I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Awesome by Eva Darrows
Published by Ravenstone on May 26th 2015
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult
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Seventeen-year-old Maggie Cunningham is tough, smart, and sassy. She's also not like other girls her age, but then, who would be when the family business is monster hunting? Combat boots, ratty hooded sweatshirts, and hair worn short so nothing with claws can get a grip, Maggie's concerns in life slant more toward survival than fashion or boys. Which presents a problem when Maggie's mother informs Maggie that she can't get her journeyman's license for hunting until she loses her virginity.
Something about virgin blood turning vampires into pointy rage monsters. Blood and gore and insides being on the outside and all that.
Maggie's battled ghosts and goblins and her fair share of house brownies, but finding herself a boy - fitting in with her peers - proves a much more daunting task than any monster hunt. Did you know normal girls don't stuff their bras with holy water balloons? Nor do they carry wooden stakes in their waistbands. And they care about things like "matching" and "footwear." Of course, they also can't clean a gun blindfolded, shoot a crossbow, or exorcise ghosts from a house. Which means they're lame and Maggie's not. Because Maggie's awesome. The Awesome, in fact. Just ask her. She'd be more than happy to tell you.
After she finds herself a date.
Before I get into actually reviewing the book, I want to take a moment to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing it is. First off, the cover is one of my favorite of all the covers. Even if I didn’t love B horror movie poster style, I love pen and ink illustrations and neon colors (bonus points if they contrast like the green and pink). Second, the pages are edged in black which is a neat touch (I am a sucker for unnecessary decorative details). What I’m saying is it’s a really cool book to have on your shelf and I’m shallow like that so I feel it’s worth calling out.
Are you appreciating? Appreciate more.
Okay, we’re good.
My original plan was to review The Awesome without using the word awesome but that’s one of my favorite words and The Awesome is pretty awesome so whoops, I’ve failed.
The Awesome (can you tell I’m having fun with the title? because I am) is the kind of paranormal comedy that I love but never seem to find enough of. It features a sort of relentless wit and monster-world/real-world juxtapositioning I think fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sarah Rees Brennan will be super into (though The Awesome is a little more belligerently in-your-face than either).
The world-building was a tad on the light side but effective. Maggie is an apprentice Hunter and she and her mom (a fully licensed Hunter) work for the Department of Paranormal Relations (fyi, paranormal bureaucracy tickles the shit out of me and has ever since I first saw Beetlejuice as a small, impressionable youth). Apparently, in this alternate version of reality, the general public is aware of things that go bump in the night and the people that manage/police them, it’s a not-so-noteworthy part of life people just roll with. While it would have been awesome to find out more about that (have people always known? was there some kind of out-of-the-coffin reveal ala True Blood?) those details aren’t necessary to this story and maybe if we’re all extra nice, Santa will give us another book set in this world for Christmas.
Maggie, our heroine, is awesome and she knows it, she’s just not sure if everyone else properly recognizes it but whatever screw them anyway. While she totally owns her Hunter-self, her blunt snark and brash confidence mask a mess of insecurities when it comes to normal teenager stuff. She has a tendency to make assumptions and dig her heels in and I loved her ‘okay, maybe the world isn’t as black and white as I’ve always thought’ arc.
Given the book summary and Maggie’s defensive confidence, it would be so, so easy for The Awesome to have fallen into a not-like-those-other-girls kind of narrative and I was delighted to find that wasn’t a factor. Early on Maggie’s best (only) friend Julie arrives on the scene and in spite of Julie being all the things Maggie isn’t (a normal teenager, into traditionally feminine things, capable of not being sarcastic for more than 3 seconds), I LOVED that Maggie appreciates Julie for who she is and doesn’t begrudge her being into things that Maggie finds pointless and boring.
