Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
The Plot: A modern look at vampires; Cal is affected, but as a carrier without any of the symptoms. Which meant he has infected others. And those infected ones are not as lucky as he is; meaning that they change, they hunt, they kill. And it's up to Cal to find them; and stop them. And he also wants to find the woman who infected him.
The Good: One of the best first lines ever: "After a year of hunting, I finally caught up with Sarah. It turned out she'd been hiding in New Jersey, which broke my heart. I mean, Hoboken? Sarah was always head-over-heels in love with Manhattan. . . . No wonder she'd had to leave when the disease took hold of her mind. Peeps always run from the things they used to love."
What's great is that this could be about anything; about any lost love. It just happens to be a lost love infected with a disease that "took hold of her mind"; and yeah, Cal just happens to be the person who gave her that disease. How is that disease passed along? In saliva.
The book begins with Cal finding Sarah, then flashes back to what happened with Cal and with Sarah. It reminded me of the opening scene of Salem's Lot, when Ben finds Susan, and I think it's a deliberate nod to one of the best vampire books, ever.
Westerfeld's take on vampires and vampirism is that it's about parasites; and to prove his point the book contains a lot of real science about parasites. Let me just say: gross, gross, gross. Yet also very fascinating. After reading this book, I almost wanted to move into a bubble... but then came the part in the book about how escaping parasites can also kill you.
In Peeps vampirism, the parasite side effects include the "anathema effect," in that the vampire now despises what it once loved. How cruel is that? And what a great explanation for why crosses repelled vampires.
Scariest vampire quote in the book: "So pretty I just had to eat him."
But before you think this is all horror and gore, it also brings the funny. Cal, meeting a pretty girl that he knows he can never, ever kiss, no matter how much he likes her: "I tried to smile back at her, realizing that my small talk muscles were incredibly rusty, the result of socializing only with people in a secret organization who pretty much only socialized with each other."
An example of the throwaway bits of science that makes you go "ick": "Old cities carry the parasite in their bones, the way chicken pox can live in your spinal column for decades, ready to pop out as horrible blisters in old age."
Along with the science, this is also an old fashioned mystery, as Cal learns more about the parasite; as well as learns more about the people who have sworn to fight it.
Oh, and best. ending. ever.
My final word: Rats. Oh, the rats. Between this and Kiki Strike, maybe I don't want to live in NYC after all.
Links: yes a picture of ME with Scott & his wife Justine Larbalestier. The slayground/ bildungsroman interview with Scott & Justine (yeah, as if I'm on a first name basis. which I'm not.)