Pretty Dead

Book: Francesca Lia Block, Pretty Dead. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2009.

Genre: Fantasy

Audience: Age 15 and Up

Read Aloud: readyyyyyyyy go

Summary: After the death of her twin brother at the age of 16, Charlotte Emerson is seduced by William Stone Elliot. William turns Charlotte into a vampire, and together they roam the earth for almost a hundred years. Finally Charlotte leaves William and moves just outside of Los Angeles, California, where she attends high school and befriends Emily Rosedale. When Emily is found in her bathtub with her wrists slit, Charlotte starts to notice some strange things happening to her body. She’s losing her vampire attributes little by little. She becomes close with Jared Pierce, who was Emily’s boyfriend, and when she least expects it William returns with a surprising guest: Emily Rosedale. Finally, Charlotte moves away, dealing with her renewed mortality, followed by Jared Pierce.

Themes: One of the most prevalent themes, of course, is that of mortality. Emily pines over everything Charlotte has, but Emily has the one thing Charlotte doesn’t: the ability to die. However, the tables were turned when Charlotte lost Charles, her twin brother, at the age of 16. She hated the idea of mortality. But after nearly a hundred years of living through disasters and tragedies, she starts to change her tune. Then when Jared begs to become a vampire, Charlotte tries desperately to persuade him otherwise. Eventually, Charlotte becomes completely mortal and Jared decides against immortality.

Another theme is that of love. There are several different types of love brought up in the novel. The first is romantic love, like that between Emily and Jared, then later Charlotte and Jared.  The second is familial love which is explored through Charlotte and Charles’s relationship. The third is friendship love which is demonstrated through Charlotte’s relationship with Emily. The fourth is infatuated/possessive love, which is shown through Charlotte’s relationship with William.

Connections: This book is similar to the Twilight series. The themes are similar and while the plot takes a different twist, the main characters are pining for the same thing: mortality. The book isn’t nearly as long as any of the Twilight books and uses much more mature language and content. Otherwise, it isn’t very similar to any other books I’ve read previously.

Reactions: I enjoyed the book, but on a very superficial level. I didn’t get terribly invested in the characters or plot lines and I didn’t really care for the fact that the book doesn’t follow the traditional rules of vampires. All in all, the book was a short-lived thrill that I forgot about shortly after finishing.

Reception: Debra Bogart, a reviewer for Common Sense Media, says this book shouldn’t be considered for teens at all.

“Parents need to know that this is vampire horror on the level of Anne Rice. It features very explicit sex and exploitation of teens for vampire gratification. Horrific acts of murder and destruction are spectator sports. This book should not be marketed for teens.”

While I can see where she’s coming from, I would disagree. Teenagers know about sex. They are bombarded with sex from TV, movies, music, etc. They deal with their own sexuality on a regular basis. We shouldn’t stop them from reading a book that might help them feel like they’re not the only ones dealing with sex.

Kim, a reviewer for goodreads.com, says this book was disappointing now that she’s older.

“Francesca decides to take on the V word. I’m sure she’s written about it before. Before Bella and Edward, when it was still just a flighty subject written by women in long flowing gowns. I just can’t recall a whole book on the subject. She is still in the Hollywood Hills, her girls are still broken and looking for rapture, her boys are still beautiful and lost. The words still flow and I can still see the desperation in their dancing and their sunset on the beaches. L.A. is still the wonderland that it was in 1990. (But, I’m different.) I wish I could still be that girl, I wish that I could still feel that awe. I wish that it only took a book, taffeta and combat boots to make me believe.”

I agree with her. I haven’t read any of Block’s other books like Kim has, but I can certainly empathize with her about this book. It wasn’t really exciting and her portrayal of vampires is rather disappointing.

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About ElleBelleYAL

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2 Responses to Pretty Dead

  1. Ellie, How do you think the theme of coming of age plays out in YA vampire fiction? Is there a coming of age story? In comparing the YA vampire fiction to more adult focused vampire fiction, why do you think YA authors take so many liberties with vampires? What is the appeal of creating a vampire that has the ability to move outside of traditional vampire narratives?

    • ElleBelleYAL says:

      Honestly, there wasn’t really much of a coming of age theme weaved into the novel. I think the coming of age theme is difficult to include in vampire fiction because, by definition, vampires can’t actually come of age. I think in the Twilight novels (although I think they’re kind of terrible) do a good job of intertwining the coming of age theme throughout because they’re narrated by a human who actually does come of age (until she becomes a vampire in the fourth book). However, Pretty Dead is narrated by Charlotte, who is a vampire and the only other two human main characters are Emily (who is killed at the beginning of the novel and comes back as a vampire at the end) and Jared, who remains human throughout the novel, but doesn’t experience any conflict other than falling for Charlotte soon after the death of his girlfriend, and wanting to become a vampire. I think YA authors take more liberties with vampires because adult vampire novels, which actually follow the rules of vampires, tend to be very violent and sexual. The fact that they have to tone down those things in YA novels makes it difficult for the authors to successfully craft a book that can fall into the category of YA fiction. Vampires who can transcend the traditional restrictions have the ability to be put into more typical YA scenarios and can be utilized in different ways than traditional vampires.

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