By Casey Wilson
When you start a novel that aims to tease and parody the spate of YA vampire novels on the shelves these days, you don’t expect it to make you cry. I don’t, at least. And yet, that’s exactly what happened with Team Human, the recently released novel co-written by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan.
Mel lives in New Whitby, a town in Maine founded by vampires. But she doesn’t really know any vampires, because humans and vampires usually keep to their own parts of town. That all changes the day a vampire shows up at their high school – as must happen, in any good vampire romance. The twist here, such as it is, is that Mel wants nothing to do with him – it’s her best friend Cathy, quiet and studious, who falls hard for the gallant vampire named Francis.
What follows is a story in which Mel must confront her prejudices, unravel a mystery, and figure out what brought Francis to their school, all while trying to convince Cathy that dating a vampire is, like, a totally bad idea. Brennan and Larbalestier write with affection for their genre; when a chapter title refers to the irresistible allure of a vampire in the lunch room, it’s clear that they mock because they love. And it probably does help to be a reader who shares that love when encountering Team Human. While I think that the novel would be enjoyable even to those that usually avoid vampire fiction, having a familiarity with the tropes of the genre will certainly make the humor shine brighter.
And there is a lot of humor to be found in the novel. Brennan’s The Demon’s Lexicon and the subsequent books in the trilogy are among the funniest books I’ve encountered in recent years, and that humor comes out to play here, too. Kit, a human boy raised by vampires whom Mel eventually meets, is always good for a one-liner, and if you’re at all like me, that will make him one of the most interesting and engaging characters in the book. For reasons explained in the novel, the vampires of Team Human don’t laugh, which gives extra weight to the jokes Kit loves to tell. It’s a lovely way to force characters – and readers – to confront the question of just how much laughter means to us. Could eternity be worth it, if that’s the cost?
Which brings me back to the tears that I mentioned at the start of this post. This is not, by any definition, a sad novel. But while I sometimes wished that we had a little more time with Mel and Cathy to truly experience the depth of their friendship before the vampire interloper showed up, on the day I read the book, I found that the choices each girl makes at the end of the novel hit me in an unexpectedly real way. All the jokes and satire that bring the book to life fade into the background, and we’re left with a story of real friendship. Which is, I suspect, what the authors were after all along.
Consider me Team Team Human.
Casey is a PhD student who will teach “Writing About the YA Bestseller” in the fall.