Book: Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker
Age/Genre: YA Paranormal Fiction
Reading Accoutrements- Candles, A Smoke Machine, Anything for a Spooky Ambiance
Content Notes: The stories illustrate the effects of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and other prejudices and biases.
I had a bit of a struggle deciding what to read for my last October book this year. I’ve had Doctor Sleep in my pocket for over a year, so that was a given, but I didn’t really have any other horror or supernatural books on my docket. I briefly considered reading one of the free kindle books I’ve recently “purchased”, but the most interesting one had some title discrepancies that didn’t scream “quality” and I really felt like reading something that didn’t frustrate me too much.
And then my recent quarantine-online-impulse-buy habit made the decision for me. I had pre-ordered a YA short story collection that I found on Twitter. The day it arrived in the mail, I knew that this was the perfect book to read in the bath and experience some fun spooky escapism.
Vampires Never Get Old is a collection of young adult vampire-themed short stories by various authors. Before I get into the stories, I just want to say, I love almost everything about how this collection is put together, starting with the title. I love how the title functions as a statement about vampires as both a mythological creature and a story genre. All the authors’ names are listed on the cover, which I wish more anthologies would do. The introduction makes it clear that the self-proclaimed “editrixes” wanted to focus on stories that subverted common tropes, and put vampires in communities and scenarios that we don’t often see them in. These aren’t all set in European villages or suburban white communities, and the characters don’t fall into little heteronormative gender-binary boxes. Each piece is followed by a short essay discussing the author’s strategy to reimagining common tropes of vampire mythology. The author bios at the end of the book highlight the writers’ backgrounds and works, and of course, share each author’s favorite vampire.
As usual, I’m pulling out a few of my faves to discuss in this review. I wholeheartedly recommend checking out the entire collection though, as it was really hard to pick just a couple. I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers, because I absolutely recommend you read these stories for yourself.
The Boys from Blood River by Rebecca Roanhorse is a boyhood coming of age story with a lot of dark twists. Our protagonist is a bullied teenager who latches on to a story about the town’s gruesome history. He uses this fantasy as a form of escapism, but when the fantasy starts to come to life, he realizes that the price may not be worth paying. This story is set in a diner, prominently features a jukebox, and has a lovely creepy aesthetic.
The Boy and the Bell by Heidi Heilig follows a young student who resorts to grave digging for human parts for medical experiments. This story uses the idea of bells on graves for people mistakenly buried alive, and asks “but what if the ringer had actually died?” I really liked this story because it shows a trans character in a time (1899) when there certainly were trans people, but little public understanding or acceptance of gender nonconformity.
In Kind by Kayla Whaley opens with the obituary of a chronically ill, wheelchair-bound girl, Grace, who was murdered by her father. He was not charged in her death because it was seen as a mercy killing due to her disability. We see the girl turned into a vampire after her father leaves but before she actually dies. I was nervous about how this story would handle Grace being “healthier” in death, but I found it to be very nuanced and thoughtful. I love how she takes agency, and how she reacts to changes and lack of change in her abilities and identity. The story does a great job of showing how society overlooks and devalues disabled people, without trying to paint disability as a monolith.
Bestiary by Laura Ruby might be my favorite story in terms of setting. It takes place in a near-future with invasive technology and rich people exploiting natural resources at the expense of the lower classes. Yes, this is fiction. I really liked this take on a runaway teen with an activist streak.
Mirrors, Windows, and Selfies by Mark Oshiro takes the form of a tumblr-style diary of a vampire teen, Cisco, complete with comments from readers who think it’s a creative writing project. Cisco is the son of vampires, who aren’t supposed to be able to procreate. He has lived his whole secluded life on the run with his parents, in order to protect him from other vampires, who fear what he is. He is extremely lonely and often looks for ways to connect with the world and other people in it. If you love emo-angst, this story is for you.
I loved the variety in these stories. They all follow teenagers, but otherwise, the characters and settings are very diverse. The stories take place in different time periods and places, with characters of different races, genders, sexual orientations, and life experiences. Most of these stories deal with trauma of some sort (after all, many of these characters are undead youths), as well as issues of consent, high school infatuation, best friends, and other issues both fun and serious.
I plan on looking up most of these authors to see what else they’ve published. First Kill reads like the first chapter of a larger work. House of the Black Sapphires seems like a much larger story, that was condensed down to fit the short story format. I’d love to read a novel or series showing these characters and setting, which I didn’t cover in this review: a family of young immortal women in a supernatural New Orleans.
If you’re looking for something fun and refreshing for Halloween, I highly recommend Vampires Never get Old.