Vampires Never Left: A History of Vampires in Young Adult Fiction

With the announcement of Stephenie Meyer’s forthcoming Midnight Sun, vampires are fresh on everyone’s mind. Meyer’s return to her world of sparkling vampires in Forks, Washington takes the YA classic Twilight and reimagines the love story from vampire Edward Cullen’s point of view.

Casual lovers of the genre might say that vampires are back! But to that I would say that vampires never left. Follow me through the journey of YA vampires.

 

What we Talk About When We Talk About Vampires

The vampire in young adult fiction has existed in several incarnations. In my search for things that go bump in the night, the first vampire novels I stumbled on were cautionary tales instead of paranormal romances. Uncle Vampire by Cynthia D. Grant (Random House, 1995), about a girl who develops split-personality disorder because she suspects her uncle is a vampire, kept me up late at night. Not because of the vampires, but because the titular uncle vampire was a metaphor for abuse, and in a horrific plot twist, he was actually sexually abusing the protagonist.

Nearly a decade later, Pete Hautman’s Sweetblood (Simon & Schuster, 2003)warns readers about the dangers of meeting strangers on the internet (even when they claim to be vampires). Goth girl Lucy Szabo makes a case that vampires were actually regular people with untreated diabetes. Pale skin, low blood sugar induced comas, receding gums that might give the appearance of fangs? Here, vampirism is debunked and the threats of the real world and its human predators are exposed.

 

A Good Undead Boyfriend Is Hard To Find

As a 13-year-old Mall goth who couldn’t afford Hot Topic and had recently discovered Silver Ravenwolf’s teen wicca books, I found true understanding in the pages of vampire novels. I’d go to the Queens Public Library on Jamaica Ave and type in supernatural-sounding words in the search bar. Eclipse. Witch. Vampire. That’s how I discovered a staple in the undead canon: the hot undead boyfriend. The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause was my first introduction into the romanticism of vampires. A boy who wants to be with you forever? Yes, you, quiet girl who loves My Chemical Romance and mirrors his eternal loneliness. Those who dismiss teen vampires simply don’t understand the work that is being done. The Silver Kiss (Laurel Leaf Books, 1990) is the story of Zoe, a teenage human girl who helps 300-year-old vampire Simon. While Zoe mourns her deceased mother, Simon seeks revenge for the death of his. There’s stability in someone who can’t die.

The same theme is echoed in L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries (HarperCollins, 1991) where Elena, who has suffered so much loss, finds a form of stability in Stefan, who is difficult to kill. Even if most of their adventures end with her in peril, in the TV show, at least. Demon in My View (Delacorte, 2000) by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes follows Jessica, a writer whose own mysterious vampire character falls for her, while in Vivian Vande Velde’s Companions of the Night (Harcourt, 1995) Kerry is caught in a local war between the enigmatic vampire she saves and the hunters after him.

The ’90s were a golden age for these kinds of stories: Girls searching for someone to answer the darkness within. For adventure. For romance. These novels were largely white, cis, and heteronormative, but they served their purpose. In a way, they laid the groundwork for the stories to come.

 

All That Glitters Is Not Edward Cullen

The sale of Twilight changed the publishing industry in many ways: It’s initial $750,000 sale for the debut trilogy was first of its kind. Compared to the preceding novels that barely cracked 250 pages, its 500 pages made it a YA tome™. Bella Swan is a girl who fell in love with a vampire that craved her blood. By 2010, five years after the first book’s initial publication, the Twilight Saga clocked in over 100 million sales. I still remember the moment I bought this book, in a Barnes & Nobles in Queens, New York because the cover reminded me of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’s Demon in My View. To this day, I can’t quite remember my experience reading it, only that I devoured it in one sitting.

While the Twilight sensation might have eclipsed (no pun intended) other teen vampire novels, there was no shortage of brooding heroes and heroines ready to take on the night. A year after Meyer’s debut the moody and dark vampire romances continued with Melissa De la Cruz’s Blue Bloods series and The Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine. House of Night by P.C. and Kristin Cast, and Vampire Academy by Richelle Meade followed in 2007. Claudia Gray’s Evernight in 2008 and Evermore by Alyson Noël rounded out 2009. In 2011 Sara Beth Durst’s Drink, Slay, Love pitted vampires against their most natural enemy: unicorns. For real. It worked. And then there was Holly Black’s extremely underrated 2013 release, Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which poses the question: who are the real monsters—us or them? Alys Arden’s The Casquette Girls returned the vampire to New Orleans, turning the local lore into an original tale of love and vengeance.

There were more, of course. There will always be more vampire novels. The vampire existed before Twilight and will continue after.

 

Love Song For a Vampire

One thing is for sure, the Young Adult world is in desperate need of a shake-up. The Beautiful (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers 2019) by Renée Ahdieh includes a diverse setting in late 1800s NOLA. The upcoming anthology Vampires Never Get Old (Imprint 2020) edited by Natalie C. Parker and yours truly, offers eleven stories with fresh takes on undead myths from twelve authors. Caleb Roehrig’s The Fell of Dark (Feiwel & Friends 2020) has a boy meets vampire boy meet cute ready for the end of the world. The teen vampire has to keep evolving.

Market fatigue is not the same as the death of a creature, who according to every incarnation of the mythology, cannot die. Vampires live in the fabric of stories mirroring our social anxieties, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a metaphor for foreigners, or Richard Matherson’s I Am Legend where vampirism is a pandemic. As Joss Whedon’s Buffy Summers sang in the fan-favorite musical episode—“Where do we go from here?”

Well. Everywhere.

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