Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side
Young adult fantasy
February 1, 2009
The young adult genre is fairly bursting at the seams these days and it’s great to see it. I read a lot as a child and then as a young adult, but somehow I don’t remember these kinds of books being available for my particular YA generation. Is it just me, or are young adult books far more daring today? Of course, it’s all about the maturity level of the young person reading, and I think that some can handle the more daring books available nowadays. What I liked about Fantaskey’s debut though is it felt and read like just the right compromise: adult enough to satisfy a young reader’s craving for adulthood, but also innocent enough to not raise parental brows in umbrage.
Jessica Packwood is your average American teenage girl. She’s got school, hobbies and a potential love interest. Her parents may be a little south of normal, and the school bully can’t even remember her name, but overall Jessica’s got it pretty good. Until a stranger comes to town, one who seems to whisper words that aren’t even spoken, one who engenders a sense of knowing within her. An otherness that feels too familiar. That stranger is Lucius Vladescu, a handsome young man from Romania. Suddenly, Jess’s parents are acting weirder than usual and Lucius has these ridiculous notions that border in the insane. Vampires? Is he for real? He seems to think so when he gives her a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health and Emotions – and he claims she’s to be his bride. Suddenly life has become a little less than ordinary and Jessica doesn’t have much time to figure out if that’s a good thing or not.
Right off the bat, Jessica’s Guide is a funny and engaging book. Jess is a great protagonist; keen on normalcy to the point of ostrich head-in-the-sand, yet who can blame her. She clings to her American life like a security blanket and it’s no wonder when it comes to Lucius. He’s very enigmatic and, a lot of the time, very, very intense. He may look like a young man about her age, but his mannerisms and otherworldliness say otherwise. I wanted to knock Lucius a new one many a time as he pursues Jessica, as he sees what is his duty to his race and family. Such pursuits don’t often consider the feelings of the pursued. By the time Jessica fully comes to an understanding of her heritage – because it’s not just Lucius’ magnetism she has to get used to – it’s almost too late to break through to the dogged vampire. Resigned eventually to the futility of his situation, Lucius comes to a realization that will possibly affect Jessica in ways he hadn’t foreseen. Is it too late to find a common ground? Will an American teenager come vampire princess find her destiny and live up to its huge expectations? Can Jessica manage to pierce the heart of a dangerous vampire?
It’s these kinds of questions that shape the progress of the book. At first the book’s atmosphere is a bit dark while Jess sorts through initial meetings with Lucius. It quickly enters a more lighthearted atmosphere though filled with humorous dialogue and veined with these really great letters from Lucius to his uncle, the leader of their clan. The letters come in handy as this is a first person narrative from Jess’ POV. I think we get a great impression of him through her impressions, but those letters were a genius way to enable the reader to have a first-hand impression of Lucius from him too. A smart move, as he’s an excellent character. It would’ve been a shame not to get his POV at all, especially when he begins his slide into a darker Lucius.
Jessica’s refusal to see what was right in front of her in terms of the whole vampire scenario did a get a bit old at times (and I think this was due to the fact that I wanted things to move onto some sort of action or plot advancement, when in reality that stuff had to happen before anything else could). However, if one considers the time frame, approximately one school year, which isn’t a full year per say, then her needing so much time does make sense. I felt pretty bad for her situation and felt that she actually dealt believably with the vampire issue as a result. Understanding of such far out issues wouldn’t conceivably happen over night, or in a few weeks or even a few months. Lucius wasn’t just asking her to embrace her vampire destiny even though he didn’t seem to realize it. Jessica also had to give up everything she’d always known. Not an easy task for a young girl of seventeen on the cusp of adulthood.
As I alluded to above, I think this is a safe and good book for young adults. There is only ever the mention of the word sex, and there is definitely attraction between the hero and heroine, but I would have no qualms about my one-day-to-be fourteen to sixteen year old reading this. Not only that, but it was very entertaining for this adult. The plot isn’t overly complex, but the characters add a richness to it that is not to be missed. Ms. Fantaskey’s writing skills are plain to see, as in good. As her contact page on her website indicates, interest is high for a sequel, which I too would love to see as we’re left with a good resolution, but one I’d love to see expanded on. At the moment she’s working on another supernatural romance, but I’ll still hold out hopes that she and her publisher can come to a happy conclusion on more Jess and Lucius.
For those that love a forbidden love type story, a tormented and honorable hero and witty prose, or may be considering a foray into the young adult fantasy world, this is the book for you. Highly recommended.
Rating: Four and a Half Scoops
To find out more about the author, check out her website. Also, stay tuned tomorrow for an interview with Ms. Fantaskey and a giveaway!