If you’ll allow me to drag out my soapbox for a minute, I am so sick of this idea that if you’re happy and like the stuff you like, then all the stuff you don’t like has to be bad and the people that like it are wrong and inferior. Different shit speaks to different people. I love that Maggie appreciates the differences between her and Julie and I love that as much as she doesn’t get/like/have much experience with normal teenage girl stuff, she doesn’t look down on Julie for liking it. It’d be super easy and tragically believable for her to have an attitude of ‘obviously hunting monsters is more important than going to parties’ and while she does think parties are stupid, she doesn’t think poorly of Julie for loving them she’s just like ‘well, we’re different and that’s awesome.’ I am 100% here for books that promote this kind of friendship.
Other things I am 100% here for? Maggie’s mom, Janice. She is the kind of mom I aspire to be should I ever decide to spawn. She rocks rainbow hair, uses phrases like Joey-what’s-his-nuts to describe Maggie’s peers, dances on tables in her underwear to 80s rock at full blast and is ready and willing kick the ass of anyone or thing that looks at her or her kid funny. To put it simply, Janice is the absolute shit. Regardless of all its fantastic bits and pieces, I would have loved this book for Janice alone.
While romance is a part of this book, it’s a fairly subtle part. The plot kicks off with Maggie on a mission to get laid so she can get her vamp hunting license (apparently virgin blood is like a berserker trigger for vampires) (my first question: okay but what counts as losing your virginity? skin on skin penetration says the book) (immediate follow up from me: so where does that leave lesbians? cue a big grin and hand gestures on Janice’s part) (I love Janice so much you guys, so, so, so much).
Where was I? Oh right, the ship. So, Maggie is on a quest to lose her virginity and bounce, enter Julie’s cousin Ian stage right. Ian initially comes off as a typical dudebro but as Maggie gets to know him, he reveals himself to be a seriously nice guy (and I don’t mean a Nice Guy who’s actually an entitled dick, but a genuinely sweet, supportive dude). Their relationship is adorable and their (NON FADE-TO-BLACK) sexy scenes are so endearingly and realistically awkward (sorry, spoilers, but imo, realistic non fade-to-black YA sex scenes should always be pointed out and highly praised).
Also, if you haven’t picked up on it, The Awesome is so filled with sex positive messaging (69% of it from Janice, my queen, my goddess), it practically drips off the pages. Casual hook ups? Fine. Relationships? Also fine as long as your significant other treats you right. Staying a virgin? Totally cool as long as you’re not going out looking for vampires. The Awesome preaches love yourself, own what you do, embrace new experiences and I appreciate that so much I could cry.
I only have two real complaints and they’re fairly mild. Occasionally the narrative is a little too dgaf and while it doesn’t usually cross the line into offensive, there’s a few moments where the comedy was a little too punching down (example, there’s a character that wears a cartoonish amount of make-up and Maggie makes a handful of ‘looks like a hooker’ inner monologue cracks which, ehhhhh, let’s not make low-hanging fruit sex worker jokes, that’s lazy, annoying and needlessly derogatory). I was also surprised to see the word ‘spaz’ given it’s a British book and I was under the impression that that’s a hugely offensive word in the UK. (**Update: I was under the impression I was working with a final copy but have since learned this line was edited out in the final edition**)
My only other issue is, given the larger than life character ensemble (seriously, even the barely mentioned side-characters are vibrant and fascinating) and snarky, hilarious narrative voice, the ultimate main plot felt almost underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but I got to the end of the book like ‘wait, what? that’s it? That can’t be it, I need these characters to be awesome, adorable goofballs for like 5 more books, this can’t possibly be it.’ I know a lot of people have series/trilogy fatigue but the world of The Awesome is one I wouldn’t mind visiting many more times.
In conclusion, you don’t want to miss out on The Awesome. Don’t let the lack of hype fool you, (it’s from a small pub and hasn’t gotten that much attention from what I’ve seen and that is a damn shame) it is appropriately named. I almost passed it by and am so, so glad I didn’t because it’s definitely one of my most enjoyable reads this year.