Nutshell: The Awesome is, quite simply, awesome. A fun horror/fantasy mythology blends with believable teen dialogue and characters that you don’t just care about, you want to hang out with. Where’s book 2, already? Grade: A
If Sam and Dean Winchester’s family business wasn’t a secret, but a career path just like any other? Then you’d have the world of The Awesome. Well, maybe not exactly like any other, but one that’s Federally licensed and known (if not universally understood or approved.) Margaret Jane — call her Maggie — Cunningham is a 17-year-old hunter’s apprentice, her mom Janice being the one she’s apprenticed to. Janice and Maggie have been working the family business for years now, and there’s only one thing stopping Maggie from hitting Journeyman level; losing her virginity. You see, vampires go crazy for virgins (literally stark raving mad), so until Maggie sheds her V-card, she’s on the bench as far as better job opportunities go. But her friend Julie has a cousin named Ian…
First things first; NO, this isn’t a soppy paranormal romance. And there’s no love triangle, unrequited longing or any of that crap. Maggie is no wallflower, and The Awesome isn’t your typical YA love story. Because love is only one facet of the overall plot. The many different subplots are layered well, because author Eva Darrows is an A+ storyteller. There’s an easy, hanging-out-with-your-bestie flow of dialogue, and just enough horror/fantasy elements to keep things weird in the best possible way.
Plus, Darrows has a killer knack for character development. Page one, and I’m already loving Maggie. She’s the BFF my high school self would have killed to have. Tough but self-aware, funny but not silly, sharp as a tack. It’s a great opener, and things stay on that course throughout. The Awesome grabs you quick and straps you in for a fun ride. Before the first half I was already hoping this would be the start of a cool, multi-volume, series.
The dialogue reads authentic – complete with inappropriate shit. TONS of inappropriate shit. I approve, as I remember all the inappropriate shit I said when I was a teen. (When dinosaurs roamed the earth.) More importantly, it’s entertaining. Not only does Darrows know how to talk teen, she’s got teen parties – and drunk teen boys – down pat.
Another plus? Maggie and her mom aren’t cliche monster hunters. There’s no leather pants, no high heeled boots, no bondage wear; they dress for busting heads, not busting through their pleather miniskirts. Basically, this is the anti-cover girl, and I buy it 100%. I also buy their single-mom-only-child bond, and their ability to live on the outskirts of the “normal world”. It’s understood that Maggie is studying for her GED, so there’s no school to get in the way of monster hunting/studying for her Journeyman level. The Federal agency that oversees hunters and monsters is just bureaucratic enough to be believable, but not so much so that it slows down plot points. There are levels for the monsters too, and laws that govern them that made me hark back to the Sookie Stackhouse world of vampire law. In fact, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about the hunter’s bureaucracy, and the laws governing monsters. Perhaps in the next book of the series. (See what I did there? Get on it, Darrows.)
The Awesome doesn’t insert monsters into the story simply to pad the fantasy elements; each ghoul, ghost, vampire or zombie is there for a reason. Whether it’s to further the plot or add to the stable of cool characters, it’s nice to see a YA author use urban fantasy elements rather than talking down to her readers. And believe me, there’s plenty of urban fantasy elements. In fact, this book skates the thin line between YA and urban fantasy with it’s open, honest and vivid portrayal of sex and alcohol use. I applaud that, because today’s yoots aren’t exactly hitting the soda shop before escorting their paramours home by 3pm. Still, for adults wondering if their 12-year-old should read this, best to ask yourself how open you are with your kids when it comes to these particular topics, and what s/he could handle. Over 14? Let ‘er rip y’all!
The best part of The Awesome? It’s a YA book that anyone can enjoy. I often tout the fun and fabulousness of this genre, and The Awesome is a perfect example of writing for a young audience while still being able to entertain anyone who stumbles upon your story. Well done. And have I mentioned I’m waiting on book 2?
[2015, Rebellion/Ravenstone Press — I received an advance reading copy (ARC) through NetGalley. I received no compensation for the ARC, or this review. Not even a holy water balloon. Dammit.]