By Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece
First Second Books
The traditional vampire myth includes a strong whiff of decaying nobility: Dracula was a count, after all, living in a decrepit castle, dressed in velvet capes. Even modern vampires are usually portrayed as wealthy, smart, sophisticated, and European in a 19th century sort of way.
Life Sucks takes a look at the other end of the vampire food chain: Vampires in America, working at crappy jobs in strip malls, tethered to a medieval lord-master system while trapped in the modern world.
Dave, the protagonist of Life Sucks, is a vegetarian vampire—he won’t attack humans for their blood, instead choosing canned plasma or blood-bank leftovers for his nourishment. He works the night shift in a convenience store, whose owner, Radu is his vampire lord; he made the unwitting Dave a vampire on his first day, and now Dave is his slave. There’s a weird but good mix of mythology and modern logic at work here: Having vampires on the night shift is part of Radu’s plan, because they are immortal and therefore can’t be killed when the store is held up.
Dave is a decent guy, and while he accepts his fate a little too readily, he shies away from the darker side of being a vampire—no killing, no biting, no making anyone else his slave. The authors surround him with other, less principled vampires: his opportunistic friend Jerome, obnoxious surfer dude Wes, and outlaw biker Merle. Radu is a caricature of the striving entrepreneur, and there’s a cute interlude where he is playing poker with a bunch of the other regular-guy vampire lords.
There must be a complication, of course, and in this case it’s Dave’s yen for Rosa, who is not one of the undead but a normal young woman with a taste for the Gothic. The creators have a good time contrasting the romantic notions of the Goth crowd with the nitty-gritty of the urban vampires, but the central dilemma presented by the book—how can Dave and Rosa ever be together?—is ultimately resolved in a rather unimaginative way.
This is a curiously fatalistic story for a young adult novel. I kept waiting for Dave to figure out a way to break his bonds and get free, but in the end, he accepts his fate and starts to walk away from his principles. All the vampires, even the rebellious ones, work entirely within the system and follow all the rules.
The best part about the art in Life Sucks is the color, which captures at a glance the harsh light of the convenience store and the garish nighttime colors of Los Angeles. The weakest part is the figures, which all seem a bit stiff, with heads that are a little too large for their bodies and faces that are a little too large for their heads. It’s not enough to disturb the reading experience, though, and there are some beautiful scenes in this book.
Life Sucks is a young adult book. There’s lots of talk of violence and gore but aside from one scene where a man knocks a woman’s head off, it’s not explicit. In fact, that scene is jarring and seems out of place in this book. (Dave gets shot in the stomach, but that’s played for laughs.) The characters also talk about sex, and it’s clear that some are sleeping together, but there is no explicit sex. What puts this in the older range is really the sophistication of the theme; younger teens just may not get it.
While it drags a bit in places, and the ending was a bit of a letdown, Life Sucks is a witty, colorful story that raises plenty of questions for the thoughtful reader.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher.