Once Bitten

Do you know what makes me feel old? Vampire books.

Betcha didn’t see that coming. Truth is, neither did I.

A few weeks ago, I walked into Borders and started browsing. I made my way through the “New and Noteworthy” paperbacks, beyond The New York Times bestsellers, and past the 3-for-2 sale table. But nothing was calling my name.

I ended up wandering into the back where the YA/Teen section lives, realizing I hadn’t done that for a while. You see, my love for teen fiction runs almost as deep as my love for my own offspring. And it’s been around a lot longer.

But it’s hard to be completely faithful, you know. I’m a very busy person, and I can’t make room in my life for everyone all the time.

I swear, I only turned my back on it for a moment. A few months, at the very most.

And now I’m feeling guilty. Because, based on what I witnessed in Borders, it appears that I have been paying too much attention to my young children and not enough time to my first love. In the short time that I have been away from her, my teenager fiction has grown angry and dark.

In bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble, the brightly-covered “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” series and tartan-plaid and striped “Clique” titles have been shelved, along with anything else that might be considered “too cute” to teens. Instead, Goth-like paper candelabras hang theatrically over a huge new section of tables and displays promoting all things…vampire.

Almost every book in the section has a black cover (or blackish purple, or purplish black, give or take a touch of midnight blue) and uses what I can only describe as vampire font (something Vlad the Impaler and Dracula might choose were they to email each other). The craze started by Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” has picked up speed at an alarming rate. The proliferation of teenage vampire serials is bloody frightening.

To begin, there’s the Christopher Pike “Thirst” series, promoting “Human urges. Fatal consequences.” There’s Richelle Mead’s “Vampire Academy” (five books in all, so far), “The House of Night” novels by Kristin and PC Cast, and Smith’s “The Vampire Diaries.” In Alyson Noel’s “Immortals” series, it appears that the main characters are not vampires themselves, but I have a feeling they run into some, since they have “traveled through countless past lives – and fought off the world’s darkest enemies – so they could be together forever.”

Isn’t that sweet?

My personal favorite is “Intertwined” by Gena Showalter. The cover art is cool, and just check out this blurb: “Most sixteen-year-olds have friends. Aden Stone has four human souls living inside him. One can time-travel. One can raise the dead. One can tell the future. And one can possess another human.” I mean, talk about over-scheduling your teenager! Really. Someone has to tell this guy that he doesn’t have to be all things to all people. These days, I hear The Ivy League is looking for kids who excel at one thing.

Like just being a vampire.

Moving on.

As far as I can tell, there are at least six “Vampire Kisses” novels by Ellen Schreiber, who used to write fun, peppy things like “Teenage Mermaid” and “Comedy Girl” before realizing that what teens want these days are not fishy teens or funny teens but dead and/or possessed and/or ghost teens. So she wisely jumped on the bandwagon and is probably making a lot more money by doing so, if you don’t mind me saying.

In short, vampires are to teens what Chick Lit was to housewives a few years ago: an overnight publishing sensation.

I’m totally and completely out of the loop on this phenomenon. It’s not like I didn’t know about the “Twilight” series, it’s just that I sooooo didn’t care. I read the first 250 pages of “Twilight” and put it down, much to the (vocal and somewhat hostile) displeasure of my 6th grade students (and even some of my grown-up friends). Team Jacob or Team Edward? Whatever. And that’s the part that makes me feel disconnected, because I just don’t care about these vampire books, nor about the vampire blockbuster movies that spin off them, nor about the teens that become famous for playing vampires and werewolves in these movies.

Which brings me to “People” magazine.

Who are these supposedly-famous people in “People?”

I even asked my husband, Brett, if he could identify anyone in the latest issue. We had flipped through half of it without recognizing a single face.

“I recognize him,” Brett pointed with satisfaction.

“Yeah, but…” I began.

“What? He counts.”

“That’s the president.” I said. “Of the United States.”

“He’s in the magazine and I recognize him.” He smiled. “I passed your little test.”

“Ugh!” I groaned, turning the page and seeing fangs.

“What?”

“There are even werewolves in “People” magazine!”

“What do people see in such creatures?” Brett wondered, adding, “I wonder if the Obamas let their daughters read those types of books and see the “Twilight” movies.”

Good questions, actually.

Ones that I was now on the verge of calling them to ask. Right there from the teen section of Borders. With all these vampires staring at me, canines exposed.

Until I saw it. On the display shelf.

VC Andrews’ “Flowers in the Attic.”

Amidst the new millennium’s immortals and other, dark netherwordly creatures, there was a repackaged, black-covered homage to my youth. Hands trembling, I picked it up to find that it was actually the complete, 5-book Dollanganger series, including “Petals on the Wind” and “If There Be Thorns.”

The first of these books, published in 1979, was so popular that it shot to the top of the bestseller’s list in only 2 weeks and remained there for almost 4 months. So much pressure was put on the author to meet demands for a sequel that the publication date for the second was pushed up by several months. These books caused a stir. They were a teen sensation.

There was even a movie version, back when I knew who the people in “People” magazine were.

I loved theses gothic horror novels.

They made my heart beat fast.

As I sat there on the floor of the YA section in Borders, clutching one of my favorite teen series of all time, the world became whole again. Because, it turns out that I’m not out of touch with what’s hip and cool with teens. I just experienced it already, three decades ago, with a different sort of hero and heroine and a different sort of forbidden love.

Remember getting swept up like that?

Let’s hope that every teen experiences that sensation, of reading something so exciting, so fundamentally nourishing in its content that she cannot tear herself away. For a few stolen moments, the real world becomes less important than the world inside those pages.

Teenaged vampires. Huh.

It’s a trend I can really sink my teeth into after all.

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