Sunday, October 18, 2009

Peeps, by Scott Westerfeld: Candy coated...vampires?

Dear Imaginary Readers,
Tomorrow I get to meet Scott Westerfeld. He is coming to my work. Yes, this is true. I am one lucky librarian! Badass that I am, I will be skipping out on my class early to do so (even grown ups like to play hooky!). Mwahahaha. In gleeful anticipation, please read my review of one of my favorite Westerfelds. And miscellaneous thoughts on the horror that is his 2nd edition paperback cove
Be jealous.

Peeps. Westerfeld, Scott (2005).
NY: Razorbill. ISBN: 1-59514-031-X

Oh sexy books, how I love thee. Peeps is a medical horror thiller. Subjective? Yes, definitely. But also, Peeps is totally and completely about sex, sex, and more sex. It is on our protagonists mind, as hard as he tries to ignore it, which means it permeates the entire book, sexily seeping out of the pages and into our minds, infecting us parasitically with dirty sex thoughts. However, while Peeps begins by playing into the YA cliché of sex as a honey-pot, bound to doubly screw you, Westerfeld deftly turns this cliché on its ear by the end of the story. Double props go to him for taking another overplayed YA staple, the vampire, and managing to give readers something new to chew on (teeheehee, read on). The story is gripping, a mysterious thriller from start to finish, interspersing the chapters of the story with chapters of true gross-out medical facts about different types of parasites. Kudos to whomever insisted upon including an appendix with a list of the top 10 ways to avoid getting a parasite. The hipness of the city of NY and all its gritty underground glory radiates and helps keep this story modern; it is not a story that would work in any other setting.

Peeps begins with our young studly hero, Cal, in pursuit of an ex-girlfriend he unintentionally infected with a deadly STD. However, this STD isn't deadly for her, it's deadly for everyone around her, as this STD is a parasite that turns its host into a crazed "vampire." Those who are parasite positive are known of as Peeps for short, and have an aversion to sunlight and a crazed desire to consume human flesh. Yum. Cal, it turns out, is a carrier Peep, meaning he's somehow resistant, but carries the parasite, making him quicker, hungrier, and way hornier than your average 18 year old dude. After moving from Texas to NYC for college, Cal managed to get crazy drunk and loose his virginity in a one-night stand to a strange girl he met in a bar (herein lies the cliché). Now that he's a Peep, he can never have sex again, or even kiss a girl, since the slightest swap of body fluid can infect someone with the rascally parasite. Cal has been recruited to join the Night Watch, an underground organization that tracks and contains outbreaks. In Cal's hunt to find the girl who infected him, he unintentionally creates some challenges for his enforced celibacy when he meets Lacy, a true to form very curious and cute journalism student. He reveals his secret identity to her, and the story here morphs into a mystery when crazy stuff starts to happen, including the discovery of Morgan, the girl who infected him. Turns out that bumping uglies and swapping spit aren't the only way for the parasite to be transferred, and that Peeps might not be so out of control after-all.

As a side note, I was super disappointed with the end of the story. It was all excitement, all tension, all gross-out medical stories to weather, all buildup…and then nothing but a sort of happy ending, marred by the lack of any other conclusions to late plot relevations. If I may use a secondary character reference from Judy Blume's Forever, the ending was a bit of a Ralph, if you catch my drift. I felt short changed and pissed. And then I found out there is a sequel, The Last Days. And now I feel much better about Peeps. The end. (Except now, months after I originally wrote this review, I have taken the liberty of reading The Last Days. And it is no Peeps.)

Best for: High school aged YA's. I'd say boys and girls, but the sort of sparkly, sexy, mascara
heavy cover art on my copy totally precludes your average teenage boy picking this up on a lark, and is even more targeted in the lipstick heavy paperback version…why must you always market to girls, publishers of America? Woe to you, losing readers on this one.

This brings me to the following point. Someday, I will write a long an lengthy rant about how publishers occasionally ruin a perfectly delightful cover in the hopes of selling more books to teenage girls, who they presume are daft magpies. But I'll save it for another day. Behold the cover directly to your right-o'clock. Now, I have never been nor will I ever have the displeasure of being a teenage boy. But I can pretty safely say that walking around with a book covered in hot pink print, hot chicks, and male models is something no average teen boy will willingly do before pigs have the opportunity to evolve and grow those wings they've always been meaing to do.

PUBLISHER, I believe I make my point when I say this is a book that a lot of teen boys would actually identify with given the opportunity to not look like a tool carrying it around! Cal has rampant hormones and sexy urges! Many teen boys have rampant hormones and sexy urges! There are lots of gross true medical facts! Teen boys love a gross true medical fact...? Cal is always ravenously hungry! Teen boys are often ravenously hungry! Cal has serious relationship problems! Teen boys have serious relationship problems! And did I mention that this entire book is about sex? SEX. Epic fail, target marketer. Way to aim for a specific audience and miss a whole other one. Now that I've wound myself back down, I just stumbled upon a new edition paperback cover. I think it moves leaps and bounds in a less alienating and way grittier direction, so I choose to overlook what I think are the rose petals...yay for acknowledging that this isn't a shiny happy pod people book!

Book talk hook: Turn the idea of vampires on its head, luring eager young readers in. Describe the symptoms of peeps, maybe using some of Cal's own descriptions and play on the whole "Cal can never kiss anyone again. EVER."

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