Sunshine: My First Vampire Novel

I don’t read a whole lot of mainstream YA novels.

Particularly the ones about vampires.

So you could say that I read Sunshine due to an accident.

You see, I was assigned Robin McKinley’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast for school. And because I’m an obsessive little bean, I decided I was going to read all her other retellings as well. Beauty was my first exposure to the genre and I was fascinated.

What I didn’t know was that McKinley didn’t just write retellings. Some of her books are original. Sunshine is one of those… those it could perhaps be viewed as a distant cousin to a retelling of George MacDonald’s Little Daylight? I don’t presume to know.

In some ways, then Sunshine seems so out of McKinley’s league. But there were still moments that were so distinctly her and that was good to see. You shouldn’t lose your distinctive flair and personality just because you make a genre jump.

Admittedly, once I began reading – and realized that this was not a retelling, as I had expected – I wanted to see it through. If only because this book was a complete departure from what I normally read.

I had some big problems with Sunshine. But I also learned some things I previously did not know.

One of my biggest issues with the genre as a whole is that YA authors seem to feel like in order to appeal to the audience they have to include sex and obscene language.

Because apparently that’s all we’re interested in – sex – and all we do – use profanity. Why must mainstream YA is so predictable in this respect!

It doesn’t bother me  to hear profanity used but to see it is unbearable. They are ugly words. They don’t look nice. And I like writing to look pretty.

Sunshine was predictable in every respect, to be honest. Crude, lurid, mindless, overdramatic. Like, “Oh, my life is so hard because I think I might be in love with two guys at the same time and can’t pick, so I’ll lead them both on!” Am I supposed to be able to relate to this? I can’t.

In my – admittedly limited – experience, YA novels are always about teenagers – which is understandable, I suppose – hot guys – more rare than such books lead you to believe – and said teenagers “saving the world” or participating in other activities that are equally questionable in the realism department.

That said, I found myself enjoying this book against my better judgement. I thought I was “above” this. I despised the stereotypical teenage girl books. I thought I knew better than to be interested in things like dark romance and messy relationships and craving human blood.

I apologize for my arrogance. I was wrong.

I thought vampire novels were the worst of the fantasy genre, but Sunshine made me realize that “vampire” is a genre all its own and – just like every genre -has its good and its bad.

That doesn’t mean that I think that Sunshine is the best of its genre.

It was much different – and better – than was expecting it to be.

Just because a book is about vampires doesn’t mean it is automatically poorly-written, mindless trash.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t completely farfetched! It was plausible. It worked. This made me realize that when set in an appropriate world, one can do almost anything without it coming across as unrealistic.

It was complex, the world created. But also overwhelming for a newbie like me. I am basically illiterate in this genre. I don’t read much fantasy. The Lord of the Rings, Eragon, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia were as far as I went.

I didn’t realize at first that it was understood that this is all taking place after the Apocalypse – or… sometime in the distant future, when the world looks nothing like it does now. Maybe that is an understood fact about all vampire novels, I don’t pretend to know. I’m too new to the genre.

Another thing I liked was that Rae didn’t have these perfectly panned speeches. She couldn’t always find the swords to say what she wanted to.

I have a huge problem with protagonists who come up with great speeches on the spot. Katniss, I’m looking at you.

Who does this? Certainly not me.

It is unattractive to have a constantly tongue-tied character, but let’s face it – that’s how most of us would react to situations like the ones these girls are facing.

Unfortunately, Rae’s charm ended right about there, at her realism. She is too cliche.Tough loner girl who has powers she somehow didn’t know she had…Where have we seen this before? 

She is a baker… So that’s fairly different? But in my book that doesn’t outweigh being cliche.

Con, on the other hand, is great. Stoic and stiff and gentlemanly and Darcy-like. I read the whole book just for him, I think. It was boring when he wasn’t around. The beginning part of the book where they are trapped together is the best part.

It is kind of obvious that Rae and Con will fall in love.  Is this okay in some circumstances? It’s certainly something to consider…

I was thoroughly annoyed with facets of their relationship though. For example, Con and Rae have exactly one heated sexual encounter and then McKinley backs off and tries to act like it never happened.

Um. You can’t do that.

You’ve been setting this up for half the book! The audience demands resolution! Either they are together or they break up! You can’t tell me they are just friends when desire is obviously present.

The forbidden love because-he’s-nice-but-also-wants-your-blood trope is terribly overused. Anybody else thinking Twilight at this point?

Then again, the fact that Rae had a boyfriend who was not villified in any way was a breath of fresh air for the Love Triangle Society. I kept waiting for him to turn out to be working for the dark side, but it never happened, so…

I do think that Rae should have felt a little more guilty – or, rather, guilty at all – for messing around with two guys at once.

Ultimately, the end was terribly dissatisfying. All the buildup seemed to be for nothing. The climax fell flat.

In closing, I will just say – thank goodness for standalones! We do not need another series in the world!

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Do you ever make a complete departure from what you normally read? Do you read mainstream YA? Are there any good vampire novels? Do you think people should step outside of what they normally read to try new things?