The Awesome: Sex, Blood & Monster Hunters

The Awesome by Eva DarrowsThe Awesome by Eva Darrows

Published: May 26th, 2015
Publisher: Rebellion / Ravenstone
Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy, Monster Hunters
Format: eBook
Length: 352 pages

The Awesome has a fantastic cover. Even though the main character is a monster-hunting teenage girl, she isn’t pictured striking a pose in skin-tight jeans. Instead, we’re treated to a stylized green vampire skull and the title in hot pink graffiti. This cover is by far one of the book’s best assets, and it also does a great job of setting the tone for the book itself: fast, loud and a little punk.

Maggie Cunningham’s mother, Janice, hunts monsters. Janice is fully licensed to hunt, and Maggie is her apprentice-in-training. In fact, monster-hunting is fully above-board and regulated by the government, which means there are rules and requirements before you can take on bigger bounties and tougher monsters. Maggie wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a badass monster hunter, but there’s one problem, and it’s a big one: she’s a virgin.

Turns out vampires can smell a virgin’s blood from across the room, and it sends them into a blood rage. Maggie can’t hunt vampires until she’s “devirginized”, which is actually kind of a challenge because she’s home-schooled and spends most of her time socializing with no-one but her mother and other hunters. The solution? Maggie decides to go to a party with her best (only) friend and find a (hopefully) nice boy to deflower her. This goes about as well as you might imagine, and things only go downhill from there.

The Awesome is raunchy and vulgar from the get-go. The Cunningham women have a very frank approach to their sex lives (not that Maggie is thrilled to know about her mother’s sexual proclivities). That frankness paired with Maggie’s wry sense of humor make the character leap off the page, although she does fall prey to the cliché of identifying herself as “not like other girls” early in the book.

Maggie’s quest to lose her virginity actually ends up being a very original way to approach a romance storyline, and probably aligns way more closely with the sorts of mishaps that plague actual teenagers. Maggie’s fumbling social disasters start off raunchy and end up sweet, which is difficult to do well.

The supernatural aspects of The Awesome are a bit more jumbled, however. The conflict isn’t introduced until reasonably late in the book, and it always feels secondary to Maggie’s romantic entanglements and her relationship with her mother. The result is that the supernatural parts of the book feel a bit undercooked.

Darrows also raises the issue of Maggie’s prejudice against supernatural beings (instilled in her by her mother) but never quite addresses it head-on. Maggie meets vampires and zombies and eventually learns to respect them as people instead of just targets, but it never feels like she has a true eureka moment where she understands the situation in more than black and white terms.

As I was reading, it also occurred to me that the traditional urban fantasy story would probably focus on Maggie’s mother, the monster hunter. Instead, we’re given a peek into the world of someone who wants to get to that place but doesn’t have her shit together.

Tone and characterization are the best parts of The Awesome. The plotting is a little loose, but I’m sure future installments in what I assume is a series will only improve in that area. Darrows sets up a few things that I’m sure she’s planning on paying off in later books, and I’m definitely going to check them out.

REALLY LIKED IT
REALLY LIKED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: Fan for Life

FangirlPublished: September 10th, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre(s): Young Adult, Coming of Age
Format: eBook
Length: 445 pages

Fangirl tells the story of twin sisters Cath and Wren from the start of their freshman year in college. Even though they are going to attend the same school, Wren unexpectedly decides not to room with Cath, throwing her sister for a loop. Wren, it seems, wants to break out and make a life of her own without her sister.

Wren is the outgoing one, easily fitting in at college and making new friends. Cath is painfully introverted, crippled with social anxiety that, among other things, drives her to eat protein bars in her room instead of going to the cafeteria because there are too many people and too many social pitfalls waiting for her there. Cath is too much in her own head, worrying about potential disasters and clinging to her only comfort zone – the world of Simon Snow fandom.

Cath, it seems, spends most of her free time writing Simon Snow fan fiction, but she’s not just any fan writer. In fact, she’s one of the most popular writers in the entire fandom, and she’s best known for her slash depicting a romantic relationship between Snow and his roommate/nemesis, Baz. Cath and Wren started out writing together, but as they got older, Wren stopped collaborating with her sister even as Cath’s star rose in the fan writer community. As the book opens, Cath is deep in the middle of writing her own alternate version of the upcoming eighth and final Simon Snow book.

Cath loves writing about Simon and Baz, loves writing so much that she signs up for a fiction writing class normally reserved for upperclassmen. Anyone who has ever attended a college fiction course can guess what kind of disaster is heading Cath’s way, so deep is she embedded in the world of fan fiction. That said, Fangirl is a thoroughly even-handed depiction of fan writing; Cath clearly writes her Simon Snow stories as an escape from the real world, but it’s also apparent that her prolificacy and storytelling skills only improve thanks to her constant remixing of the Simon Snow universe. Fangirl doesn’t condemn fan fiction, but does point to it as a stepping stone towards learning how to tell your own stories.

At its heart, though, Fangirl is a character study of a girl who I’m sure many socially awkward readers can recognize and identify with. As we slowly learn more about Cath’s relationship with her family members – her bipolar dad, her absentee mother, and her suddenly distant twin – she becomes a fuller and even more powerful character. At first her fears seemed outrageous even as I could imagine myself inside the same kind of toxic mindset; once I came to understand where Cath was coming from, however, the book packed a palpable emotional punch. Her coming of age over the course of her freshman year is both realistic and stirring.

I also loved Fangirl’s depiction of Cath’s burgeoning romantic relationship. The love scenes are tentative and believable, and felt so true to life. Cath’s growth as a person depends on her learning to open up and trust others after experiencing so much heartbreak at a young age. Where so many young adult novels seem to include romance by default, Fangirl makes the romantic storyline crucial to Cath’s development, and the difference is incredibly refreshing.

The highest compliment I can pay this book is that once I sat down and truly devoted myself to reading it, I didn’t stop until I had thoroughly blown past my bedtime by several hours. My sleep schedule is still recovering, but I don’t regret a minute. Rowell is definitely an author to watch.

LOVED IT
LOVED IT

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