First Love Kinda Sucks in Whitney Gardner’s Fantastic ‘Fake Blood’
When I first saw the cover of Whitney Gardner’s Fake Blood I assumed this was some coming-of-age meta take on being a teenage vampire. The reality is so much better. Fake Blood is a charming, awkward, funny look at first love in middle school and trying to figure out how to make a girl like you. And, you know, how to handle things when that girl thinks you’re a blood-sucking member of the undead.
In Fake Blood, sixth grade starts out pretty much like every other school year. This is a disappointment because his summer was already a disappointment. It doesn’t help that he’s in love with a girl that he’s sure don’t even know he exists. A girl who, by the way, seems to be the nerdy type who is in love with heart throb vampire boys from popular teen romances.
That doesn’t exactly turn out to be the case. It turns out that Nia, the girl he likes, doesn’t actually like vampires…. she want to slay them. So, basically, AJ goes all out and makes her think he’s a vampire by using fake blood, pretending to have an aversion to sunlight, and all that only to find out she really does want him.
She wants him dead.
Meanwhile there’s a very real vampiric mystery going on in the background that both them almost miss entirely. As well as the usual middle school shenanigans you’d expect from a book that’s dedicated to ‘the shy kids and the slayers.’ It’s great. It was – for me – quite nostalgic. And I think it’d be a lot of fun for middle grade readers who can appreciate the humor of the girl you like actually wanting to kill you.
Whitney Gardner’s art style is just right for the target audience who have likely cut their teeth on Raina Telgemeier’s books and similar graphic novels. The panels are generally bright and colorful which is a great contrast to the vampiric themes. The character designs are fantastic and really capture the characters’ personalities. From Hunter with his missing front teeth to wanna-be slayer Nia to the enigmatic teacher, Niles, and, of course, AJ himself, all of the characters look and feel just as you’d imagine them.
I loved Fake Blood. It was a really great read for me even as an adult because I could see so much of my nerdy, middle school self in the characters. (I could also see my nerdy sixth grader in them, too, which probably made me laugh all the more at times!) Fake Blood has spectacular crossover appeal for both young and adult readers – especially those adults who grew up in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer heydays and still laugh about sparkly vampires.
Definitely check it out!