Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: Eighth Grade Bites

EIGHTH GRADE BITES (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod #1)
Heather Brewer
Paranormal Young Adult
182 Pages
Available Now
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.

Rating: 3/5


  1. Glad you liked this book well enough. I've been wanting to get into this series. A year or so ago, I was in church and the kid in the pew in front of me was reading a book. I couldn't see the cover and kept trying to figure out whether it was a religious book or not - completely ignoring the uplifting spiritual talks from the pulpit. When I saw the words Vlad and Vampire on the same page, I figured it probably wasn't a Bible story :-) I'm pretty sure it was one of the Vladimir Tod books.

  2. This series has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a few months, which makes me feel bad since I have wanted them forever! I've noticed that a lot of middle grades/ YA series have a so-so first book. It introduces you to the world, some characters, but glossing over a lot in order to take readers on a fast paced ride, allowing them to enjoy the story and invest themselves into subsequent (and deeper) books. I've also noticed that my students (and myself at that age) normally don't see the see these little shortcomings.
    I'm glad you enjoyed the humor, and now I know to approach book 1 with a bit of patience. :)
    Jennifer (An Abundance of Books)

  3. I have read all of Brewer's books and even have had the pleasure of meeting her several times as she graciously attends The Area Wide Book Battle, I helped co-found. I enjoyed each of the books to varying degrees and the middle school kids love the books. What I like is how relatable Vlad is and how flawed his character is and yet noble in his attempts to deal with his geeky teenager side and his growing awareness of his vampire side. I also loved how well Brewer shows Vlad's growth over the entire series.

  4. I have heard of this series before, but I dont think I will start it. :) It does sounds nice, but nothing that will blow me away.

    ps: just saw your post below and wowee. :P

  5. I love Auntie Heather! I also like that this book is from a boys POV. Its different and I like it. Nice review Jeny :)

  6. Sorry, I misspelled your name. Stupid Iphone!!

  7. Great review- Ive always wondered about this series....My 8th grader wants to read them do you think they would be ok for a middle schooler?

    She read The Mortal Insturments Series so these seem a bit tamer than those...I usually like a heads up for the "graphic" stuff.

  8. I liked this book, but not quite as much as I hoped. Maybe I was a bit vampire'd out when I read it. Also, Tod is very young for an eighth grader... which makes sense, if you think of how boys lag behind girls. I was expecting it to be more a high school level read, and it felt geared just a tad younger than that. Presumably the character gets more mature as he goes through middle school and high school?

  9. I've seen this series everywhere and for some reason I have never really felt the urge to read it. Hmmmm... Verdict's still out. Thanks for the great review Jenny!

  10. Alison - Ha! Yeah, no Bible story here:) I think it's going to turn into a really cute series, so I look forward to reading the other books.

    Jennifer - Very true, younger readers won't care that the characterization isn't quite as in depth, they'll be caught up in the humor and the action I'm sure:)

    Jan - I really liked Vlad, and I can definitely see the potential for growth, so I'm sure he wasn't meant to be a fully mature, complex eighth grader in this first book!

    Nina - The first one wasn't amazing, but I'm still looking forward to the next several books. And glad you enjoyed Rhode below:)

    Savy - I loved Vlad's POV too, it was fun to read about a pair of teenage boys for a change:)

    Tina - wrote you an email, but yes, definitely appropriate for a middle schooler! If she read the Mortal Instruments, she'll be fine with this one, I would say it's tamer than those books for sure.

    Madigan - Agreed. This first one does read a little young, but I think it was meant to and I'm guessing there will be more maturity and added depth as they go on:)

    Avery - You're welcome, I'll let you know what I think of the next few books in the series and maybe that will help with the decision making:)

  11. I've heard so many great things about the Vladimir Tod series, but have yet to read them. I'm trying to get more into male POVs, and I'd to compare guy vs. girl friendships, so it's good to hear this book explores that.

    Great review Jenny. Even if the story had you wishing for a bit more, the humor sounds fun.

