Author: Adam Rex
Genre: YA – Paranormal
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication date: July 27 2010
Hardcover: 336 pages
Doug Lee is undead quite by accident—attacked by a desperate vampire, he finds himself cursed with being fat and fifteen forever. When he has no luck finding some goth chick with a vampire fetish, he resorts to sucking the blood of cows under cover of the night. But it’s just not the same.
Then he meets the new Indian exchange student and falls for her—hard. Yeah, he wants to bite her, but he also wants to prove himself to her. But like the laws of life, love, and high school, the laws of vampire existence are complicated—it’s not as easy as studying Dracula. Especially when the star of Vampire Hunters is hot on your trail in an attempt to boost ratings.…
Leave it to Adam Rex to create a thought-provoking novel that takes on teen angst, sexuality, identity, love, and undeath in ways that break it out of the genre.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did we get this book: We both got signed ARCs at BEA
Why did we read this book: Because the cover looks awesome, the blurb sounded hilarious – and it didn’t hurt that the author was pretty nice in person too.
First Thoughts and Impressions:
Ana: First of all, I need to get something off my chest: the cover, the blurb of this book are completely misleading. This book is far from being the breezy comedic novel that it promises to be. Having said that, what IS this book? A mess. It starts out well enough, with a sympathetic protagonist then it is downhill soon enough once same protagonist turns out to be a complete, unrepentant douchebag. I carried on and ended up with the feeling that I either read the most craptastic book ever or a very brilliant one. After a few days letting it sink in, I fall somewhere in between – I do think the book has brilliant ideas but the execution is very flawed and in the end, I did not enjoy reading it, at all.
Thea: I think I have to disagree with Ana on this one! At least, in my opinion of the book, if not with the interpretation of its content. Yes, Fat Vampire is not some breezy comedic romp following an overweight vampire boy in his search for love, though the cover and synopsis speak to that angle. But as I read the book, I found myself entertained and rather intrigued with Adam Rex’s choices with the direction of the novel. This is much more of a black comedy; a character study, following a protagonist that is neither a hero nor a victim. He’s a selfish, flawed, unlikable character (yes, even a douchebag, as Ana says above)…but I kinda like that Adam Rex goes there. This is a bold, intriguing book – and I gotta say, I liked it.
On the plot:
Ana: 15 year old Doug Lee has been accidently bitten by a vampire which means that he will be stuck as a teenager – and a fat, unattractive one – forever. If that wasn’t enough, Doug can’t quite get the being a vampire thing right: does he get to transform into bats? If so, how exactly does one do that? Then, there is the feeding part of it and Doug has been drinking mostly from cows so far until the gets the first taste of human blood. Meanwhile, a new exchange student arrives from India. Senjal has The Google an addiction to the Internet that caused a tragic incident back home and something that she wants to put past her in this new life in America. Add to that a TV show called Vampire Hunters, whose anchor is bent on finding a real vampire and you have the plot of Fat Vampire.
What strikes me the most about Fat Vampire is how the book doesn’t seem to have a driving plot. Things happen seemly at random and some of the plotlines appear and disappear throughout the novel. I am never sure about the worldbuilding (as Thea will tell you below) or about the characters (but I guess that was the whole point). To me, it reads as though the story is an excuse to make a point and the point seems to be: being a vampire is not all that is cracked up to be. Imagine being stuck looking like a teenager forever and one that doesn’t even look good. It seems to make fun of the majority of the current paranormal YA where vampires are eternally beautiful and hot. It definitely points out to something else as well: feeding, drinking blood from humans – how does that affect a person? These points are definitely part of what could be described as being brilliant – coupled that with the ending and the book could have been great if it wasn’t for the sloppy writing and the horrible characters.
Thea: From a pure plotting perspective, Fat Vampire is somewhat lacking (and I think this is my main criticism of the book). It’s been a month since Doug has been turned into a vampire, and the book follows Doug as he gets used to the vampire lifestyle (the pros and cons of feeding from animals versus humans), his changing friendships, his vampire mentors, and as he tries to avoid the team of reality tv vampire killers. Fat Vampire has a minor mystery element mixed with a dash of suspense as the reality tv guys close in on Doug, but these plotting elements aren’t particularly developed (or even convincing). The mystery in particular is pathetically transparent, and there are a number of elements strewn haphazardly throughout the book that are of absolutely no significance (werewolves? “The Google”?). But that’s not really what Fat Vampire is all about. This is much more of a book about characters – ugly characters, mind you, but characters nonetheless.
