing over the potential of unrequited affection isn't upsetting enough, he has the added bonus of worrying whether or not his fangs might descend at an inopportune moment. All these little moments of familiar yet unfamiliar gawkiness bring a smile to our faces as we either fondly remember our own experiences or mercifully thank the heavens they're long gone.
Part of the charm of this story is the male point of view and the relationship between Vlad and his best friend Henry. Instead of the cattiness, snobbery and general unpleasantness so often dominating female young adult characters and friendships, we get a refreshing glimpse of some good-natured teasing, off-handed quips, and an innocent appreciation for the physical merits of the opposite sex. That being said however, both Vlad and Henry lack in substantial depth as we are introduced to them quickly and then tossed immediately into either action or mystery before we can actually reach out and touch them, thereby denying us the opportunity to add them to the vault of memorable characters we can't bring ourselves to let go. We remain on the periphery in this first installment, but the potential for character and reader intimacy is certainly present and noticeable.
The events in this story are much the same as the character development–a bit more superficial than we might prefer. The action is quite sporadic, catapulting us forward and introducing new information before we've had adequate time to fully digest what we've learned just a few pages prior. Certain elements of the storyline seem oddly truncated, one in particular where our villain is attacking classmates of Vlad's but the assaults and dead bodies are never addressed nor mentioned in any way outside of the short one-page chapter that describes them, leaving us wondering as to the value of them to the plot as a whole. Everything seems to happen very quickly with little overall explanation, and while we are entertained, we find ourselves wishing for something just a little bit more.
All in all, Eighth Grade Bites is a promising start to the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series, one that will no doubt delve deeper into both Vlad's emotions and his intriguing family history as it continues. Ms. Brewer has a fabulous sense of humor and I look forward to reading as Vlad and Henry tackle a vampire council, the still stinging loss of Vlad's parents, and the complete and utter terror that accompanies asking a girl to the school dance.