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Monday, July 9, 2012

'Team Human' by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Mel and Cathy and Anna have passed vampires on the street, and sat near them in cinemas, but they don't know any. Vampires stick to their own kind, and Mel and her friends hang out with other humans - until a vampire boy in a bizarre sun-proof suit shows up at school and captures Cathy's heart.

Mel is horrified. Can she convince Cathy that life with a vampire is no life at all? Should she? And then all her assumptions about vampires are turned on their head when she meets Kit, a boy who makes her laugh - a boy with a very unusual family history.

Will Mel's staunch anti-vampire stance jeopardise her closest friendships? And where does Kit fit in? In the end, who will choose...Team Human?


Mel Duan and her family support the Vampire Protection Acts, and would never condone the murder of vampires. But that does not mean that Mel supports the idea of her best friend Cathy dating, let alone falling in love, with one of the fanged-freaks!

Living in Maine’s New Whitby, a.k.a. ‘vampire city’, Mel has a better idea than most about how vampires live and behave – never mind that the city is mostly segregated. New Whitby keeps to an unspoken ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality – all government buildings have sun-proof windows and there are strict laws about who can and can’t be bitten – but the city works best because the vampires keep to their side of the town, and vice versa.

So when Mel and Cathy start a new day of school and see a hazmat-suited vampire waddling through their school gates, Mel is wary but Cathy is excited. His name is Francis Duvarney, he has an English accent and a most annoying interest in the human beings who populate Craunston High – and most of the human students (Cathy included) are falling all over themselves at a chance to get to know their first, real-life vampire classmate.

Cathy has an excuse for all of Francis’s social vampire-foibles – like his bordering-on-racist queries about Mel being an ABC (American-born Chinese) and the girl’s best friend Ty (who is African American) – Cathy sweeps it all under the rug, protesting that Francis is assimilating from a very different time period. But the one thing Cathy can’t really fault is their friend, Anna Saunders’s, reaction to Francis joining their friendship group (against Mel’s wishes). Anna’s father is a therapist, helping treat human and vampire patients . . .  that is, until he ran away with one of his female vampire patients last summer. Anna is still reeling from the loss (and her lack of contact with him since) but her mother, Principal Saunders, is struggling even more.

But the final nail in the coffin (pun! – you’re welcome) comes when Francis asks Cathy to be his immortal wife – and offers to turn her. Mel cannot stand the idea of her best friend becoming a sober-faced, blood-drinking fanged freak and does some investigating, discovering some damning information about Francis’s enrolment at their school – and his romance with Cathy. But when Mel confronts him at his shade’s home (a collection of vampires living together is called a shade) she is dismayed to find a teenage boy living there – a boy named Kit who has been raised by the shade of vampires and even calls one of them ‘Mum’.

As Cathy’s turning day creeps ever closer, and Mel gets to know Kit’s very different outlook on vampires she starts to wonder if it’s all so simple as coming down to Team Vampire VS Team Human?

‘Team Human’ is the YA paranormal novel from writing-duo Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Larbalestier being the Australian author of books like ‘Liar’ and ‘How to Ditch Your Fairy’, and Rees Brennan of ‘The Demon's Lexicon Trilogy’ fame.

I had a sneaking suspicion that I would enjoy ‘Team Human’ the moment I perused the Dedications page. Here, Larbalestier and Rees Brennan proclaim that: “Without Team Vampire, the writers whose vampires have inspired and delighted us, ‘Team Human’, would never have been. . . ” and then they proceed to list many of my favourite authors, from Rachel Caine to Charlaine Harris, Richelle Mead and Stephen King (to name a very few). Girls after my own literary-vampiric heart!

Right from page one (after the aforementioned fab Dedication) what instantly drew me into ‘Team Human’ was Mel Duan’s voice. She’s witty and sarcastic, and within the first chapter she has snarked that Francis has the grace of a penguin and accused him of being a cross between Darth Vadar and an astronaut in his sun-proof suit. Oh yeah; a snippy, snarky, sarcastic heroine completely suckered me in – and had me chortling throughout the book. Never mind that I also appreciated the fact that Mel is Chinese (ABC – American-born Chinese) and the beautiful ‘Team Human’ cover breaks the usual hum-drum paranormal YA conventions by featuring an Asian model (really, you have no idea how rare it is to get minority representation on YA covers until you’ve read Michelle Andelman’s graph study on the matter – FYI, Asian characters on front covers was around 1.4% in 2011!)

It’s pretty obvious Larbalestier and Rees Brennan have some serious love for fanged characters – so it came as no surprise that their ‘Team Human’ vampire ‘lore’ was pretty impressive and intricate, and thoroughly interesting. In this world becoming vampire isn’t all about being beautiful for eternity and becoming an all-powerful ass-kicker. In this world, becoming vampire means dulling your emotions, and that’s not even the worst of it. Zombies are in fact vampire turnings gone badly – the product of a poorly done transition (often against someone’s will) leaves them a slobbering, brain-dead flesh-eater and requires immediate termination by the authorities. And as Mel puts it, that’s no real incentive to be turned;

Vampires are trouble. Think about it: these days, all vampire transitions are voluntary. What kind of person would take the risk of becoming a vampire? There’d have to be something wrong with you. Because the process can either kill you outright or turn you into a drooling, mindless monster (which would lead to you being put down almost instantly), or, if you’re super-lucky, you become a vampire.
Let’s examine what a prize that is one more time: no more direct sunlight ever again, no more laughter. You get eternity, but you don’t have the sense of humor to enjoy it! Also, vampires don’t eat food. You never get to eat chocolate. Ever.
I'd rather die.

I also loved that Mel mentions the many PSA (public service announcement) campaigns trying to warn people of the dangers of transition. Like the ‘Say “Not Tonight” to a Bite campaign’. And Mel’s family (while pro-vampire) have some interesting discussions around the dinner table about Cathy wishing to be turned at the age of 17. As Mel’s father says: “why should you be able to drink blood before you can drink alcohol?” in defence of a 21 turning age.

There’s no doubt about it, the vampires and human/vamp societal explorations in ‘Team Human’ are among the best, most interesting I have read.

But the real turning point of the story comes when Mel meets Kit – Francis’s ‘ward’, a human child who has been raised by a shade and calls one of the vampires, ‘Mum’. Kit is Mel’s opposite – where she is decidedly Team Human, he is Team Vampire. And for all that Mel doesn’t really understand vamps (and harbours a few prejudices against them) so too is Kit misinformed about a lot of human conventions. These two were so great together – and pairing them up led to some really interesting explorations into the world-building.

I do sort of wish that Cathy and Francis had been as interesting as Mel and Kit in representing Team Vampire. Admittedly, Cathy and Francis being a little bit dull was indicative of vampire personality and why they were so romantically suited. Still, I would have liked more Cathy/Francis time if only to elevate them out of their two-dimensional characterizations. Though, I will admit, Francis still provided plenty of hoity-toity laughs.

All in all ‘Team Human’ was a fantastic ode-to-vampires paranormal YA book. I do sort of have my fingers crossed that Larbalestier and Rees Brennan team up for another book (either a sequel or something new and different!) because their winning combination in ‘Team Human’ was completely delightful and vampireriffic!

4.5/5

1 comment:

  1. This is such a great review, Danielle! I was a bit hesitant when I heard about this, writing it off as another YA vamp book but your review has made me reconsider, I like the sound of Mel, a witty MC is always a bonus and like you, I like the authors they listed in the dedication!

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