House of Night book 1
P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
1 out of 5 Bacon Strips
In a world where vampirism - oh, excuse me, vampyrism - is brought on by hormonal changes in the teen years, budding vampyres (yes, seriously) are "marked" with a forehead tattoo just as they begin the change, and brought to the House of Night where they'll learn about vampyre society, history, and be given a safe place in which to undergo the Change.
Zoey Redbird has been Marked at the beginning of Marked, to the horror of her friends and family. Only her grandmother, a Cherokee wise woman (God, I wish I were kidding) seems unsurprised and, better?, delighted that Zoey has proven to be special. She helps Zoey escape her mother and stepfather and takes her to House of Night to begin her education.
So, yeah. This is Harry Potter meets bloodsuckers, another variation on the hero origin myth. Zoey doesn't fit in anywhere, and then finds out she's not only a vampyre, but she's a super-awesome vampyre with powers no one's seen in centuries. Pretty standard stuff, and none of that is my objection to this novel. Wanting to find out you're someone else - someone powerful and special - is a standard teenage wish, and there's a reason such stories keep popping up, generation after generation. And I applaud the Casts for taking it on, and for giving the vampire mythos a new spin (but not for spelling it with a y. Seriously.).
But they should just have titled it "Fatties, Sluts, and Fags Need Not Apply".
We get fat hatred from the first chapter, when on page 2 - TWO, y'all! - Zoey complains about her erstwhile boyfriend getting fat from his incipient drinking problem. Yeah. Because that should be the main concern when a 16-year-old is always drunk. That he might ruin his abs. Nice priorities.
It continues to the House of Night, where the faculty provide healthy foods for the dorm kitchens, because "you don't see fat vamps." Yet the kitchens are full of sodas and sugary cereals, so - Yeah, I don't get it, either.
And of course, all the students are svelte and attractive, even before they start the Change. Except, of course, for the one kid who's not doing well, and who will end up dead before the book is over. He's "chubby", and lazy, and no one likes him. Shocker!
But you know, I really can get past a certain amount of fat hate. I mean, I do live in the world, and I know that not everyone has yet realized that it's just a moral panic. So, fine.
What really appalled me was seeing the antagonists referred to consistently as "sluts" and "hos". The Casts do touch on teenage sexuality, and bully for that, but I can honestly say I preferred Twilight's chaste avoidance over Marked's relentless sex-negativity. Zoey first runs into nemesis Aphrodite when Zoey stumbles upon her giving a blow job to the boy who turns out to be Zoey's new boyfriend.
Yeah. Aphrodite. Blow job. Boyfriend-stealing.
And maybe these are the issues that teens deal with today. I haven't been in high school for 15 years, now, so I don't know if people are really having oral sex in hallways. I do know that girls denigrated each other with "fat slut" way back then, and it's sad to realize nothing has changed. It's sad to realize that I may have to throw my daughter to these sexist, sizeist wolves in a few years, and I hope that the positivity of our family will be enough to counteract those attitudes. I certainly won't be giving her books like these to read, that's for damn sure. Slut-shaming is treated as if it's not only perfectly normal, but laudable. Zoey is, after all, our hero, and Aphrodite is the bad guy. Slut as shorthand for evil is always lazy writing, but it's especially egregious in a Young Adult novel, in my opinion. Teens are mighty impressionable, and having such bad behaviour reinforced in a favorite novel does them a grave disservice.
As for the token gay, they make a point of telling us that he's not one of those swishy gays. He's just a nice guy who happens to be gay! Hey, I can say fag! Some of my best friends are gay! Amiright or what?!
Good thing he's kind of butch, because we all know those swishy gays have fatties for hags. And what's a fag without his hag?
Look, I'm not a PC person. I rarely notice when things are offensive - so if I've noticed, it's really offensive. This is so very troubling in a book for teenagers, I'm not sure I can even express the depth of my disappointment. Impressionable young people do not need an example like this.
On the other hand: The writing is competent, even though there were some glaring grammatical errors (Effect instead of Affect; can not instead of cannot), but I can't tell who made those errors, so I come out on the side of decent writing. The dialogue was very realistic, and the first-person narrative did really give me a sense that Zoey is a good person - she just needs a little more guidance, and maybe a comeuppance by a fat slut.
I don't think I'll be picking up any more of this series, and I would definitely say it's inappropriate for its target audience, unless you're going to use it to start a conversation about slut-shaming, fat-shaming, and how vile teenage girls can be (even the nice ones).
Next week: Nothing But Trouble, by Rachel Gibson