The Struggle
by LJ Smith, fantasy (2010)
Harper, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202319-3


The Struggle is the second book in LJ Smith's The Vampire Diaries. It was first published in 1991. I'm reading the 2010 "revised" edition, which is reissued to coincide with the popularity of the TV series that is loosely based on these books, although I have no idea what has been revised in this book. Since this book is more than 20 years old, some younger kids today may find that these books are rather, er, dated. Elena Gilbert, our heroine, for example, still writes in an actual diary and nobody here uses the Internet.

Deliciously over the top teen melodrama is evergreen, however, and The Struggle is a delightful continuation of the ridiculous fun that is The Awakening. This series is a genuine series - which is to say, the story continues from each book to the next, so you are advised to start with the first book.

Anyway, when this story opens, Stefan Salvatore and Elena are in love despite having barely exchanged anything deeper than the song and dance of a typical adolescent infatuation. It's true love! They want to get married, and everyone who disagrees with their decision can get lost! Unfortunately, life doesn't resemble a Katy Perry song, not yet anyway, as Stefan is suspected by the other kids in school to be the fiend that is going around sucking people's blood and even killing them. Elena's popularity once again plummets. Can our heroine claw her way back to the top of the popularity poll while getting to keep her man? Meanwhile, Damon, Stefan's more evil brother, shows up to try to lure Elena to the dark side. Oh look, there's Stefan, in the corner, still whining and moaning as usual.

Elena continues to make me laugh, really. This young lady is still that selfish and self-absorbed prom queen that shamelessly uses her friends and her ex-boyfriend to make sure that she gets her way, and the author lets Elena get away with it. I will probably want to strangle Elena in real life, but in this story, she is just amazing as she plots and schemes and even breaks into a rival's house with the determination and bravado rarely seen in heroines of these stories. There is no false modesty or insincere self-depreciation from Elena. She just does what she wants, and nothing stands in her way. Stefan, the wimp, tries several times to get away from her - for her own good, of course - but Elena smoothly makes sure that there is no place that he can hide from her, heh. Seriously, Stefan is such a pathetic wimp, the only enjoyment I get from this so-called true romance is watching how Elena stalks and pursues Stefan with a tenacity that's simultaneously awe-inspiring and amusing.

Stefan is, as I've said, utterly useless and self-absorbed. To be fair, he starts kicking some rear end late in this book, but that's only because he's reached the bottom of the barrel and there is nowhere else to go but up. I especially love how he is more concerned about his place in the football team than Elena's welfare early in the story, once he manages to get his name cleared. He's in many ways similar to Elena - they are both self-absorbed and selfish people, but where Elena shows a determination to take no prisoners and kick some serious rear ends, he just mopes and whines like an emasculated warthog.

Fortunately, this book has more Damon than Stefan - much more Damon. And the good news is: Damon is sexy. Evil sexy. Crazy sexy. He's a deranged bastard whose nastiness is magnificent to behold. Despite being a crazy psychopath, he oozes charisma and charm. Okay, Damon is not that impressive, but compared to Stefan, he's pure decadence, like a big tub of chocolate ice cream that won't make me fat. Silly Elena, however, insists that she and Stefan are meant to be together - forever - and nothing Damon does can tear them apart. If I were her... ah well.

I'd hesitate to dismiss The Struggle as a fluffy young adult pap - it's an actually gripping read, thanks to superb pacing and a solid build-up to an explosive denouement and a cliffhanger ending that leaves me barely hanging onto the edge. What really impresses me here is how well the author can tap into the female fascination with dark and dangerous boys and create a very appealing story that caters to this very fascination. The "true love" thing is actually quite insipid, but the pathos and the angst nonetheless manage to reel me in and keep me turning the pages. And, of course, there's this inner cougar side of me that wants to offer Damon a few unforgettable rides around a town if he'd do me a favor and kill off his useless and supremely annoying brother.

The Struggle is pure unadulterated entertainment from start to finish. Sure, it isn't art, but then again, what is? This one delivers in every way that matters, and I'm one happy customer. Bring on the next book, I can't wait.

Rating: 86


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