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I recently discovered, very late to the party, The Vampire Diaries TV series.

I'd seen the first three episodes when they first came out and was unimpressed. People assured me that at the fourth episode, things really took off, but I was skeptical. Then fellow young adult author Sarah Rees Brennan made it her personal mission to make me watch.

So I bought the DVD set of the first season (this is how late I was to the party; the DVD set had time to come out in Australia) and, on a night when I was bored, watched the fourth episode.

The second it finished, I jumped online.

ME: I will never doubt you again! Except I am still a little dubious about bacon butties.

The Vampire Diaries: This show has nearly everything I love. Teenagers acting like teenagers, but not like children. Genuine twists and turns—there's an entire LOST season's worth of plot in nearly every episode. A plethora of interestingly complex female characters who have interestingly complex relationships with each other (a point admittedly dulled by the show's willingness to kill off large numbers of said characters). And vampires. Mmm, vampires.

Of course, many young adult commentators are appalled by vampirism's popularity. It's a trend! Mindless teenagers are consuming tasteless pap! Better books/TV series/movies are being brushed to the wayside in favour of those toothy-jawed smirkers!

Well, I adore many trends that are supposedly overplayed but actually classic favourites. And, much like Meat Loaf, bright red lipstick, and jelly shoes, vampires are awesome, and I hope they stick around forever. Haters to the left, where they may bite me.

Vampirism is a fabulous metaphor for a lot of things that often happen in adolescence: physical transformation; new temptations and cravings; intensity of emotion; uncontrollable desires. Also, vampires are sexy, sexy danger, and while in real life, dangerous people are not at all sexy and ought to be avoided if possible, they can be a lot of fun in fantasy. Fantasy is a safe way to play around with the notion of the redeemable monster, the terrible being that nevertheless loves and protects the right person.

Of course there are a lot of terrible YA vampire books; there are a lot of bad books in every genre and sub-genre. Publishers are not averse to money, and if they think teenagers will buy any old crap, they will happily publish it. Teenagers are, of course, a lot more discerning than they are generally given credit for, but moreover, they often prioritize different aspects of their reading material. And honestly, given that all assessment of art is subjective, who are adults to scoff and judge? Why shouldn't a thrilling romance be more valuable than stunning prose? Why can't hilarious shenanigans with rhinestone-decorated stakes be more fun than an intricately worked original magic system?

Or, you know, you could have both.

Karen Healey teaches high school, writes genre fiction, and ignores her dishes in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her most recent publication is "Where We Walk, We Walk on Bones", in the NZ sff anthology Monsters in the Garden.
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19 Feb 2024

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