Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side: Brain candy for teen girls

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBeth Fantaskey YA fantasy book reviews Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark SideJessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side is a fun piece of brain candy for teen girls. Imagine the “girl finds out she’s a long-lost princess” fantasy combined with the “girl finds out she’s the destined true love of a hot vampire guy” fantasy, and you’ve pretty much got the gist. I enjoyed the novel while reading it, but I think I’d have liked it better when I was in the target audience, and there were some aspects that really troubled me. (See below.)

Fans of the Twilight series are bound to love this, and I actually liked Beth Fantaskey‘s book better in many ways. I liked Jessica’s initial resistance to Lucius. She has an independent streak that was gratifying to this reader. I also enjoyed Fantaskey’s sense of humor; Lucius’s letters home are particularly hilarious. The climax and ending, reminiscent of a Beauty and the Beast tale, moved me more than I expected them to.

What didn’t work for me were Jessica’s and Lucius’ secondary romances. Jessica’s subplot with her human boyfriend isn’t developed enough. The boy is so absent from the story that it’s easy to forget he’s supposed to be dating Jessica, and then it jars whenever someone comments about their being an item. By contrast, Lucius’ other relationship is so prominent that it seems to eclipse what’s going on between Lucius and Jessica. Lucius is a huge jerk about this, treating both girls badly. I think Fantaskey made this sequence so maddening on purpose, so that Jessica (and the reader along with her) comes to believe she’s lost Lucius for good. I got spitting mad at Lucius on Jessica’s behalf. So I have to say this plotline successfully yanks the reader’s chain, but it doesn’t do much to endear Lucius to us, or to keep us rooting for Lucius and Jessica as a romantic couple.

I also have qualms about the way female vampires develop their fangs in Fantaskey’s universe, and in fact, this aspect disturbs me more every time I think about it. A female vampire has to be bitten by a male vampire before her fangs will emerge. The “meaning” of fang development is a little vague; it seems like the girl is not through with vampire “puberty” until the teeth have come in, but linking that to a bite from the male (and vampire bites are depicted as very sexual) makes it seem more like a loss of virginity. This confusion of metaphors results in the reader getting the sense that a female vampire can’t “grow up” until she loses her vampire “virginity.” To me, this is a really creepy idea that unfortunately overshadows what was a generally pleasant reading experience.

Jessica — (2009-2012) Young adult. Publisher: The undead can really screw up your senior year… Marrying a vampire definitely doesn’t fit into Jessica Packwood’s senior year “get-a-life’ plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth–and he’s her long-lost fiancé. Armed with newfound confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess. But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war — and save Lucius’s soul from eternal destruction.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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