Title: Return of the Vampire by Caroline B Cooney
Summary: Devnee is tired of being ignored. Tired of feeling ordinary. All she wants is to be beautiful. If she’s beautiful, everything else will fall in to place: popularity, friendship, even love. Devnee’s family has just moved into a new house – a house with a vampire in it. He can grant Devnee’s wish, but there’s a price. Is she willing to pay it?
Tagline: He’s back for more…
Notes: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. I will now refer to the bad guy as “Muffin Man” because of The Mall.
I remember that I found Devnee particularly loathsome when I was a teenager, so I have no doubt she’s even worse now I’m an adult. Back in the day, I actually read this before The Cheerleader. Despite having Return in the title, it did not occur to me it was a sequel. This is one of those things like how it never occurred to Wing to hunt down Class Trip, after reading Class Trip 2.
[Wing: Yours makes sense, though. I mean, Return of the Vampire works as a title of a stand-alone book just as well as it does for a sequel, because vampires. Always with the returning and acting alive even when they’re dead, etc.]
Also, thanks to Mimi, the sublime, who has provided alternative covers.
[Wing: I had the same cover as Mimi back in the day, but I really like the mirror cover a lot better.]
We open with Devnee Fountain talking to her family. HI THAR MUM, DAD AND BROTHER, WHY THE FUCK AREN’T YOU IN EUROPE? I am so confused.
Parents? What parents?: -1 (They’re in fucking Europe. They’re always in fucking Europe.)
[Wing: Oh hell are we doing reverse counters now?!] [Dove: Only when it’s eye-pokingly unique.]
Anyway, they’ve just moved into Althea’s old house and, on reflection, Devnee doesn’t want to have a bedroom in the tower, because the reality is significantly less romantic than the original idea now that she knows it’s got a vampire in it.
When left to her own devices, Devnee plays “the beautiful game”, where “the lovely funny terrific girl on the inside finally had a match on the outside”. And there, in the first chapter, I have my issue with this book. Devnee is not lovely, funny or terrific. She’s a whiny brat who needs to be kicked in the face and fed to the vampire. Anyway, this game led her to the tower, while her parents and brother were out buying take-out, and she don’t know it’s the vampire yet, but she’s seeing his “long fingernails of silver, wrinkled like crushed foil” as her own when she reaches for things.
[Wing: Cooney’s descriptions bring me so much joy in these books. They are utterly ridiculous and yet are such interesting use of language, too. Also, Devnee is obnoxious and probably would benefit from therapy.]
Devnee tells her parents she doesn’t want to sleep in the tower, and her mum say it’ll be fine once it’s painted. However, they’ve got to do the kitchen first, then they’ll get to her room. Or, in reality, Devnee could pick up her own fucking paintbrush and paint it. Jesus. Also, Dev hates her family, because her mum is a homemaker type, who enjoys linoleum and fresh paint and cooking; her father is merely described as “sturdy”; and her brother, Luke, likes sports. All of this is far too bland for Devnee’s sensibilities.
Oh, I’m sorry, Devnee. Is your happy, healthy, loving, non-abusive family not rock stars and billionaires? How about you go fuck yourself! How on earth can you describe yourself as “terrific”? I’m starting to hate you more than Martha. And I’m still on chapter 1. (Goddamnit, why is Mimi always right? She said I’d hate this book.)
Cheer on the killer: 1 (Because the protagonist is such an insufferable wretch that you can’t help but side with anyone who wants him or her dead.) and #FirstWorldProblems: 1 (if you need this explaining, you probably live a life filled with #FirstWorldProblems)
That night, Devnee can’t sleep, and her shadow won’t follow her around. And the light path is mentioned. OMG, just rock up, vampy. I can’t stand being in Devnee’s head.
[Wing: I do love the thing with the shadow. It’s so weird and twisty.]
Before she goes to school, she internally hates on her brother, because he’s so stupid all he can think about is playing ball. (Assume baseball, but it’s not specified.)
[Wing: Except earlier when it says he wanted a big yard so he could play basketball, baseball, and football. All of which require other people and, in the case of basketball at least, a freaking prop that doesn’t actually work well in a yard at all. Oh, Cooney.]
Cheer on the killer: 2 (+1)
She goes outside and wishes to be beautiful.
If you were beautiful, everything came with it: friends, laughter, company.
