Whitney Gardner’s debut graphic novel hits on all the normal middle grade book tropes: crushes, friendship issues, and trying to find your place. But there’s a quirky twist: vampires.
AJ feels invisible. He has two best friends, Ivy and Hunter, who are adventurous and brave. They are constantly doing exciting activities like bungee jumping and rock climbing and they are always ready to challenge each other to a bet. AJ hangs in the background, feeling boring in comparison. They are just starting sixth grade and all AJ has to show for his summer break is the pile of books he read. And then there’s his growing unrequited crush on Nia, a beautiful classmate who AJ can’t get up the courage to talk to.
Nia is obsessed with vampires, so AJ pretends to be one to get her attention. With some makeup under his eyes, hair gel, and fake blood, he strikes up a friendship with her. His plan works well—too well—and soon Nia, who aspires to be a vampire slayer, is hunting him down to defeat him.
The characters are not cookie-cutter. Nia is black, Ivy is a tomboy, and AJ has a single mother. These are easy choices by Gardner that aren’t the main point of the story. It’s just the world the characters live in–which is just like the real world, but is sadly not often shown in children’s books.
Using cartoony, colorful illustrations, Gardner tells a relatable, realistic story, but with charm and humor. She infuses the story with quirky jokes and events. It is a chaste, fun, entertaining read for middle schoolers. Even with vampires and monsters within, the story remains safe and non-violent. AJ, Nia, Ivy, and Hunter have to work together in the end and they all confide a secret they’ve been keeping. AJ has felt boring compared to his friends, but in reality, all four of the characters deal with that same feeling of not being enough.
Fake Blood is a quick, amusing read that I definitely recommend for juvenile readers.
By Whitney Gardner
Simon & Schuster, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 10+
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Character Traits: Black, White,