A small vampire child regains consciousness in a dark cave with no memory of her life beyond her current state of excruciating pain. We are introduced to Shori, a 53 year old vampire with the appearance of a 10 year old; she is badly burned, with a cracked skull, and an insatiable hunger for blood. We learn alongside Shori about the vampiric world which Octavia Butler has created. Butler’s vampires have used genetic engineering to combine vampire and human DNA to create Shori, a vampire which can remain awake during the day and tolerate sunlight due to Shori’s dark skin.
As a part human, black vampire, Shori’s very existence sets off a chain reaction resulting in the death of her entire family. Fledgling follows Shori as she re-learns what it means to be Ina (Butler’s race of vampires) and as she seeks revenge on those who have slaughtered her family. Butler has woven existing vampire culture with new characteristics of her own creation. A large portion of the novel is devoted to the relationship between Ina and humans. Each Ina has a number of human symbiots, humans which live with the Ina in a polygamous relationship of sorts. The Ina feed from their symbiots, protect them, even have a sexual relationship them.
The problem a lot of people have with this novel is Shori’s outward appearance of a child while she has multiple sexual relationships with her symbiots. I personally tended to age Shori up in my mind whenever this semi-frequent scenes occurred. I continued to read the novel because I genuinely enjoyed the world which was created and was eager to learn more despite the uncomfortable child sexuality.
I’ve read that Fledgling was intended to be the first in a series that was unable to come to fruition given Butler’s untimely death. Fledgling isn’t a cliff hanger, it certainly has a stand alone conclusion/ending (without gaping unanswered questions like some novels *cough* *Girl With The Dragon Tattoo* *cough*). I would have enjoyed this novel a lot more without the child involved sexual acts especially since vampire world Butler constructed is so interesting.
I received an ARC of Random from the Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA. Random is marketed as a novel along the same lines of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and 13 Reasons Why by Jason Asher. I am a huge Lauren Oliver fan, reading Before I Fall made me cry in public – not that crying in public is something I make a habit of doing. Additionally, 13 Reasons Why has been staring at me from my to-read shelf since Christmas. All in all, it seemed like Random would be right up my alley!
Random introduces us to the Hershberger family, currently in a state of upheaval. Sixteen year old Victoria ‘Tori’ has irrevocably changed life forever when she becomes known as a member of the Canyon City Seven. The group of teenagers are being prosecuted for manslaughter following the suicide of a fellow student from online bullying. On the eve before the trial, Tori receives a phone call from a stranger, Andy, claiming to be on the verge of committing suicide. Andy tells Tori he dialed her number at random and it is up to her to prove to him that life is worth living before sunrise. Initially, Tori believes this to be an elaborate prank but as the night goes on it becomes apparent that Tori does hold yet another young man’s life in her hands.
While I find the subject matter incredibly relevant, Random did not pack the same emotional punch as Before I Fall (hence the crying in public) while exploring the motives of high school bullying. I found Tori incredibly irritating and though the novel takes place in less than the span of 24 hours, I didn’t feel Tori exhibit any growth, let alone express any remorse at the death of fellow student Kevin. We live in a world where anyone can hide behind a computer screen and say whatever vile or malicious comments come to mind without repercussions. Leevan attempts to explore the backlash of online cruelty. The chapters of Random are interspersed with facebook-esque posts from the past illustrating the evolution of Tori from her weak attempts to defend Kevin to the eventual acceptance her friends’ online behavior to her ultimate betrayal of Kevin as she becomes a vicious bully herself.
There is a twist at the end of the novel involving Andy that I didn’t see coming and I’m still not sure how I feel about it but I won’t spoil it here. HOWEVER, the final scene SPOILERS!! in which Tori leaves an unanswerable voicemail for Kevin was the most heart wrenching part of the book which did lead to a brief misting of my eyes. Random is poignant must-read for all online teenagers.