Thursday, July 02, 2009

Review: Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side
Beth Fantaskey
2009; Harcourt; 978-0-15-206384-9 (hardcover)

Summary: Jessica is looking forward to a good senior year. Hanging out with her friend Mindy, avoiding the villainous Faith Cross, and maybe getting closer to Jake Zinn: Jessica's got it all planned out. But then, a strange exchange student named Lucius Vladescu arrives, all pale and exotic. And Lucius isn't in America to experience an American high school. He's actually a vampire prince, and he wants Jessica to live up to the terms of a pact signed between their families. Jessica, who knew she was adopted, finds out that she's from a family of vampires, and is now the princess of the Dragomir clan. And if that wasn't bad enough, that pact? It bethrothed Jessica to Lucius. There goes senior year . . .

Two Things to Know about Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

#1: Is it nature or nurture?

When Lucius arrives in her life, Jessica is a typical American teenager: she follows trends even though they don't suit her, is vocal about making her own choices, and disagrees with her parents' lifestyle. Slowly, as she learns more about her heritage and her birth mother, Jessica begins to realize the power she has in being herself, even if it means she's different from everyone else. Indeed, it is her uniqueness that helps give her power. But she still has that sense of herself as Jessica, and still values her freedom. By the end of the novel, it's clear that Jessica is drawing upon her natural talents and her learned behaviors to achieve what she wants.

#2: Vampires don't have to be supernatural.

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side plays with the conventions of vampirism, creating individuals that aren't that different from humans. Lucius and Jessica both are able to control their vampire natures except in times of high emotion or stress, and even then, they remain civilized. It's hard to picture Lucius just ripping open someone's throat. Instead, these vampires seem to be much more tied to the metaphorical roots of the creatures. After all, vampirism has long served as a metaphor for sex and intimacy, a connection that Lucius directly makes: sex is one thing, but sharing blood is the most intimate act between two people. In this way, Fantaskey ups the romance and removes some of the spookiness from vampires. Certainly it seems that Jessica falls for Lucius not because of his vampire nature but because of the romantic, passionate behavior he exhibits.

An enjoyable twist on the cliched vampire romance, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side will definitely appeal to teen readers. The princess in disguise plot is fully explored over the course of the novel, anchored by the likable, believable Jessica. And her vampire suitor is equally realized, thanks in part to the letters he writes that are sprinkled through the text. Supporting characters like Mindy, Faith, and Jessica's parents also get their moment to shine. Moving along at a brisk pace, the novel wraps up the romance between Jessica and Lucius without trying to unnecessarily prolong it. Recommend this romance to any teen left cold by the Twilight frenzy.

1 comment:

Janssen said...

I thought this book was surprisingly good. Nice review.