by LJ Smith, fantasy (2010)
Harper, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202458-9
Ah, the classic story of ghoul meets girl. Elena Gilbert, the new girl in town, is mesmerized by the beautiful new boy in town, Stefan Salvatore. He's gorgeous, the perfect antidote for the bored belle of the high school to indulge in. Alas, he's a vampire (not that she knows it at first, of course), Predictably enough, he tries to deny himself of her amorous charms, leading Elena to come up with schemes to make him hers. Meanwhile, some... ahem, thing is attacking folks at night and sucking their blood. Who could that be, hmm?
The Awakening was first published in 1991 along with the next two books in LJ Smith's The Vampire Diaries series, but the books really became big when they made a TV series out of these books from 2009 onwards. I'm reading the 2010 "revised" edition, reissued with a cover that features the lead actors from the TV series, despite the fact that Damon Salvatore's presence here is mostly limited to Stefan's flashback scenes. I have no clue what has been revised in this particular edition, however.
I started out detesting this book. Really, I did: the book had a very rocky start, the writing reminding me too much of insipid young adult books aimed at little girls, and Elena is just weird. She is written as the most popular girl ever, but she keeps weeping early in the story because the pressure of having to dump her hot current boyfriend in order to accommodate her attraction to Stefan is just too much for the poor darling. She is also buckling under the pressure of all those hot guys that she has to beat off with a stick. What an ordeal to go through!
Fortunately, The Awakening becomes an unexpectedly enjoyable guilty pleasure some time after Elena decides to go all out to win Stefan by spreading rumors about him and inventing an imaginary beau to repair her image after being publicly rejected by that wet noodle. Elena turns out to be a fascinating creature. Maybe it's because this book was written in a time when young ladies are allowed to be vain and shallow without being coy, but Elena is unabashedly aware of her beauty and popularity without resorting to false displays of modesty or self-depreciation. In fact, Elena happily manipulates her position at the top of the high school food chain and the way people react to her beauty and charisma in order to pursue Stefan like a world class stalker.
The story is also well-paced and shows a nice balance of more banal high school shenanigans and some genuinely creepy moments. The last few chapters, in fact, are superbly constructed to be teenage melodrama of the finest sort. In many ways, I find myself reacting to this book the same way that I react to some of the more enjoyable early books by VC Andrews: the whole bad melodrama can be so over the top that things become so enjoyable as a result.
The only downside to this story is Stefan. It is as if Ms Smith had decided to adapt Anne Rice's Louis de Pointe du Lac for teenage girls, only to remove what little of that crybaby's likability and spine to present Stefan Salvatore, surely one of the most obnoxiously whiny and wussy wimps to ever bear fangs. He is selfish and self-absorbed, so in many ways, he is a good match for Elena as they can both make out while admiring their reflections in a mirror. But that guy just won't shut up as he blames every single problem, real or imagined, on him. He was warned both by the Dead Girlfriend That Started The Angst and his brother that Stefan was ill-suited to become a vampire, but he insisted that he wanted the Power and... lo, he now spends all his time whining about the Power. Gee, they were right after all! Whines about not wanting to suck human blood, whines endlessly after sucking human blood, complains about falling in love, whining about not being able to win the girl he loves, whining when he wins her love only to realize that he's never going to be rid of his brother in the process - whine, whine, whine. After enduring Stefan's ceaseless moaning about everything, I'd happily pledge my love to Damon if he stakes this pathetic little brat in the heart.
The Awakening can be really painful to slough through, especially when I already harbor plenty of prejudice towards books of this sort. But in the end, I'm glad I read this story. Yes, Stefano is an emo turd that is not fit to grace the rear end of an orangutan, but there is enough campy goodness here to warm my cold heart.
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