A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a book about sexually-transmitted vampirism -- but the author keeps a light touch on the gore and sex. There are some fights, hitting, scratching, chases with rats, a battle with a giant worm, references to cannibalism -- but it's all gritty fantasy. Cal is a geeky and sardonic narrator. From his story, readers get a gentle message about safe sex, and will learn a lot from alternating chapters in which the author gives the reader a crash course in real-life parasitology.
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What's the story?
Two days after arriving in New York for college, Cal loses his virginity to a girl who picks him up. From this encounter Cal picks up an STD, but this is an unusual one: it turns its victims into "peeps" -- parasite positives -- raving cannibalistic monsters with unusual strength, night vision, heightened senses, and an affinity with rats (you may know them as vampires). Cal himself turns out to be immune, but he's a carrier -- he gets the strength and senses without the nasty side effects. But before he knows it, he has infected others. Cal is recruited by the Night Watch, a secret government organization that has existed for centuries to contain the disease and its victims. His first assignment is to capture all the girls he's infected. But soon Cal realizes that there is more going on than he has been told: the disease is changing in response to mysterious forces from under the earth that are waking up after centuries of slumber.
Is it any good?
Hilariously gruesome and wittily revolting, this book is a sheer delight for anyone who isn't completely creeped out by it. Cal explains how he became infected with a virus that causes vampirism -- and becomes a vampire, or peep, hunter. In alternating chapters, he gives the reader a crash course in real-life parasitology, much like Melville did with whaling, but a lot more entertainingly. In fact these real, scientific chapters (there's even an author's note and bibliography) are, in many ways, more horrifying than the story. Together they provide an action-packed thrill ride that's highly educational, deeply creepy, and drolly disgusting.
What's even better, author Scott Westerfeld has found something utterly new and original to do with an old genre. He even has Cal explain how those old legends got started. And, oddly enough for a book about sexually-transmitted vampirism, the author keeps a light touch on the gore and sex -- there's quite a bit less than in most teen horror novels. He simply doesn't need them to keep the pages turning because he's got a sardonic teen narrator who's a biology geek and an action hero. It's a potent combination: hormones, humor, horror, science, superheroes, education, and romance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about vampire novels. How does this one differ from other vampire stories that you know? Why do you think vampire stories are so popular right now? Why do they appeal to you?
What do you think about the chapters about parasites? Why do you think the author chose to include these lessons? Do they detract from the book -- or add another level of intrigue?
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