Yes, that’s precisely how it works. Non-beautiful people are literally incapable of having friendship, love and happiness. Don’t get me wrong, I know that beauty opens a lot of doors – there is a very attractive lawyer at my last place of work who can’t even use apostrophes, and frequently sends documents to the wrong clients, and I can’t imagine it was her skillset that got her the job. However, Devnee is acting as if her lack of beauty is the sole reason she is all alone. She is cheerfully ignoring the fact that she’s a boring, annoying, selfish, hateful bag of spite, and nobody in their right mind would want to hang out with a shallow, vapid little moron like her.
[Wing: Well, she does seem to think she’s a lovely funny terrific girl on the inside. I think her view may be just a touch skewed.]
Also, Dev, if you want to be seen as beautiful, style your hair, wear some makeup that accentuates your features, and fucking smile, laugh and be kind. Probably the reason you are judged as being ugly is because you’re constantly bloody pouting about not being beautiful. Add your toxic personality, and nobody will ever see the best in you.
Note: I personally don’t feel that styled hair and makeup are necessary to be “beautiful”, however, Dev does, so I tailored my advice.
Does anyone else think I would be wonderful as a life coach?
What if I don’t have friends here ever? thought Devnee. What if it’s a horrible hateful mean place and I’m dressed wrong? And they laugh at me?
Oh sure. It’s other people. It couldn’t possibly be you that’s hateful.
[Wing: What’s interesting to me is that a lot of what she’s saying, her anxiety about being in a new place with new people, are things that you specifically set out to address in your writing, Dove, and you tend to be more sympathetic toward characters who feel these things. Yet in the first few paragraphs, Cooney managed to turn you off Devnee completely.]
[Dove: You’re absolutely right. I tend to write the socially awkward, with masses of anxiety, but Devnee’s attitude that she thinks she’s above everyone else. It’s fine to give yourself an “I’m awesome and people will like me” pep talk, but Devnee just hates her family so much. And, again, I tend to have sympathy for people who don’t have the standard happy family setup, but Devnee’s family seem fine. There’s no evidence of abuse or neglect.]
Cheer on the killer: 3 (+1)
When they arrived at the high school, Devnee’s mother came in with her after all. Devnee, who adored her mother, was ashamed: Mrs. Fountain was quite heavy, and needed a new, larger winter coat. Instead of taking the time to curl her hair, her mother had just tugged it back into a loose, messy ponytail.
Have we seen any evidence of Devnee adoring her mother? No, just badmouthing her for being a homemaker type.
[Wing: Can’t be seen in public with fatties, AMIRITE?]
Cheer on the killer: 4 (+1)
There are three buddies who show Devnee the ropes. A girl, Aryssa, who is the most breathtakingly beautiful human being Devnee has ever seen; Trey, a hot jock; and some other girl who is not present in this scene. Dev is literally reduced to tears by Aryssa’s beauty and her own plainness.
Cheer on the killer: 5 (+1) and #FirstWorldProblems: 2 (+1)
Aryssa hands over Devnee to Trey and he says that Aryssa’s IQ is “room temperature”.
Aryssa’s was the contented laugh of a beautiful girl who doesn’t care in the least about her lack of brain – because it doesn’t matter in the least.
What a wonderful thought for a female writer to attribute to the female protagonist, about another female, in a book designed for teenage females.
Devnee tells Trey where she lives, and Trey says that Althea (though he doesn’t mention her by name) was “creepy the way Aryssa is beautiful”. He went to her party there. Other people chime in that she was creepy, and Devnee wants to distance herself from all things creepy.
[Wing: I’m not actually going to go back through the earlier book, but do any of these people seem familiar, or were they all just random faceless background waiting for their turn to be vampire fodder in the series?] [Dove: as far as I can tell, they weren’t mentioned before. But Althea’s one party turned into a rager with gatecrashers, so it’s not impossible that these kids would have been there and known of her thanks to the vampire’s power.]
Trey takes her to English class, where Devnee finds another human being to envy. Victoria, who is a genius. Devnee comments that Victoria seems nice, and Victoria says that she’s not, but she introduces her to William, who is nice. (Also, Victoria seems nice by my standards.)
[Wing: I really love Victoria and this whole scene about how smart and sharp she is, and how she’s not particularly nice, but people love her sharpness and her wit.]
During class, Devnee dreams of being beautiful like Aryssa and clever like Victoria.
Afterwards, she meets her other buddy, Nina, who has fabulous clothes. She is horrible, but rich, and just basically ignores Devnee.
