Svetlana Grimm, the protagonist of Lewis Harris’ debut novel A Taste for Red (2009) (find it on Bookshop) is not your average eleven-year-old. Even after starting at Sunny Hill Middle School in California, after years of being home schooled in Texas, Svetlana is just not like the other sixth graders in her class. Svetlana has a penchant for black clothes that is almost as strong as her preference for red foods. She sleeps under her bed. She can sometimes read, and influence, people’s thoughts. And she thinks she might be a vampire.
When Svetlana realizes that her enigmatic science teacher Ms. Larch can also read thoughts, Svetlana thinks she might have found another of her kind. But the more Svetlana learns about Ms. Larch the more obvious it is that the two are nothing alike. Suddenly instead of an ally, Svetlana might have a very dangerous enemy on her hands.
A Taste for Red is a humorous, sometimes suspenseful, always fun book that takes the conventions of vampire stories and throws them out the window. At the beginning of the novel Svetlana spends a lot of time cluing readers in about the reality behind those silly vampire myths–sleeping in coffins? Pah.
Other reviewers have drawn parallels between this book and the Buffy TV series and even Nancy Drew. Both comparisons are well-founded. This book (series hopefully!) is not, however, strictly for girls.
Svetlana quickly recruits two boys in her class to act as her sidekicks. The tone of this novel is also gender neutral. Svetlana walks the line between “girly girl” and “tom boy” to become a character that will appeal to everyone. That is not to say she doesn’t have a sharp tongue. Indeed, Svetlana’s narration borders on the surly at the beginning of the novel with a tone reminiscent of Stewie from “Family Guy”–she mellows with time.
Harris has created a really fun, original plot here with a new take on vampires without any annoying romantic entanglements. At first it was unclear if Svetlana would be equally likable, but she totally is. Provided you like fantasy, this book really will appeal to everyone.
At 176 pages, A Taste for Red is also excellent for reluctant readers looking for a fast, exciting read and younger readers who want to read about the vampires they keep hearing about everywhere.