by Mari Mancusi, fantasy (2007)
JAM, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21716-0
In Girls That Growl, Mari Mancusi's third book in her adorable Blood Coven series, pays tribute to one of the finest movies on teen cheerleading: Bring It On. It also marks a slight departure from the direction taken by the author in the previous two books, because this one introduces an unexpectedly heavy dose of teen angst against the backdrop of humor.
This book can stand alone, but I don't see any reason why one shouldn't read at the very least the previous book Stake That first. At any rate, just to briefly recap where things are so far: Rayne McDonald is now a vampire as well as vampire slayer. Because being a vampire slayer involves dusting off vampires who break the rules, she doesn't see any conflict of interest in being both vampire and slayer. She has a hot boyfriend Jareth and she is now still in school only because she wants to retain a semblance of normalcy and continue living with her sister and mother without arousing too much suspicion.
Because of some interesting side-effects caused by the nanovirus in her blood when she turned into a vampire, Rayne is actually somewhat of a half-vampire, half-human. She has the blood-drinking part and the vampire seductive allure thing, but she doesn't get the amazing woo-woo superhuman abilities that come with being a vampire. On the other hand, she can walk in the sun. Jareth too can now walk around in the sun when he contracted the nanovirus while turning Rayne.
The fact that Jareth is now happily enjoying his time under the sun is the source of Rayne's discontent with her relationship with him. She fell for a dark, brooding, and angst-ridden vampire, after all. But now, Jareth is so fond of the sun that he's turning into a surfer dude before her very eyes. How can this be? Meanwhile, Rayne is asked by her creepy drama teacher mentor to look into the strange matter of disappearing jocks in the high school football team. To do this, Rayne will have to join the cheerleading squad. Oh boy. Rayne naturally blackmails her way into short skirts, tight top, and pom-poms, and she will soon realize that the name of the squad, the Oakridge High Wolves, is most appropriate indeed. If that isn't enough, Rayne's self-esteem issues will come into play as she struggles to fit in among the Oakridge High Wolves, the vampires of the Blood Coven, and in life in general.
Girls That Growl is a pretty heavy book despite the presence of humor all over the place, and I have to hand it to Ms Mancusi here: she knows how to make Rayne a very sympathetic heroine despite the undeniable fact that Rayne often behaves (realistically) like a seventeen-year old confused and hurt young lady who can't help lashing out at the ones she loves. Readers of the previous two books may be taken aback by the angst - I certainly am at first - but I personally enjoy the angst. I normally can't stand whiny young girls in young adult fiction, but I find myself most sympathetic when it comes to Rayne. I have to give Ms Mancusi plenty of credit here - instead of making me feel like a mother with an urge to dress down a silly teenage girl, Rayne makes me recall my own teen angst and relate to her considerably.
The plot is, like those in the previous two books, not the strongest I've read, but it works as a backdrop for all that teen angst and sly winks to popular teenage fiction tropes. Some fans may not enjoy Rayne's eventual transformation from outcast to one of the Wolves, but to me, Rayne's experience mirrors Missy Pantone's. She is initially cynical and even derisive of the cheerleaders, but eventually she realizes that they aren't that bad. The camaraderie, sense of fellowship, and teamwork fill some of the empty spaces in her soul and make her feel that she belongs. In other words, Girls That Growl is actually Rayne's coming of age story underneath all that paranormal elements. She may not become the perfect person in the end, but she learns enough to... well, make all that angst worth sitting through.
The downside to all this is that Rayne somehow ends up weaker than she was in the previous book. She needs Jareth to rescue her from the villain - whom I actually empathize with very much; it actually hurts me a little to see him get his just desserts in the end - and she does a pretty stupid thing to reach that point. But to be fair, Jareth isn't behaving any better by that point either, as the two of them let their spat to turn them into silly kids. Oh wait, in a way, they are silly kids, heh.
All things considered, Girls That Growl is heavier on the darker emotions and therefore may not be what fans of the first two books are looking for, but I personally enjoy this one as much as the previous books. Ms Mancusi seems more capable of making me relive my teenage years with apparent ease, and therefore, when I read this book, I don't just read, I turn the pages with my emotions fully invested in seeing Rayne reach the finish line.
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