A week or so passes, Devnee loves having friends, she goes shopping and buys new clothes. While she’s out, dad and Luke get the shutters open. Luke says it’s creepy, she should take the downstairs bedroom, and he wants her to be alright. Devnee responds by being horrible, and Luke reasonably points out that the least she could do is say thanks for his help.
Dev is perfectly happy until one day she’s late for school, and she overhears Aryssa and Trey talking about her and how glad they are she’s not at school. Aryssa buddied up with her because she thought someone as dumpy and plain as Devnee would be good at science, which she’s failing. Trey volunteered because he was trying to impress Victoria, who’s big on charity. (So why was everyone so vehement that Victoria is not nice? I mean, I suppose she could be seen as “good”, but a lot of what she does to be “good” has the side-effect of appearing nice.)
[Wing: Well, it’s not particularly “nice” to call people on the way they treat other people. It is good, though.]
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 (Because why stick to what was said last chapter? Or even last sentence. Make it up as you. If your lead character says it, it MAKES IT SO!)
Anyway, Trey’s over that, because he and Aryssa are a thing now, so it’s all good.
Devnee feels awful for being a burden on the beautiful people, and later tells them that she’s got the lay of the land and doesn’t need their help, hoping that they’ll say “No way, we’re bezzie mates.” [Wing: Cannot not read that as “lezzie mates.” I would say that PH needs more lesbians and queer folk in general, but they would just be treated terribly. Leave my people alone, PH.] But they don’t. Only Victoria continues to be nice.
She goes home, and is emo about being alone.
“I’m rotting,” she said out loud. “I have nothing to offer, and my body knows it, and it’s rotting.”
Her father gave her his most irritated look.
Luke gave her his why-is-this-my-sister? look.
Her mother of course ignored the statement. Her mother hated being reminded of how dull, how ordinary, her daughter was.
No, Devnee. Your mother doesn’t give a shit how ordinary you are. You’re the one who’s ashamed of how fat and un-glamorous she is, remember? And before this charming little accusation, Devnee had just had a snotty thought about how her mother was choosing facets and kitchen cabinets and assumed everyone was as happy as she was. Or maybe she was just happy for herself, and Devnee, vile human that she is, decided to assume the worst? Also, there’s loads of nonsense about Devnee’s shadow leaving her throughout this entire book, and I’m just not going to indulge it.
[Wing: Still love the shadow thing. It makes pretty much zero sense in the world building, but it is creepy and wonderful.]
That night, she and the vampire finally meet. Thank god. I’m a third of the way in, and we’re finally at her deal with him.
She wishes for Aryssa’s beauty. AND WE’RE OFF. LET’S GO!
[Wing: Interesting to put this series in the line of vampire stories. Devnee even thinks of her revenge focus for Aryssa as “ugly as a hundred vampires” which is such an interesting phrase, considering the push for beautiful vampires. Even back then, this is a post-Lost Boys and Near Dark vampire story.]
The next day at school, they’re dissecting eyes in science, and Aryssa doesn’t want to do it, so Devnee opens a window and tells Aryssa she’ll dissect the eye, and Aryssa can get some air. Poor Althea had to work a lot harder to deliver Celeste, didn’t she?
That night she sees the vampire again, and he’s fed from Aryssa. She asks him why her shadow keeps leaving, and it’s because they don’t like to be around for feeding. Ok, but why did it keep leaving beforehand?
“What are you made of?” said Devnee.
“Shadows,” he said. “Victims of many centuries. Collected in one cape. Under one set of teeth, as it were. I am thick with the shadows of the dead.”
Sure. Why not? Sometimes I think Cooney comes up with this stuff simply because it sounds all floaty and Gothic.
[Wing: This one of my favorite pieces of her vampire world building. It makes zero sense, but I like it. All that death, the shadows of the victims, twining and twisting and covering the vampire.]
The next morning, Devnee searches for a mirror that the vampire hasn’t corrupted, so she can check her beauty.
The heavy dark wood of the bathroom door was not flat, like her tower door, or the bedroom doors. It had panels of wood, making a raised T. Or a cross. She smiled at the cross. The vampire had not entered this bathroom. This mirror was of the world.
McGuffin, ahoy!: 1 (An attempt is made to casually reference something that is clearly going to be a plot point at a later date. And it fails to be casual.)
She checks her reflection and she is beautiful.