If the plotting left something to be desired, the same could be said for Mr. Rex’s writing. Clearly, this author has a great knack for characterization (more on that in a bit) and has a great dark comedic perspective…but Fat Vampire left me wanting in the storytelling and world-defining department. The alternating points of view were a little messy, and the suspense of the reality tv vamp hunters insignificant and, well, boring. The thing that irked me the most, however, was how ill-defined supernatural creatures and their place in this world was. Doug is a vampire, and there are other vampires present, but it’s never really clear if this is some parallel universe where everyone knows vampires (and werewolves too – a completely extraneous race of supernatural creature thrown in the mix for no discernible purpose) exist, or if Doug’s world is more like our own (i.e. we know what vampires are, but they don’t exist). The presence of a “reality” tv show about vampires seems to suggest that folks in this book do accept the existence of vamps as common knowledge, but the reactions of the human characters speak to the contrary.
That said – I think the climactic final scene is BRILLIANT, as is the ending. Brilliant…It’s just a shame that it was so awkward getting to that point.
On the characters:
Thea: Ahh, here is where Fat Vampire pulls its weight (sorry, lame pun). As I said above, this book is much more of a character piece. The voices for each of the characters are beautifully detailed and distinct; there are point of view shifts in the book, but they never are confusing – because Sejal’s voice and thought process sounds completely different from Doug’s. But, while I loved Sejal’s flowy cadence and descriptions, really, the book is all about Doug.
“I think…I think sometimes you think you’re the hero of the story, and sometimes you think you’re the victim,” said the voice. “But you’re not either.”
As Ana will tell you, protagonist Doug is not the nicest dude. In fact, he’s kind of a huge doucher – a terrible friend, homophobic, self-entitled, and utterly, ridiculously, self-absorbed. But the thing is…we all have known people like this. Doug’s selfishness, whether it be result of a physiologically underdeveloped region of the brain or simple psychology, rings true. His inner narrative, his justifications for the way he behaves – his decision to compliment people to make himself look better, for example – make sense and fall in line with his calculating character. More believable than anything else, Doug manages to convince himself that his justifications are infallible (with someone this ego-centric, the possibility of being wrong never crosses his mind).
But the even more interesting and thought-provoking questions is: how much of what transpires (Doug’s behavior and choices, etc) in the book is because he’s a selfish, flawed human, and how much is it because he’s a vampire? Certainly, Doug’s attitude and his decisions change over the course of the book – indeed, early in the novel there seems to be some redeemable spark to Doug (for example, when he honestly admits to his best friend Jay that he’s sorry he’s not a better friend). But as the book continues and Doug’s vampirism becomes more intense and ingrained, Doug’s actions rapidly head downhill. What I love here is the ambiguity – and the metaphor of what vampirism could mean for humanity. Are vampires – or any supernatural creatures – truly the evil, soulless monsters of paranormal lore? Or are they simply flawed human creatures with superhuman abilities? If one had the ability to hypnotize others, drink their blood and become preternaturally strong and nearly immortal, wouldn’t they abuse these powers? Is that evil…or human nature? Does Doug try to justify his actions BECAUSE he thinks himself a monster? With Doug and mentor Stephan as reference points, this is a very, very interesting quandary.
That’s the stuff of classic horror, dudes. And, intentional or accidental, I loved how Fat Vampire poses these subconscious questions by virtue of its characters.
Ana: This quote is quite possibly the most important quote of the entire book, and it happens right in the first few pages too:
“I think…I think sometimes you think you’re the hero of the story, and sometimes you think you’re the victim,” said the voice. “But you’re not either.”
I didn’t pay enough attention to it and I wonder if I had, if my reading of the book would have been different.
