Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. HarperTeen, 2012. Currently Available.
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Speculative Fiction
Face Value: This cover is cheesy, and conforms to a fair number of stereotypes, but it also sort of feels like it’s in on the joke. From the font to the standard love pose (populated though, not by the two men vying for Mel’s affection, but by the lovesick Francis and Cathy), this cover winks at the joke while still appreciating the genre – much like the book itself.
That said, I still took the book jacket off when I read it in public.
Does it Break the Slate? Totally. This book succeeds both on the character level (Mel, with her sassy attitude and self-determination is absolutely a Slatebreaker) and on a larger commentary level, as it takes to task some of the less Slatebreaking elements in – ahem – some of the more popular vampire fiction out there.
Who would we give it to? What’s great about this book is that it’s going to appeal to both sides of a crowd – the vampire-lovers and the vampire-haters. Those suffering from eye-rolling vampire fatigue will laugh out loud at the way Larbalestier and Brennan skewer the more annoying tropes of the genre but vampire devotees will still find a vampire story here, that plays by the rules and gives them something to latch on to. Plus it’s laugh-out-loud funny.
Review: Team Human takes place in an alternative contemporary United States, a world in which vampires have always been part of our history. Things have become less contentious in recent decades though, and anti-discrimination laws and regulation have meant that vampires and humans can coexist relatively peacefully. That doesn’t mean they like each other though. Mel lives in New Whitby, a town that was originally founded as a safe haven for vampires, but she has absolutely no patience for them. Her best friend finds them fascinating though, and when Cathy falls in love with Francis, (the new vampire at their high school, obviously), Mel makes it her mission to stop Cathy from getting into something stupid.
I don’t have to tell anybody reading this blog that vampires have been oversaturating the YA fiction market for several years now. And by vampires, let’s be real, we mostly mean Twilight. Because vampires have actually been a staple of fiction for centuries (take Dracula, for example). And while every new narrative adds its own bit of mythology (like David Boreanaz or sparkling torsos), there are enough familiar tropes to the genre that it is ripe for a good skewering. Some of my favorite jokes include
“’A vampire who wants to go to high school?’ I said. ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.’”
“I know, vampire isn’t technically a profession. But seriously, you should see the ones around here. They’re pros at it. Being a vampire is their job. Vampires have long-term investments, of course. And modeling careers. The camera loves Ludmilla von Doesn’t Need Airbrushing. That’s part of what I think makes vampires so boring. Once you’re a vampire you don’t ever need to be anything else.”
“’In some states, you can’t transition until you’re twenty-one,’ Dad said. ‘I think that’s fair, myself. Why should you be able to drink blood before you can drink alcohol?’
‘They’d never pass something like that in Maine,’ Mom said, rolling her eyes. ‘Not in the vampire state.’”
But don’t think that Team Human is all parody either. It’s a story in its own right, and it adds its own piece to the vampire genre. There’s something hilarious and also totally brilliant about the way vampirism is regulated in this alternate reality, from the age limits on transitioning to the antidiscrimination legislation measures requiring sun-blocking smoked glass in all public buildings. It feels weirdly, normal – the fact that vampires don’t have to be secretive and they’re part of the public landscape means that there have to be answers to all of these open ended questions through blood banks and special therapists who deal with vampire transitions. The mundaneness of it all might be my favorite part. It means that the satire-based humor is a supplement to a totally engaging story about great characters. Mel, in particular, is a terrific protagonist – smart and sharp and loyal. She loves her friends, and she stands by her principles. But she’s also flawed, and stubborn and tactless. Neither she nor her friends are blank slates for a mythology to be written on – they are multifaceted characters in a unique story. Cathy and Francis can be a little boring in their lovesickness, but honestly? It isn’t their story. And Mel is hero enough for the whole book.
The book ultimately comes down to an issue of personal choice. In this world of regulated vampirism, where becoming a vampire is simply one option in a world of major life choices, Mel has to figure out that she doesn’t actually have the right to make choices for her friends, even if she thinks they’re bad ones. She also gets to be kind of a hero. And while I rejoice in the choice to make this book a standalone story, there’s a part of me that would have been just as excited about a sequel.
Reviewed from copy borrowed from my friend Kathleen. Thanks Kathleen!