Sunday, August 23, 2009


Westerfeld, S.  (2005).  Peeps.  New York:  Razorbill.


Nineteen-year-old Cal has had to hunt down all of his ex-girlfriends.  Literally.  Hunt and capture.  Turns out he is one of the rare carriers of the vampire parasite.  It's in his saliva, so any girl he has kissed has become a vampire or peep.  Since the carriers also gain some strength and feed from the infection, he's one of the few humans able to face the peeps and survive.  

Cal must also find the source of his parasite strain.  This will lead him to the girl who originally infected him, her strange apartment building, and a new attractive woman named Lace who Cal must keep safe from the peeps and from himself.

In similar fashion to what Charlaine Harris did within her first few Sookie Stackhouse novels (but later abandoned for a more classic approach), Westerfeld has re-imagined vampirism as a infectious parasite that passes through a carrier's kiss (talk about a kissing disease!).  Westerfeld does an excellent job of presenting vampirism almost as a metaphorical sexually transmitted disease:  one that changes Cal's life permanently, one that makes contacting exes very awkward, one that influences all future relationships.  With breaks in the narrative, Peeps is very informative about the ways various real parasite work in humans and other animals, with some icky details.

With lots of action and a conspiracy or two,

is a fun twisty look at vampires that shares awesome new insight into the creatures.  Plus, there's a sequel:  The Last Days, which follows different characters in New York City.

Admittedly, not the best book to hand to a paranoid germaphobe.  But they may still find joy in some of the shivers (plus Westerfeld includes cautionary tips on how to avoid parasites in the afterword).

As a side note, What do you think of the alternate cover?  I kind of like it, but then I have a low tolerance for seeing angsty teens on the covers of all YA novels.

Activities to Do with the Book:

There are many a research project that could be tied with this book:  History of vampires and vampire myths, the history of various diseases and parasites and how they spread, comparative essays to other vampire books and reimaginings.  They could also look at species of ancient animals that were thought long extinct but have actually relocated or evolved.

Quotes of Note:

"After a year of hunting, I finally caught up with Sarah.
It turned out she'd been hiding in New Jersey, which broke my heart.  I mean, Hoboken?  Sarah was always head-over-heels in love with Manhattan.  For her, New York was like another Elvis, the King remade of bricks, steel, and granite.  The rest of the world was a vast extension of her parents' basement, the last place she wanted to wind up.
No wonder she'd had to leave when the disease took hold of her mind.  Peeps always run from the things they used to love" (p. 1).

"The disease has spent the last thousand years evolving to conceal itself, but it gets tougher and tougher for man-eaters to stay hidden.  Human beings are prey with cell phones, after all" (p. 7).

"Welcome to the wonderful world of parasites.
This is where I live" (p. 17).

"First of all, you won't see me using the V-word much.  In the Night Watch, we prefer the term parasite-positives or peeps for short.
The main thing to remember is that there's no magic involved.  No flying.  Humans don't have hollow bones or wings--the disease doesn't change that" (p. 19).

"We're called carriers because we have the disease without all the symptoms.  Although there is this one extra symptom that we do have:  The disease makes us horny.  All the time.
The parasite doesn't want us carriers to go to waste after all.  We can still spread the disease to other humans.  Like that of the maniacs, our saliva carries the parasite's spores.  But we don't bite, we kiss, the longer and harder the better" (pp. 22-23).

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