Imagine the True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse books for angst-ridden teenagers, and you have Blood Orange Soda down to a ‘T’ (or should I say ‘V’). And that’s a good thing. After all, the Sookie Stackhouse books are incredibly popular.
In this book, Darius is your typical teenager, growing up in central Minnesota (St. Cloud). He’s a goth; he’s in a band; there are girls he likes, and girls who like him, but they’re typically not one and the same; he is bullied; and … oh yeah … he’s going to be a vampire. Vampirism is an accepted life-style in this slightly futuristic/alternative universe story. Darius’ mother is a vampire and Darius is waiting until the time is right for him to begin the transformation. When the time comes for Darius to begin his transformation, he has a need (or at least the strong desire) to make the transformation quickly. To do so, drinking Blood Orange Soda helps speed the change.
Complicating Darius’ life is the fact that his mother is dying from a rare vampire disease; he’s promised to fight a jock/bully from school; and an old-girlfriend/new-girlfriend complication that seems right out of a John Hughes film crashes in on him. Just another day for a teenage boy, right?
One would think that a novel with vampires, goths, and moody teens would be dark and brooding, but if there’s a fault with this book, it’s that it isn’t dark enough. Vampirism is so well accepted here that making the decision to ‘turn’ seems no bigger deal than saying that you’ve decided to start playing a different instrument in band. Here, vampires attend the Catholic church, because their faith is still important to them. Being ‘goth’ seems to mean no more than hating on the jocks and wearing black.
Even if he’s not dark enough for a goth-to-be-vampire, Darius is an appropriately complex character, trying to sort his way through the world. In this, he is certainly attractive to the typical YA readership. Other than the vampire aspect, our YA readers can identify with just about everything he’s going through. And that he can fight his own battles (literally, as well as figuratively) and stand on his own two feet (with a little help from his friends) makes him admirable. Even though he is described as being goth, I never pictured him as such.
The characters surrounding Darius (mother, uncle, sister, girlfriends, best friend) are less identifiable. They are a pastiche of stereotypes without any solid base.
The story is typical YA, full of pathos and drama, and just the sort of thing many young readers are looking for. Vampires are ‘in’ and this capitalizes on that in a big way, though it manages to be squeaky clean dark, instead of truly dark.
But, then, to go back to my initial impression, what are the Sookie Stackhouse books but vampire romances? It has its place in the bookstores and its readership. So to will Blood Orange Soda have its readship among those readers who can identify with the high school issues and romanticize about things like vampirism. And there are a lot of people like that.
Despite the flaws I mention above, I found it moved along well. It was easy to read.
Looking for a good book? This is YA for those of you who like to sit on the edge… not ready to go all the way into the dark, but want a taste of it.
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Blood Orange Soda
author: James Michael Larranaga
ebook, 350 pages