At school, everyone stares at her and talks about her. Nina comes rushing over to ask where she got her skirt, and Devnee gets to snub her. This I doubt, because if Nina is that wealthy and buys only designer, she would probably not want Devnee’s high street skirt. I’ve watched all seasons of Gossip Girl six times. Blair Waldorf would never want something someone else wore.
At lunch, William and Trey compliment her. The queen of senior year, Eleanor, approaches her and says she wants to nominate her for the Valentine’s dance Sweet Heart. William seconds the nomination. Devnee thinks to herself that she’ll need a date, and which boy should she take, William or Trey? Urgh.
She also has a moment of panic, where she can’t work out whether she’s Aryssa or Devnee, or whether Aryssa is now the old Devnee, etc.
After school, Trey says he’s going to check on Aryssa, and Devnee panics that she’ll be found out as a creepy girl who stole Aryssa’s beauty. She has to check that she is still beautiful, and while admiring herself in the mirror, Nina comments that she’s just as bad as Aryssa for her vanity. This makes Devnee wonder whether selling out Aryssa was worth it, and with the doubt, her beauty starts to fade. She decides it is worth it, and her beauty stays put.
Trey comes back to school looking spooked. Devnee suggests that they go get donuts and talk about what’s bothering him. And what’s bothering him is:
“Aryssa is always dumb,” said Trey. “I mean, that goes with the territory.” He half laughed, half shrugged. “But this time – I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She’s kind of heavy and thick and – well–” Trey looked as if he could not figure the next word out. “Ugly,” he said at last. “She’s really ugly, Devnee.”
Ugly? thought Devnee. She looks like I used to? I wasn’t ugly! I was just ordinary. Wasn’t I?
Trey said, “I mean, I didn’t want to spend time with her. The kind of girl that guys puke if they get stuck with. You know. A real dog.”
Cheer on the killer: 6 (+1) and #FirstWorldProblems: 3 (+1)
Dear vampire, please take Trey. I don’t want anything in return, you can keep his bulk and fitness and hotness. Just eat this wanker.
[Wing: Pretty much everyone but Victoria is terrible in this damn book. Even Devnee’s family is ridiculous when it comes to her new beauty.]
Trey then asks Dev to the valentine’s dance, and she says yes, because that’s what beautiful people do.
That night the vampire says that a nice person would give the beauty back, and tomorrow Devnee will cross paths with Aryssa, and she will have the choice to be kind or be beautiful. Even if we weren’t halfway through this book, I’d still feel safe betting that Devnee is not letting go of the beauty.
The next morning, her family are in excellent moods, and Devnee has this thought:
Always before she had seen them as worthless and herself as worthy.
Isn’t she just “lovely” and “terrific”? Continuity? Fuck that shit: 2 (+1) and Cheer on the killer: 7 (+1)
At school, Eleanor shows her the contents of the ballot box and it’s all DEVNEE FOUNTAIN all the time. She asks random boy if he’s voting for her, and he says no, he’s voting for his own girlfriend. In your face, Devnee!
William and Victoria are there, and Devnee can’t work out why William loves Victoria, when he could have “better”, he could have her.
Cheer on the killer: 8 (+1)
Naturally, when Aryssa walks in, Devnee chooses to keep her beauty.
I actually thought you would be kind, said the vampire. You come from a kind family. I attempted to enter your mother’s mind, you know. She could not quite communicate with me. That happens with nice people. Honor required that I give her daughter a second chance.
See, even the bloody vampire knows that your mum is perfectly nice, and you’re a dick about her. And believe me, I have plenty of issues relating to mothers, so I’m the least likely person to give a mother’s behaviour the benefit of the doubt. (They are talking in her mind when he says this.)
Victoria and William are going to nominate Aryssa for Valentine’s Sweet Heart, because they are kind. And Dev’s all, “Dude, I don’t have to be kind, other people will do it for me.”
She sure is “terrific”, right? Continuity? Fuck that shit: 3 (+1)
At the Valentine’s dance, Devnee is having a wonderful time until Victoria rocks up and says that they’re going to elect Aryssa Sweet Heart to bolster her spirits.
And the night, which had been Devnee’s, became Victoria’s.
Victoria had not even been nominated, and yet she became the dance’s real sweetheart. Because she had one: a truly sweet heart.
So, Victoria has a “truly sweet heart” but nobody would describe her as “nice”?
[Wing: I think she is good, and she does the right thing, but that’s still not necessarily nice.]
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 4 (+1)
That night the vampire offers her a new wish. After a bit of dithering, she wishes to be smart.
