ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are a rare bird that I only discovered existed about a year ago when I finished my student teaching and made friends with a librarian. Usually ARCs are sent out to large companies or other authors to garner discussion about a book before they come out. Rarely do people outside of the publishing industry get hold of these things. Unless you know where to look. Especially if you're a teacher.
Holly Black has been one of my go-to's when I want to show a skeptical reader that current YA is much more mature, intellectual, and not only for tweens any more. Her novels are always highly aware, poetical in nature, gritty, emotional, and rife with deep characters whose skin I can always crawl under.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a novel born out of a short story. In Tana's world, vampires exist and they aren't the things of romance novels. People infected by the bite of a vampire become Cold, and either suffer the agonizing pains of hunger until they drink human blood and turn, or sweat out the virus for almost three months before possibly surviving. Vampires, and their groupies are sent to live in "Coldtowns," or giant vampire towns where every debaucherous thing you could think of is possible. These places are romanticized by not only people but also the media and serve as a delicate holding ground for a world where humans are no longer the top predator.
Tana is a girl drawn into this mess through party gone terribly awry. In an attempt to save her ex-boyfriend (not your typical ex, btw, Aiden is impulsive, bisexual, and much deeper than expected) from the disease he's infected with, Tana drags along a teenage vampire with way more beneath the surface than even I expected. Gavriel has to be one of my favorite vampire characters of all time because he is the scary side of vampirism while still being completely off-kilter and terribly real.
Each relationship in this story has a depth that truly holds the book together and the drive of each character bends the plot into a constant flow of action and decision. There are times when even Tana doesn't know why she does the things she does and I like that. It's real. Sometimes an action has so many layers that it's impossible to give a name to why something happens or you choose to go this way instead of that.
What's So Great About It?
I have always loved vampire stories and the diversity with which so many writers display them. So when I see new books about vampires I am always eager to see what new spin the writer has on the tale.
Sometimes I'm disappointed, in this case, it was completely the opposite.
Holly Black's vampires are seen by the people of her world as the romantic ideal that many authors portray them as. They're beautiful, sexy, and flaunt the idea of immortality as if wearing a new pair of Coach sunglasses. I find this fascinating because it mirrors "reality." Well, as in most aspects of reality, all that sparkles isn't necessarily Edward Cullen. These vampires are real, not something you'd want to meet in an alley, and come from the idea that maybe as humans we all carry inside us the capacity to be truly and horribly despicable if given the right opportunity. It's this forray into the question of "what makes of human" that will always grab me and swallow me whole in a novel. The idea of "who am I, really" is the big question that I think plagues most people very acutely between the ages of 14-17 and what makes the combination of this as a YA novel a marriage made in angst.
Psychologically, there is so much depth in this story that I could spend most of my day squeeing over every aspect; characters, story, setting, society. You name it, there's serious thought behind it. Perhaps my favorite is the psychological breakdown of a certain main character who is an amazing example of mental instability while still having poetry and beauty to who they are. This is where Holly Black thrives, in the sanity behind the chaos.
It's also in this chaos where Tana thrives as a main character. It's really refreshing to see a character who isn't caught up in the glamour of it all and is the driving forces behind the question of "Why?!" behind everyone. It's through Tana's eyes that the reader sees the true horror behind what everyone else sees as fantastical, and it's a wake-up call that I've read very few times in YA or even in this genre. It's an amazing thing for an author to put their reader in a position where they feel like the only sane person in the room. It's also insanely magical and mind-blowing when it's done so well.
ps. If you are squeamish, I suggest you bring your skip-over-some-parts glasses, but I wouldn't expect anything less from HB. I've always loved the macabre and gothic feel that always emanates from the pages of her novels.
p.s.s. Yes, there is romance. No, it's no the main plot of the book. Yes, it's steamy, grounded, and refreshing in this genre. It's also the reason I am hoping Holly Black writes some adult novels sometime. Whew. I had to calm down a few times.
Why This Book?
It's Holly Black.
If you've had the opportunity to read any of her Modern Faerie Tales novels it won't take much convincing for me to get you to grab hold of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown the second it hits shelves in September. I will admit, HB's books do have a certain taste to them and if you don't find books that are rather dark and edgy at their core, there might be something about this that rubs you the wrong way.
However, if you're looking for a really engaging new twist on the vampire genre that's intelligent, grounded, and a swift moving ride through strength during inexplicably horror, pick up this book. You will not be disappointed.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown gets a 5/5 stars for it's realistic insight into a genre that often times gets stale and it's realism when it comes to romanticizing dangerous things. I would definitely recommend it for the use in a classroom library, but it should probably be kept in a high school. More mature middle grade readers might be okay with it, but I think high school students are the key audience for this and will be deeply drawn in.