Melissa Francis,
Bite Me!
(HarperTeen, 2009)

As teen dramas go, Bite Me! has nearly all of the basics covered.

AJ is a high school senior with two younger, blond-haired sisters, a boyfriend and two best friends. But her two best friends aren't getting along with each other, and her single mother has just married a single dad with three dark-haired sons -- which sounds on the surface like a rewrite of The Brady Bunch ... if Marcia had been seriously dating Greg before the surprise wedding.

So, yeah., AJ has to squelch her strong feelings for her new brother, Ryan.. She has to deal with Ryan's immediate retreat into a rebound relationship and, when she attempts her own, AJ must fend off an attempted date-rape. Things turn even messier when her would-be assaulter turns up dead later that night.

Oh, and AJ is a vampire. So are her mom and sisters.

Here's where Melissa Francis's book veers off from the norm in teenage vampire fiction. For one thing, AJ and kin aren't dead, or undead -- they are members of an evolved branch of vampires who are alive, have souls, have no qualms with sunlight or religious icons and pretty much never go out and bite people on the neck.

Ah, but AJ did bite the boy who attacked her, and when his body disappears from the morgue, you know things are going to get messy.

Francis's first novel is well written and entertaining, particularly for readers who want something a little new in the fast-growing teen vampire genre. AJ in particular is an interesting character who deserves further development.

The problems here revolve around coincidence and predictability. Coincidences abound, particularly regarding the ready availability of resources when AJ decides to research a vampiric legend as her senior thesis. It turns out her favorite teacher is a closet expert on vampires and has sources of information you wouldn't usually find in your average classroom. Likewise, when AJ draws upon a local used bookseller for help, she not only finds a collection of extremely rare texts, she also happens upon a chest with hidden documents pertaining directly to AJ's situation. Go figure!

The book also suffers from some predictable plot turns. Perhaps they might fall under the radar of younger readers, but I knew early on who would turn out to be the villain, what AJ's stepfamily's big revelation would be and what major thread would be left hanging for the sequel. Similarly, this book has its share of internal problems that would be resolved quickly if only the characters would talk to each other.

Complaints aside, I enjoyed the book and predict Francis will find willing and eager readers among her target audience. Love Sucks, the pending sequel, will hopefully show a little more polish.

review by
Tom Knapp

3 October 2009

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