Eighth Grade Bites, by Heather Brewer. New York: Speak, 2008. 182 pp. ISBN 9780142411872
Middle school is challenging enough when you've got to make sure to eat blood each day at lunch without the other kids knowing. Throw in a teacher's disappearance and the arrival of a frankly creepy substitute, and you're in for one interesting year...
Vlad's an eighth grader who deals with the usual bullies, friend issues, and romantic crushes of middle school, but also is quite unique: he is half vampire. Vlad's late father had earlier broken the vampire code when he revealed his vampire status to his love and married and had a child with her. The couple subsequently fled to the town of Bathory, but soon died in a mysterious fire. Now, odd things are beginning to happen in Vlad's life, including a teacher disappearing and an odd substitute teacher with an interest in supernatural beings taking his place. When it begins to appear that the substitute may know something about Vlad's secret, Vlad decides he must try to learn something about his past and take action. (This book is the first of the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series.)
This is an engaging story which works for several different reasons. On one hand, it's just a great school story about a young teen, Vlad, who feels like somewhat of a nobody on campus and is picked on, and longs for a girl whom he believes likes his best friend. Vlad's got a wry sense of humor about things and is often reflective about life and himself. But the novel is also paced very well, and a wonderful suspense builds about what may have happened to Vlad's former English teacher and the mystery concerning the motivations of the substitute teacher with his odd/intriguing demeanor and assignments. Some nice twists at the conclusion and Brewer's overall handling of how a teen vampire would live amongst non-vampire peers, deal with the need to consume blood, etc., is creative. The goriness in some of the scenes may be a controversial aspect to some, but it is much lighter than that in horror fiction in general.
HOW THIS BOOK HELPS
I think this is a great book to recommend to any teen, but especially those who appear to be on the outside of the social scene, are being bullied, or just have unique qualities which may make them feel different from others. The novel has a main character to draw strength from and is a great page-turner at the same time.
WHY I CHOSE TO READ IT
One of my fellow library assistants who has good taste in books had read it and really enjoyed it.