And then she gets her wish and replaces Victoria on High School Bowl, an academic competition group. William is part of it and, surprisingly, so is Trey.
How impressed Trey was. “What a dark horse you are, Devnee. I never realized you had such a great background.”
A week ago she would not have known what “dark horse” meant; would have had to ask or else never known, or even – in her dull moments – never wondered. But tonight she knew of course that a dark horse was an unexpected, unknown winner in a race.
Really, Dev? How spectacularly dense are you? That term is common. I find it more surprising that you don’t know it, than the fact you now do without learning it.
[Wing: It’s not super common in high school here, and if you aren’t widely read and don’t have the internet and don’t watch television, I would not be surprised to meet a teen who didn’t know it.] [Dove: Odd. It’s very common over here. Ok, I withdraw my snark.]
There’s a fair chunk of Devnee revelling in how pretty and clever she is
One day, she comes home and finds her mum choosing between two wallpapers, and Devnee is filled with loathing for her boring, dumpy homemaker mother, and wishes for a new one.
She’s immediately wracked with regret and tells the vampire that she’ll blot him off the landscape if he hurts her mum. And he says she won’t, because that’ll be the end of her beauty and brains. Finally he concedes he will postpone her mother if he can have Karen, an athlete. Devnee’s never envied athletes, and barely knows who she is. She grudgingly accepts the offer in order to save her mother.
The next day, Karen appears at her locker. They decide to go to get donuts, and Karen is really pleased that she’s been invited, because she’s new to town, and while she has teammates, she doesn’t have any friends. Her happiness makes her beautiful, and Devnee finally realises that she does not even know what beauty means. The dark path activates, but Devnee rushes them away from it.
At practice for High School Bowl Devnee asks how to kill a vampire. This raises no eyebrows because there are occasional questions on mythology. She gets the answers that everyone excepts: cross, stake, garlic.
“No,” said Trey, “but that’s why houses lots of times have wooden doors with crosses on them.”
Devnee wasn’t certain if she had ever seen a door with a cross on it.
“Wood molding,” explained William, “in the shape of a big T. Or cross. That way, the vampire can’t get in the door.”
Oh, you mean like the door that was described in great detail when Devnee was searching for a mirror to check her beauty? McGuffin, ahoy!: 2 (+1)
She gets home and her mother is in the tower, saying she made the most wonderful wish and it’s just come true. Devnee yells at the vampire that she didn’t mean the wish. Blah, blah, blah.
And now we’re in the finale, so she remembers that door. It’s a solid wood door on two metal pins. Apparently, she manages to get the door unpinned, and I’m just noping out of that. I’m imagining a big chunky old-fashioned door, and I can’t help but feel that the heft of it would put massive strain on the second pin when you got the first one out, so the idea that this skinny teenager managed to do it alone is, well, gosh, it’s hard to swallow.
She then drags it up two flights of stairs by herself. Sure. She manages this by telling herself she is strong, rather than wishing for strength.
By the time she gets there, her mum is just fine. Guess what, she wished for good weather.
And then that’s it. Unlike Althea, who had to fight the vampire and close the shutters, Devnee manages to undo everything just by deciding to. She doesn’t even hang the door, she just leans it against the shutters.
Also, nobody gives her a hard time that the downstairs loo no longer has a door. I have to say that any normal parent would be rather ticked off about that.
And that’s that. Her beauty and brains go back to their owners, and… it ends.
That was a thing that happened. Devnee was utterly hateful. Trey was hateful. But it did manage to subvert the most common trope by having her family around.
As always, I love the vampire, but the book was utterly weaksauce.
[Wing: Apparently, I convinced myself this book had a different ending, one that was more terrible for Devnee. Wishful thinking, that.]
I believe I have read the third, but can’t remember a thing about it. I will be recapping it next time. I personally hope that, since the hatefulness of the protagonist is escalating, the next book is about a girl who is utterly ruthless. No dithering about, she basically goes to the vampire with a laundry list of things she wants. “I want Suzie’s hands, and Jenna’s eye-shape, but Cathy’s eye colour, and Jo’s hair, and Beth’s boobs, and Kayla’s butt, and…” and the vampire is at first delighted that he’s found his perfect mate, but ultimately ends up killing her because she’s far too demanding.
I doubt that will happen. If anyone wants to write it for me, I’ll love you forever.
Cheer on the killer: 8
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 4
McGuffin, ahoy!: 2
Parents? What parents?: -1