Because, friendly readers, this book was hard to read. At first, I actually really liked Doug and his struggle with being a vampire and a teen at the same time. But little by little, things change to worse – just like Thea points out. The more Doug reveals himself, the less I like him and I felt myself lost – isn’t he supposed to be the hero of this piece? (see what I mean, where paying attention to that quote would have helped me?). At one point, I felt like throwing the book against a wall and that was when Doug’s homophobia became too much to bear:
He didn’t think he really had much of an opinion about gay people. He didn’t know why. Except maybe Ophelia, now. If anything, he was possibly a little sick of them. They were always popping up in shows and movies and in books he read. They used to be comic relief, but at some point it was like you weren’t allowed to laugh anymore, and the gay characters were Very Serious. Their whole character would be about them being gay, and how serious and unfunny and also completely normal it was. In each new book, especially there seemed to be one or two. Like the author wanted to prove what an open-minded, big-tent guy he was.
I actually had to stop reading and breathe in and out. It helps that then I read an interview with the author in which he says:
I did sort of write a treatise on douchebaggery.
Yes, he did. The point then as a reader, is to decide how this information impacts on your reading. I get what Thea says about the horror, for example and the subconscious questions this book asks and I agree with her. Those are all good.
This is also about characters being flawed and realistic because let’s face it, the world is full of homophobic, selfish douchebags. But the decision I make, as a reader is this: at the end of the day I just don’t feel like reading about them. This is very much a personal, subjective reaction to the book and I am clear about that.
I did love Sejal though – her keen observation of America, her openness to try different things (even possibly sexual experimentation with same sex characters) , her guilt about what The Google caused her. She was a fabulous counterpoint to Doug and perhaps even the real hero of the piece.
Final Thoughts, Observation and Rating:
Ana: Objectively speaking, there is something about Fat Vampire which makes it sort of good, in a very weird way, in spite of lacklustre plotting and unlikeable main character. Subjectively speaking, I didn’t like it, didn’t enjoy reading it for most part.
Thea: Maybe this book won’t appeal to everyone – especially for folks that want a traditional story, with traditional heroes and villains. And objectively, the weak plotting and world-building do not do Fat Vampire any favors. But, there’s a BUT! The awesome ending, the strength of the characters (whether you like them or not is irrelevant) and the questions that the book poses are so tantalizing that I can’t help but be pleased overall. I recommend Fat Vampire, but only for the informed reader that doesn’t mind the douchebagery and lackluster plotting.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
My Dork Embrace
DOUG SAID, “Hi,” and the girl turned. The perfect girl with red hair and a nearly empty cup of yellow beer turned and looked at him. He tried to relax his eyes, take all of her in at once—the blue belly shirt, the bottomless cleavage—without appearing to ogle. He didn’t know her or practically anyone else at the party. She didn’t know him. She wouldn’t have any reason not to talk to him.
She found a reason. Look—it was all there on her face. She’d seen through his disguise—the hair gel, the too-tight shirt from Apparel Conspiracy. He was a completely surprising form of life, something that should not be at a party, shouldn’t be addressing her. A gorilla maybe, frantically signing Koko want kitten. Koko want kitten.
“What?” she said. Not superinviting.
“Hey. I’m Doug.”
She seemed hesitant to give her name, like she might get it back with gunk on it. But then, “Carrie. My friend’s coming right back.”
“That’s . . . cool. So what school do you go to?” he asked. Not that he knew any schools in San Diego.
“Garfield,” said the girl, but as she did so she arched her neck to look over his shoulder. Her long, soft, beautiful neck. Koko want kitten.
“It’s . . . kind of crowded in here,” said Doug. “Don’t you think? You want to go outside? Get some fresh air?”
“I’m waiting for my friend,” said the girl. And then her whole posture relaxed, and a sudden brightness in her eyes told Doug that she’d just seen this friend, the friend was close, like the friend had just pressed the button on her key chain that made the headlights flash and the locks pop.
“Just for a second,” said Doug. “Really quick. I want to show you something.”
“No, it’s not like . . . Just trust me . . . Come outside . . . It’s totally amazing . . .”
The friend was back. The friend was right there, and Doug heard himself say, “I’m a vampire.”
Both girls stared at him for an airless moment, possibly deciding how they were going to take this. Funny or Scary? Funny or Scary?
“A creature of the night,” Doug continued. “Cursed like Cain to wander—”
“Aren’t you a little fat for a vampire?” asked the friend.
Funny it is, then. Doug sighed. “I guess.”
You can read the full excerpt, along with the first 70 pages of the text, online HERE using HarperTeen’s awesome Browse Inside feature.
Additional Thoughts Check out the official book trailer:
Ana: 5 – take it or leave it
Thea: 6 – Good, Recommend with Reservations
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