Monday, April 15, 2013

My Sister, the Vampire

MY SISTER, THE VAMPIRE (1992), apparently intended for a “tween” audience, judging from the protagonist’s age and the book’s length, makes entertaining use of folklore and popular culture beliefs about vampires in a briskly moving story. As in the typical adventure tale for young readers, the author contrives a way to get rid of the adults and leave twelve-year-old Tim and his thirteen-year-old sister, Sarah, to fend for themselves against a supernatural threat. Their annual vacation at the family’s summer cabin runs into trouble when their parents have to go visit a grandfather who’s had a stroke, leaving Tim, Sarah, and their little sister, Jenny, alone with their dog. Spinster Aunt Clara, who delights in overscheduling their days, is supposed to take care of them in their parents’ absence. When Aunt Clara has a minor car accident and postpones her arrival, unknown to Tim’s parents, he and Sarah delight in the prospect of having the cabin to themselves for the indefinite future. All they have to do is keep the neighbors from worrying, especially the family of Tim’s local friend John, and make sure their parents don’t discover their “home alone” status. Then, of course, things start to get strange. Bats infest the house, and the kids have to hire a strange pair of exterminators to get rid of them. Tim, preparing for a junior triathlon, meets an odd but friendly man, Mr. Biancu, who offers to help with his training, but only after sunset. Children in the area start to get mysteriously listless and sick, including John’s younger sister, Emily. Emily, who loves rabbits, dreams of having her bedroom overrun by them, then having them replaced by one abnormally large rabbit that cuddles up and bites her. Sarah, who collects butterflies, dreams of a swarm of butterflies. They give way to a single huge luna moth—which isn’t a dream after all, because Tim and John see it outside the window. Both Sarah and Emily start succumbing to the anemic condition. After investigation that includes exploring an island with an abandoned factory and an antique graveyard, the kids realize they’re dealing with vampires.

The standard remedies are invoked, including garlic and homemade crosses. Even though Sarah and Emily begin to take on vampiric traits, like Lucy in DRACULA, they manage to cling to some of their humanity. Sarah has clearly done her research, since she’s the one who knows about the kinds of wood most effective in staking vampires and the legend that vampires have to stop to count seeds or other tiny objects. (The heroes don’t actually try this trick; I would have enjoyed seeing the result.) She also mentions that vampires are traditionally grateful to be freed from their undead existence, a belief of which Tim and John are skeptical. Showing the three vampires in other animal forms in addition to bats makes them more creepy as well as more authentically folkloric. The only thing I don’t like about this book’s vampire lore is its reliance on the cinematic cliché of destruction by sunlight. But so many novels and films have embraced this trope, beginning decades before the 1990s, that I guess we’re stuck with it. The story includes an amusing scene where the kids practice vampire-staking on each other. I also like the fact that the vampires have an attractive side and do turn out to have a rational motive for preying on the children and teenagers.

For the same age group, Nancy Garden also authored PRISONER OF VAMPIRES, an eerie tale full of literary allusions, especially to DRACULA.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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