Bibliomantic Book Club: “Team Human” by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Release Date
: July 3, 2012
Genre: Young adult fiction, mystery, vampires

SummaryMel’s life was completely normal before Francis showed up. Well, relatively normal. Mel lives in New Whitby, Maine, a city that was founded by vampires. Despite the window regulations (no UV rays, please!) and infrequent visits to the Shade (the vampires’ area of the city), Mel and her human friends steer clear of the undead. But the enrollment of Francis, a gorgeous and overly-chivalrous vamp, into her high school throws Mel’s world off balance. Her bestie Cathy is soon falling for him, making Mel fear she’s losing her closest friend. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Francis’ appearance coincides with strange happenings around the city. Mel plants herself in the middle of the action, fighting to put her life back in place. But as Mel soon finds out, life has a way of fighting our best intentions. As do zombies and vampires.

Hey! Don’t stop short at the premise of this novel. You may be thinking, “a vampire in high school? Teenage girls falling in love with said vampire? Never again!” Seriously – abolish all thoughts of Twilight, ye who enter here. Team Human is a fresh take on the vampire craze. It’s got crime-solving shenanigans, vampire jokes, realistic female friendships (gasp!), and zombies! What more could you want?? Also, would Twilight ever refer to Edward as an “undead love weasel.” Didn’t think so.

STEPHANIE’S THOUGHTS

Team Human! Wooo! I was so excited to get my hands on this book. Surely this was the answer to my Twilight-hating prayers! A girl who was NOT excited her best friend is in love with a vampire? Perf. …. or is it racist? Dun dun dun!

Let’s start with our narrator and vampire/human relationship hater Mel! I did very much enjoy her with the snarking and the loudness – although she was sporty in a way I could not comprehend. You go outside and play until you are sweaty? I stop doing anything immediately if it seems like I might maybe start to sweat a little bit. So I couldn’t entirely relate to her, but she was a fun narrator. Very passionate about her friends and kind of unsure what else to be passionate about – I feel that.

Francis and Cathy had me laughing out loud with their ridiculousness. So much “My darling!” and gazing into each other’s eyes for hours and being the sappiest people on earth. Gag. It was so nice to have Mel to gag along with me! From the very beginning their relationship was just ridiculous in such a hilarious way. Francis is definitely the type of vampire you think of when you think of a vampire lover for a girl with no imagination who reads too many 19th century novels.

As the story progresses, you get to wondering about vampires. It seems they are classified as a different species than humans and naturally have a bunch of crazy powers and a thirst for blood so it makes sense that regular humans would fear them. We learn that vampires live in a different part of town called the Shade and generally keep to themselves. Racist. But on the other hand, they might suck your blood? Question mark? Conflicting feelings! It does seem like Mel gets kind of out control with the prejudice against vampires. Even though they aren’t technically humans – they’re most definitely people. And just like with humans, some will be bad and some will be good and some will be disgustingly romantic and hog your best friend. Although I have to say I was 100% behind her outrage when Cathy seems to be moving MUCH, MUCH too quickly and making some highly questionable decisions. In that particular case, I was totally Team Human. But I guess Team Vampire isn’t really so bad. Unless you have to listen to Francis’ love ballads.

Besides the Cathy/Francis issue Mel is having, there’s another problem. Her friend Anna – whose father supposedly ran away with a vampire without even saying goodbye to her – is suspicious of the circumstances and even more worried about her mother who is acting strangely. This mystery kept me guessing pretty far in – even leading me towards a few theories that were completely wrong. As I mentioned in my White Cat  review – I appreciate a book with just the right amount of clues to help me solve the mystery.

Oh yeah…and then there’s Kit. Our girl Mel gets a love interest too! Who loves laughing and snarky jokes just like her! Love, love, love his cray family and background – super interesting and cool! And love how he grows to become more open-minded just like Mel has to.

What else…oh I know – ZOMBIES! Did you know if you have an unsuccessful vampire transformation you might become a zombie?? COOL. I love zombies. Not that I want any poor sap to turn into one, I just like reading about them so that was a happy surprise to find some in this book too.

The conclusion is extremely emotional. I did really like how everything wrapped up with everyone happy in their own skin and a little bit more understanding of the other side. Overall, a good message of accepting that you can only decide what’s best for you and not for anyone else – even when your best friend wants to date a silly, foppy vampire. A really amusing and entertaining book!

KELLY’S THOUGHTS

Guuuuys – this book. Right there in chapter one, they perfectly encapsulate the feels I feel about vampire books. Mel states, “that’s part of what I think makes vampires so boring. Once you’re a vampire, you don’t need to be anything else.” I was going to love this book, I decided, because it validated my own thoughts on vampire novels. Which is of course a ridiculous and human reaction to things. The sneaky (and wonderful!) authors made me confront this notion over the course of the text. One of the strongest points of the novel was its willingness to poke at our prejudices. Mel is a little bit of a jerk when it comes to vampires, as she sees them as one-dimensional beings. She has to learn that not everything is black or white (or in her case, human or nonhuman). But this pretty serious theme is couched in a thrilling vampire mystery novel with a saucy protagonist and Wuthering Heights jokes.