  12. This is a great review. I feel like I have a really good grasp on the book now. I wonder if the character depth will improve in later installments.

    I like how authors are trying paranormal issues with normal teen issues. I think it's a nice way to give teens books they can relate to without the book coming across too preachy or after school special "You're normal and it's ok!"

  13. The title is dead on: 8th Grade did indeed BITE LOL! Actually I know a few middle shoolers that I am going to gift this too :) I love that books are out there to get the younger generation reading!

  14. I've heard of this book, but I wasn't sure what I thought of it. I think I skipped over it because it takes place when the Vald is in the 8th grade. I do enjoy things like that normally, but lately I've been pushing toward older YA and Adult. I think I'll give this one a chance though. Thanks for the honest review!

    In the Closet With a Bibliophile

  15. Like Alison, I have been meaning to star this series. It was very popular at the middle school where I student taught last year. It's nice to have a paranormal book that boys can read without being embarassed.

  16. Glad you liked the first book and the rest of the series does get better - each book is a little longer than the last and you get to know the characters better. I have read them all and enjoyed them. Thanks for the great review!

  17. Missie - I really like the male POV in this book, Vlad and Henry are hilarious, I'm sure they'll just get more amusing as they get older:)

    Small - Thank you! And I agree, I like mixing normal teen problems with a little paranormal element, I always gravitate toward those stories:)

    Felicia - This is a great book for middle schoolers, and I'm hearing in the comments that they get better as they go, so the next 4 should be fun to read:)

    Jen - You're welcome! Even though this first one was a little superficial, I'm still going to pick up the next ones:)

    Rummanah - So true!

    Scoot - I'm sure it does, I noticed that the books seem to get thicker as they go, so I figured things get more complex and interesting:)

  18. I've been eyeing this for awhile and need to finally pick them up. THanks for the review.
    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  19. I hadn't heard anything specific about this series other than "it's good" so I really appreciate your review. I think it would bug me that things were just left without cause or resolution, but hopefully the rest of the series gets better. I might give this one a try.

  20. Awesome review, Jenny! This is one of those series that always manages to catch my eye whenever I stop in the book store, but I hadn't heard much about it so I wasn't sure it was going to be worth the investment.

    After reading this, I think I'm def gonna give it a try although the character dev. is a little bit lacking. From what I've seen there are quite a few books in this series right now so hopefully Vladimir will have taken on some considerable depth throughout the rest of the novels!

  21. I can't decide if I want to read this series or not. It might be a bit too young for me, but I may give it a whirl :) Lovely review!

  22. Brandi - I had been seeing them everywhere too and I thought I just need to get on the train and see what it was all about:)

    Melissa - The books keep getting longer, so I'm sure things get more in depth and more complicated as they go which I think will be nice:)

    Carissa - Thank you! I think there are 5 books, grades 8-12, so I'm looking forward to getting more involved with Vlad in the next 4:)

    Tara - Thanks! This first one reads a little young, but he's only in 8th grade, so I'm thinking there will be some maturing as he matures:)

  23. I have not read any of these books - I think I missed them when they were all coming out. Thanks for highlighting the first one - I like to be in the loop :)

  24. Great review, Jenny! I was sent this one for review a while back, but I thought it might be a little young for my tastes. However, I might pick it up sometime. It sounds a little bit different from all the other vampire stuff out there! :)

  25. Great review Jenny! I recently bought the whole series and cant wait to read it! =D

  26. Linds - I like to be in the loop too and I kept seeing these everywhere so I thought I should give them a try:)

    Leanna - Thanks! It is a bit young, but I still enjoyed it and look forward to the next ones:)

    Larissa - Thank you, I look forward to seeing what you think!

  27. This one was in the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble, so I picked it up a while back for a couple of bucks. I'm excited to read it, especially since there aren't a whole lot of male protagonists in the YA department. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  28. This one sounds like a fun book! I was not interested in the book until now. It sounds different from the other vampire novels.