At my childhood library, the librarians – perhaps in a kind acknowledgment of their patrons’ only recently acquired literacy – painstakingly pasted thumb-sized hieroglyphic labels to the spine of each young-adult novel, indicating the book’s basic subject matter. A rough approximation of a horse’s head promised an equine adventure. Romances were marked with plump hearts, Westerns with cowboy hats, and mysteries with magnifying glasses.
But, as best as I can recall, there never was a sticker with bloody fangs signifying a flesh-tingling drama of the undead.
Young-adult bookshelves today, however, are lousy with vampire heroines, most of them modeled after the bloodsuckers who populated the WB’s Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Move over, Nancy Drew (or, on second thought, don’t: There’s a vampress here eager to sink her teeth into your lithe girl-detective neck).
Kaila Gant, a sophomore at Enka High, recently made her foray into the world of teen vampire lit with her self-published story Silent Nights: The Deathless Ones, billed as the first novel in a series. Gant, a 15-year-old Buffy devotee, wrote the book on behalf of the show’s maligned vampires who always seemed to be getting the short end of the stake.
“I liked the vampires more,” Gant says. “I thought, ‘Why do people make them so evil if they were changed against their will?’”
Gant showed them with Kira Rivera, the likable accidental teen vampire who narrates Gant’s 123-page book. Kira, a moody middle child who isn’t keen on school or her older brother, is transformed after interceding to rescue her best friend from a classmate’s vampiric clutches. A reluctant inductee into the undead fraternity, Kira tries to grapple with the exigencies of her new status while staying atop her schoolwork and obeying her curfew.
Our heroine finally reveals her conundrum to her parents, who are on the verge of freaking out: “I let my anger over this situation sweep my body. I know the sensation of becoming a vampire. I know I have changed. ‘Here is the true me,’ I whisper harshly. Mom glances back to look at me. She screams, rushing Cory and Kristina in the living room. They both gasp for air. Dad turns around to see what the uproar was about. He stands in shock … I cup my hands around my ears. The voices still permeate, though. ‘Slaughter, it is your life, the shedding of scarlet is your fulfillment.’”
Gant began Silent Nights when she was 13. She started writing in a notebook until an inevitable hand cramp forced her to type her manuscript. Her mother persuaded her to submit it to AuthorHouse, an Indianapolis-based self-publishing operation.
“People always act surprised that I’m 15 and wrote a book,” Gant says. “I always say it’s not hard if you have determination and a good story line.”
Gant has already completed the second installment of Silent Nights, in which the vampires confront a pack of elves – “kind of like Lord of the Rings elves, but not exactly,” she explains – and a twisted adventure ensues.
Twisted and dark are, in fact, hallmarks of modern young-adult literature. Once reliably sunny – for generations, even serious teenage troubles like heartbreak and loss could be dispatched with advice from the right adult – new YA novels aren’t shy about mucking about in anger, disillusionment and angst.
“It used to be adults were writing what they thought kids should like,” says Beth Yoke, executive director of Young Adult Library Services Association, the fastest-growing division of the American Library Association. “Now they’re writing what they know kids will like.”
While plenty of schlock has emerged from the dark side, Yoke says YALSA has singled out a number of vampire novels for praise, including Annette Klause’s The Silver Kiss, named a Popular Paperback in 1999. But Yoke confesses some ambivalence over luring teens into libraries by spotlighting books thick with gore, calling The Silver Kiss a “gateway book.”
“It’s not that libraries are trying to push trash on teens, but it’s a tap dance,” she admits.
While Yoke doesn’t know of any statistics documenting the teenage thirst for vampire books, she feels demand is on the rise. “There seem to be more YA-specific vampire books,” she says.
Locally, Pack Memorial Library librarian Ken Miller hasn’t noticed an upsurge in vampire interest among his patrons, but he concedes that teenage readers can be as stealthy as nightwalkers. “They haven’t requested vampire books, but teens don’t really request books that much,” he says, wondering if teens prefer not to approach the information desk.
So it’s up to the experts to uncover why teens are so enamored of the undead. Joseph DeMarco, a young-adult librarian in Philadelphia and creator of a series of novels starring Grif Lupo, gay P.I., has written a number of articles examining the trend. DeMarco’s best guess is that vampiredom isn’t all that different from adolescence: bodily changes, uncontrollable lust (and anxiety surrounding it) and feeling like an outsider would all make for good topics at a teen-vampire social hour. Like vampires, DeMarco argues, teens fear not death but life.
Gant, for her part, doesn’t subscribe to such sophisticated literary theories: “I just love daydreaming,” she says. “I’m proud of what I wrote.”
Contributing writer Hanna Miller lives in Asheville.
Kaila Gant will sign copies of her book, Silent Nights: The Deathless Ones, at Barnes & Noble (89 S. Tunnel Road) on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m. 296-9330.