Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
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Seventeen-year-old Maggie Cunningham is tough, smart, and sassy. She's also not like other girls her age, but then, who would be when the family business is monster hunting? Combat boots, ratty hooded sweatshirts, and hair worn short so nothing with claws can get a grip, Maggie's concerns in life slant more toward survival than fashion or boys.
Which presents a problem when Maggie's mother informs her that she can't get her journeyman's license for hunting until she loses her virginity. Something about virgin blood turning vampires into pointy rage monsters. Insides being on the outside and all that.
Maggie's battled zombies and goblins and her fair share of house brownies, but finding herself a boy proves a much more daunting task than any monster hunt. Did you know normal girls don't stuff their bras with holy water balloons? Nor do they carry wooden stakes in their waistbands. And they care about things like "matching" and "footwear." Of course, they also can't clean a gun blindfolded, shoot a crossbow, or exorcise ghosts from a house. Which means they're lame and Maggie's not. Because Maggie's awesome. The Awesome, in fact.
Just ask her. She'd be more than happy to tell you.
After she finds herself a date.
Imagine being a 17 year old hunter-in-training, going about your business vanquishing poltergeists, mucking up vampire politics, and getting into other general supernatural hijinks. You know, the usual. Now imagine the one obstacle in your way to becoming a fully fledged hunter: losing your virginity (it turns out vampires go crazy in the presence of virgin blood). This is the dilemma for our heroine, the magnificently irreverent, snarky, and confident Maggie. It’s hard enough to navigate the realms of normal adolescence. Add in several layers of paranormal complications, and many years of homeschooling, and our Maggie finds herself at a disadvantage in swiftly accomplishing this goal.
The conversation in which Maggie’s hunter mom, Janice, informs her of this unique challenge sets the stage for one of the highlights of the story: the beautifully complicated yet loving mother/daughter relationship. The two are close, but have plenty moments of conflict and misunderstanding. It’s a heart tugging relationship and its authenticity leaps off the page.
I have to hand it to Maggie, though: this is a girl on a mission. She knows what she wants and does her very best to go about ridding herself of this pesky virginity thing asap. Attending what appears to be a painfully typical high school party, the sexual encounter that ensues can only be described as the most hilariously bad, true to life, and yet somehow still endearing, portrayals of sex (or lack thereof) I’ve read in any YA novel. Maggie’s conversation with her mom in the aftermath of this disaster affirms the sex positive message of the book. Sex (or lack thereof) is frankly and realistically discussed and there is no shaming. I’m also happy to say that the book goes out of its way make clear that in no way is it following heteronormative prescriptives of virginity.
Before long, Maggie puts her foot in vampire politics and screws up royally. It turns out slaying a vampire master’s cherished offspring is frowned upon. Even if she did go blood-crazy and attacked you repeatedly in public. Yes, turns out those guys will come after you and it is…not the greatest. What follows is a pretty typical, yet thoroughly enjoyable, tale of navigating the messy ins and outs of supernatural politics and how to survive being the hunter-in-training target of an enraged master vampire. It’s good fun, but what sets this book apart is its compellingly funny voice and the authenticity of its strong relationships from family, to friends, to romance.
Along the way, Maggie and Janice encounter a young zombie named Lauren who turns out, rather mysteriously, to be basically a normal human. Except for, you know, the eating brains bit. The friendship that develops between Maggie and Lauren is touching, as is the one with her long time bff Julie. All three girls are very different and it’s wonderful to see how they get along despite the seemingly conflicting differences in personality. All are fully fleshed (I’m so sorry–that’s not a zombie pun, I promise) characters with nuances that show the natural ebb and flow of friendship.
Is there a ship? Yes, of course there is a ship. Adorable and shy Ian is the perfect foil to Maggie’s somewhat brash and outspoken personality. I love that is a brazenly feminist novel that also shows that this doesn’t mean there’s no place for romance. Maggie and Ian’s burgeoning relationship perfectly captures that sort of messy “What even are we?” stage particular in adolescence. And it’s both incredibly sweet and adorably steamy. Even given the disaster of the opening chapters of the book (yes, this is the same boy!). He gets a chance to redeem himself. I hope I get to see more of them and follow the relationship as it deepens if we get a sequel!
I was occasionally grated by Maggie’s voice, much as I loved her. She refers to sex as The Sex nearly every time. I wanted grab her shoulders and say, “Maggie, stop it!” Still, she’s a realistically portrayed character and her loud personality is clearly an occasional cover up for her insecurities. I can’t really begrudge her for being a realistically flawed character. Plus, that’s just all the more room to see her character development in future novels (please let there be more!)
The Awesome treads on familiar urban fantasy territory but brings a fresh, hilarious, and yes, awesome voice to the genre. It’s feminist, it’s fun, and I demand a sequel now please and thank you.