Welcome to Sharing Our Snacks, in which Tessa and I each recommend YA brain food that they think the other would enjoy crunching and munching! Since T lives in Pittsburgh and I live in Philadelphia, we can no longer share an enormous middle-of-the-night bag of potato chips and tin of onion dip from Turkey Hill like we used to, so we had to find another way to share. You can recommend books to us, too—contact us!
A Review of Thirsty by M.T. Anderson
By REBECCA, February 20, 2012
Chris: Vaguely Dissatisfied Teen Protagonist Awkwardly Turning Into a Vampire
Rebecca Schwartz: Crush, On a Pedestal
Tom: Douchebag Old Friend
Jerk: Poignantly Stupid and Loyal Old Friend
Paul: Chris’ Brother, Film Enthusiast
Mom & Dad: Chris’ Parents, Preoccupied and Concerned By Turns
Self-Proclaimed Avatar of the Forces of Light, aka Chet: Mysterious Stranger
Lolli Chasuble: Hilarious
Tch’muchgar: Vampire Lord and All-Around Bummer
Various and Sundry Children of the Melancholy One: Vampires
Chris is turning into a vampire in a totally non-romantic way while he is also forced to be that most curséd of all beings, a teenager.
There may be vampires, but Thirsty’s world is not a fantasy in which goodness is repaid with goodness. In fact, being a good guy doesn’t count for anything. Or, in other words: realism.
When Tessa recommended Thirsty to me, she feared that her intense love for M.T. Anderson might prevent her from being objective, and wondered how I thought it stacked up against other vampire novels. I began reading Thirsty with this in mind, but soon decided that I didn’t think it belonged in comparison with vampire novels at all. The majority of vampire novels break down into categories based on perspective. Historically, vampires were portrayed as an outside threat (Bram Stoker’s Dracula); then, in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, stories are told from the perspectives of the vampires themselves. Most recently, the trend has been to view vampires from the perspective of one or two lucky initiates who are privy to their world (Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, Annette Kurtis Klaus’ The Silver Kiss) or for vampirism to be a well-known fact to which only our narrator and a few other characters are sympathetic (L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series).
While Thirsty is also set in a world where vampirism is a well-known (and much-maligned) fact, this is no romance in which Chris’ emerging vampirism is seen as sexy or cool, nor is it an adventure in which he will flee his repressive circumstances to find a vampire community that will accept him. Instead, the entirety of Thirsty is set in the space of Chris’ transformation into a vampire, and this is totally horrifying. In fact, what Thirsty most reminded me of was the film District 9, which dealt with the similar revulsion of turning into something alien that you have no control over. That, then, is the heart of the novel. The main action, indeed, occurs because Chris is willing to do anything in an attempt to reverse his transformation. Throughout, he is alternately bored with his friends and his life or terrified of himself and what he might do. Reading Thirsty, Anderson succeeded in making me feel similarly claustrophobic and squirmy.
But the real prize for me is Anderson’s writing. Tessa tells me, “The way that he writes people’s inner monologues could be seen as unrealistic… but on the other hand I feel like the mix of deadpan dispassion and earnest obsession that creeps through it is kind of authentic.” I couldn’t agree more. Anderson’s prose is extremely flexible, ranging from lyrical description to amusing juxtaposition of the banal and the unexpected. This means that Thirsty shifts facilely from scenes of funny social drama to moments of poignant reflection to periods of grotesque desperation. You will thank me for a few examples:
Check out this gorgeousness:
“The leaves are so fragile, an infant green, they look almost frightened when they first cluster at the joints and elbows of the trees in the yard” (126).
And this hilarity in a letter from Lolli Chasuble:
“P.S. I don’t have a boyfriend right now. There was this guy I had a total crush on at school—he was a complete H-U-N-K-O-R-A-M-A—did I want to get inside his shorts! And he would have been mine, too, except that after the car crash his parents had him C-R-E-M-A-T-E-D!” (63).
And my favorite:
“‘It was a wicked good film,’ says Jerk, ‘but a little bloody. Bloodier than a very bloody thing from the planet Hemorrhage.’” (22).
what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?
I think Thirsty’s intention was to dramatize the all-consuming (literally, in this case) horror of being helpless against a force that you cannot control or understand. In that, it completely succeeds. Although the forces with which Chris contends are preternatural, Thirsty will speak loudly to anyone who has had the experience of thinking boredom was bad only to have it superseded by something worse, of not knowing who to trust, of feeling like their own body was turning against them, of feeling out of control or addicted . . . That is, most everyone.
If Thirsty has one weakness, it is that we are dropped into the middle of a character’s life at a moment when a major change has already begun, leaving Chris’ characterization a bit shallow and not allowing us to see the range of his relationships with the other characters as we might if the story took place over a longer period of time. Overall, though, this lack of deep familiarity with Chris feeds into the intense alienation that we experience when reading about his transformation into a vampire.
It doesn’t take much to convince me to meditate on the total horror of becoming alienated from oneself. It does, however, take some fine-ass writing and great secondary characters to make me want to read about it in a high school freshman. Two fangs up.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride (2010). Shares a slapdash approach to coping with the sudden revelation of that our protagonist is not merely human, as well as a keen eye for gruesome hilarity.
Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (1996). Similar use of humor in a self-reflective main character who is going through some shit, from the man who would later bring us Veronica Mars. Mmm, I have to re-read that.
Procured from: the library