Just for a second – can I say how much I love the organic feel of the diversity of characters? Mel is “American Born Chinese,” but it does not define her. Her older sister is a lesbian, but it’s not a big deal (because it’s NOT a big deal). Nothing about it felt forced – no characters were made to be something for the sake of diversity. The authors bring up a point I had pondered before. How do vampires change with the mores of the culture? Francis apparently asked some insensitive questions about Ty (an African-American character). I actually wish there had been further exploration of this topic, because I find it so interesting. Francis was so easily scandalized by the forward 21st century girls who wanted to grope his chilly, chiseled body, and this would result in hilarious moments.  But it made me think about how willing vampires are to adapt, or do they just go and hide in the Shade? While there were glimpses into this, I do wish there had been a bit more.

Team Human quickly transcends the premise of Twilight spoof. Even with all the awesome crime-solving shenanigans and vampire-snarking, the heart of the book lies with the very human emotions experienced by Mel. The conflict between Mel and Cathy is something to which we can all relate. Maybe not the “falling for a 200 year old vampire” bit, but the idea of change. Our friends make decisions that we cannot possibly fathom as being the right one, let alone a remotely sane one. But learning to be aware of our prejudices and faults, and accepting of others’, is part of growing up. And it can really suck, but these authors manage to make it truthful, laugh-out loud funny, and poignant.

CASSIE-LA’S THOUGHTS

“Friends don’t let friends date vampires,” in this book that stars a protagonist who would cringe if Twilight existed in her world. Mel is not a fan of vampires, which is especially difficult because her town New Whitby is the vampire capitol of the world. Students can major in Vampire Studies, grow up to be a vampire psychologist or a vampire blood donor. Sadly you cannot be a professional vampire, which ruins all my hopes and dreams. The town itself was founded by vampires escaping persecution, coming over on a ship called the Nightshade. Hence, all vampire groups are referred to as shades, complete with a vampire police division with snazzy uniforms.

Our varied cast of characters include Cathy, who loves vampires and books more than most people. Her best friend and our heroine Mel, the snarky Asian girl who is against Cathy and her vamp love interest Francis. Francis is 100 plus year vampire who has recently rejoined high school to study the human population. Then there’s Anna, whose Mom is the school principal and whose dad ran off with one of his vampire patients. Things get difficult when Cathy decides she wants to start the transition process and become a vampire and Mel falls for Kit, a human boy with some problems of his own.

This novel is fun and effortless, with a rich back story surrounding New Whitby and plenty of humor and sass. We get the cautionary tale of Lily Jane Boothby, a six year old vampire on a mission… TO KILL! Because of her killing sprees, laws were adjusted to put a strict 14 year old age limit on transitioning. Those willing to go through the process need to be approved for licensing and undergo counseling which warns them of various risks associated with becoming a vampire. Including risk of turning into a zombie should the procedure go wrong. Yikes!

Also loved the tidbits pertaining to vampire historical fiction. Particularly, the notion that vampires once assisted in the slave trade with the intent to eat the slaves and the fact that vampires signed the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson himself was rumored to be a vampire. What about Lord Byron!?! Important questions people!

Bonus points for the creative chapter titles: “Two Girls and a Hazmat Suit”, “Kitchen of the Undead”, “Vampire Promenade”, “Caught in a Really Bad Romance”, “My Enemy’s Enemy is My Date”, “Double Date of the Damned” and “Interrogation with the Vampire”. Extra extra bonus points for a new and creative protagonist in YA fiction who borders on being an antagonist. Simultaneously likeable and unlikeable, you can’t help but be drawn to Mel’s snarky persona.

WHAT WE LIKED MOST:
-Realistic girl friendships!
-Francis the Foppy vampire provides for endless sassy jokes
-Fully fleshed out world, with a great alt history premise
-Explored the prejudices we hold without being at all preachy

WHAT WE LIKED LEAST:
-Maybe a further exploration of prejudices held by vampires
-Not enough “undead love weasel” jokes!

In lieu of an August Bibliomantic Book Club, we will be live tweeting and later recapping this year’s Harry Potter convention: LeakyCon in Chicago, Illinois from August 9th through the 12th. Check the LeakyCon category for recaps, or follow @Bibliomantics on Twitter for reports on the nerdiest adventure of the summer! (For slightly drunker con commentary, follow the Bibliomantics individually: @yrchmonger, @MsLoudLibrarian, @pokeymantic, and @loveofstrings.)

Join us in two month’s time when we review our September Bibliomantic Book Club Book: Dearly, Beloved by Lia Habel.

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