Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

I was really trying to hold off on reading Holly Black’s new book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, until closer to Halloween. The book, about seventeen-year-old Tana, imagines a world where Coldtowns have sprung up across the United States to contain cities contaminated by large numbers of vampires. These include, for example, Springfield, MA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, and New Orleans. I ended up reading the book almost the day it came out in September, although I managed to hold off on writing a review until closer to Halloween.

Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown single-handedly revives the YA vampire story and shows the potential to make vampires truly terrifying again. It is the perfect late-October book and epitomizes a nightmarish feel; anything seems possible, especially horrors and terrors coming to life. As well, this book review is going to kick off a series of scary book reviews, from children’s to young adult to adult.

Tana’s story begins in the bathroom of a house party the morning after it has ended. She wakes up disoriented and confused:

Tana woke up lying in a bathtub. Her legs were drawn up, her cheek pressed against the cold metal of the faucet. A slow drip had soaked the fabric on her shoulder and wetted locks of her hair. The rest of her, including her clothes, was still completely dry, which was kind of a relief. Her neck felt stiff; her shoulders ached. She looked up dazedly at the ceiling, at the blots of mold grown into Rorschach patterns. For a moment, she felt completely disoriented. Then she scrambled up onto her knees, skin sliding on the enamel, and pushed aside the shower curtain.

What Tana finds on the other side of the curtain is worse than she could have ever imagined. The house and its inhabitants have been torn apart by vampires, and Black is not afraid to detail the realities of this new world and the horrors within. After discovering that her ex-boyfriend – the incredibly endearing Aidan – has been turned into a vampire, and after saving a much, much, much older vampire named Gavriel from being captured, Tana voluntarily goes with the both of them to the nearest Coldtown. Tana says of the Springfield, MA Coldtown where they are headed, “It’s like the Hotel California…Or a roach motel. Roaches check in but they don’t check out.”

On the surface, it seems like there is little reason for Tana to tie her fate to a pair of vampires, but as the story progresses and Tana’s backstory is unwound, the reasons why she seeks the Coldtown become more evident. Not only does Tana fear that she might have been infected herself at the house party, but she has witnessed the slow transition from human to vampire before and she knows that it is better to be in a Coldtown than at home with her father and her sister. Still, the implications of checking into a Coldtown are severe: “All infected people and captured vampires were sent to Coldtowns, and sick, sad, or deluded humans went there voluntarily. It was supposed to be a constant party, free for the price of blood. But once people were inside, humans – even human children, even babies born in Coldtown – weren’t allowed to leave.”

Black slowly reveals the former relationship between Aidan and Tana (before he turned into an ex-boyfriend), the history of Coldtowns and the rise of vampires, and Tana’s own complicated family life, impacting how the reader views these characters in the immediate now that the story takes place in. It is a very tightly written story, and every decision made and every character trait stems directly from a source that Black reveals as the story progresses.

Tana is one of those protagonists who makes choices, decisions, and mistakes that sometimes don’t make sense to the reader, but because she is so sure of them, she seems very in control of her story. She reminded me of Robin McKinley’s female protagonist in Sunshine, but I found the context of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (the concept of the Coldtowns alone really interested me) much more intriguing. This story is equal parts alternative history, love story, and adventure, all bound together by Black’s incredible protagonist. It is certainly a book that I hope to return to every year around this time, especially for its potential to really tell a scary story. 

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