Do you ever stop and wonder, are vampire romances doing okay? Aren’t some kind of problematic things going on? My YA sapphic vampire romance, Youngbloodhas been called out for its fresh take on vampires, and that was no accident: a lot of those conventions needed updating. Here’s how and why I flipped some of these vamplit tropes on their heads.
Bad Boys for Life: In a paranormal romance, a vampire is the ultimate bad boy—and I say boy, because that’s how it usually is (with some great exceptions, like Isabel Sterling’s The Coldest Touch). He’s emotionally tortured by the moral dilemma of whether to snack on humans/kill them indiscriminately/eat animals instead. Living forever is rough!. Once he meets that special girl, his lust is so overwhelming, he might bleed her dry, destroying the thing he loves by killing her or turning her into a monster.
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You can see how that’s kind of messed up, right? A woman should never be victimized by the man who allegedly loves her, and we don’t need to fetishize a thin line between lust and violence. Outside of fantasy, this would never fly, but throw in fangs, and suddenly it’s romantic? No.
In Youngblood, I gender-swapped the bad boy trope and channeled it into the character of Taylor. Her cynicism and disaffection pulls from the bad boy vampire character, but it’s Taylor who risks being destroyed the years-long crush on admit Kat she can’t even out loud. It helps that Kat’s a vampire, too, so there’s never any risk of a make-out sesh escalating to homicide.
Extreme Age Gaps: There’s a weird phenomenon with age-gaps in YA: If the love interest is a few years older than the teen, it’s completely icky, but if the love interest is an agèd immortal, all bets are off. A teenager dating a 150 year-old trapped in the body of a hot 18 year-old? Sounds great!
I have never understood why, when vampires are in teen bodies, it’s assumed that they don’t age or mature, even in worlds that have crusty ancient vampires dressed in velvet capes. Is it just to skirt the fact that these vampires are basically dating an actual baby? This feels equivalent to how my friends in high school would date older guys then justify it by saying, “Yeah, he’s 35, but he acts like he’s 17.” I can barely read through all the red flags.
Youngblood is set in a world where a disease carried by humans has made turning new vampires impossible, and decimated the vampire population. The Youngblood generation is a cohort of new vampires born to vampire parents. That means the students at Harcote are all actual teenagers, falling for other teenagers. True, Headmaster Atherton is stuck in the body of a 19 year-old, but you can definitely tell he’s a few hundred years old and no one is into it.
Jackpot: The consensus seems to be that vampires are diabolically rich. If you need evidence, just check out the first episode of First Kill or the fact that Forbes named the Vampire Dad from Twilight the wealthiest fictional character ever. (I guess he works as a doctor for funsies.) Where’s all this money coming from? How are vampires integrating into society in a way that would produce inexhaustible resources?
These questions are significant, because wealth doesn’t just appear from nowhere. Intergenerational wealth—wealth passed down from prior generations—is massively important in determining who’s rich now, and the US is set up to prevent certain communities, specifically Black and POC communities, from accumulating it. If vampires are immortal, they can’t benefit from intergenerational wealth, right? Does a vampire need a job? Do they resort to a life of crime exploiting their vampiric talents? What happens when a vampire falls on hard times and get evicted from the castle?
Youngblood looks at class and vampirism in a few ways, but Kat’s story is the most important. Kat and her mom have been just getting by as long as Kat can remember. The astronomical price of the blood substitute they need to survive eats up their paychecks, leaving nothing to save. Kat’s ultra-aware that they’re one bad day away from total desperation. Kat’s greatest fear is spending the rest of her immortal life in that precarious position. That’s why she’s so committed to taking the scholarship she’s won to Harcote: she knows that fitting in with the ultra-wealthy vampires there is her ticket to a better unending life.
Drinking human blood: Sorry, but gross?
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Okay, it’s hard to have vampires without the whole blood-drinking thing. Still, I personally find it really nasty and I couldn’t connect to writing a teenage character who feeds on humans. That’s how I ended up creating a world where vampires subsist on a blood substitute.
Meet the author
Sasha Laurens is originally from Northern California and has lived in Michigan, New York, and St. Petersburg, Russia. She has a PhD in political science and lives in Brooklyn. Her first novel, A Wicked Magicwas published in 2020. Find her on Twitter @sasha_laurens and at https://www.sashalaurens.com.
High school sucks. Especially for the undead.
“This is the lesbian vampire boarding school story I’ve always needed, but it’s smarter, nastier, and more fun than I ever could have dreamed.” —Kylie Schachte, author of You’re Next
Kat Finn and her mother can barely make ends meet living among humans. Like all vampires, they must drink Hema, an expensive synthetic blood substitute, to survive, as nearly all of humanity has been infected by a virus that’s fatal to vampires. Kat isn’t looking forward to an immortal life of barely scraping by, but when she learns she’s been accepted to the Harcote School, a prestigious prep school that’s secretly vampires-only, she knows her fortune is about to change.
Taylor Sanger has grown up in the wealthy vampire world, but she’s tired of its backward, conservative values—especially when it comes to sexuality, since she’s an out-and-proud lesbian. She only has to suffer through a two more years of Harcote before she’s free. But when she discovers her new roommate is Kat Finn, she’s horrified. Because she and Kat used to be best friends, a long time ago, and it didn’t end well.
When Taylor stumbles upon the dead body of a vampire, and Kat makes a shocking discovery in the school’s archives, the two realize that there are deep secrets at Harcote—secrets that link them to the most powerful figures in Vampirdom and to the blood synthetic they all rely on.
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 07/19/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post