Mel and Cathy couldn’t be more different, but they have been best friends for years. Cathy is sweet, loves books and is fascinated by vampires while Mel can be ornery, likes solving other people’s problems and feels that vampires are best kept at a distance. Despite their differences, they have only ever fought once; at least before the vampire shows up.
Francis Duvarney is a vampire with a million questions who enrols in Craunston High. He is old-fashioned and chivalrous; but Mel soon suspects that he has ulterior motives, especially where Cathy is concerned.
When she decides to solve this problem, as she has so often solved others, questions begin to pile up and she ends up finding a lot of things she hadn’t expected. Among them, a boy named Kit who can make her laugh, and has the most unusual family background she has encountered.
There is a lot to love about this self-aware, satirical novel. For me, it starts with the authors. I have adored Sarah Rees Brennan’s writing from before I even knew her as Sarah Rees Brennan. She has a fantastic blog that captures so much of her humour and passion for – well, everything, that I really think the people who don’t know about it are missing out on life. Justine Larbalestier caught and held my attention with her amazing book, Liar. Two pages in and I already knew that it would trump sleep that night. Their characters have such strong voices that it’s impossible not to listen.
Team Human is no exception. Mel’s voice is distinctive and unforgettable. She is something that Young Adult sadly lacks; a funny, witty girl who values laughter more than drama. As I mentioned earlier, she can be inclined to irritability, but even that she will turn to humour rather than sulking. Once Mel meets Kit, she only gets better. With Kit she has a kindred spirit, someone to appreciate her humour and to bounce it off of. He is still his own person though; slightly strange and while he admires her he doesn’t think that she is always right.
Something that Brennan and Larbalestier do consistently is write minorities. Whether it be ethnicity, gender or sexuality, they try to not only include them but also to give them starring roles. All of the thought that they’ve put in to the nature of discrimination really helps them out in Team Human. Humans and vampires are not legally segregated; but there is a space between them that neither party seems willing to breech. Vampires have narrow ideas of what humans are, and humans have narrower ideas about vampires. The novel is too friendly to ever get preachy, but tolerance is lauded.
Unlike Brennan’s Demon’s Lexicon and Larbalestier’s Liar, Team Human was slow to get into. Character development began straight away, and there was humour from the start right through to the end; but the plotline didn’t pick up until a several chapters in. If I had been able to love Cathy as much as Mel does, I would have enjoyed the slow start. Cathy and Francis were the only burr in the side of this otherwise incredible book. They lacked the vivacity of Mel and her other friends. Cathy’s conversations with Mel never fizzed and sparkled like Kit’s did. I found myself wondering why Mel was friends with Cathy in the first place. Ironically, I think that Cathy was deliberately written this way. To be in love with a vampire, she had to love stagnation; and Cathy does not change.
Fortunately, all of the other supporting characters were gems. Kit’s mother, Camille, and her friends and neighbours deserve their own book. Mel’s sister, too, stands out for me more than she should, given the small part she plays. In fact, all of the families were brilliantly thought out and written; they each had their own brand of crazy and their own way of loving and protecting each other.
Team Human juxtaposes the choices – human or vampire – in such a way as to make either of them valid options depending on each individual. Some readers have classed it as a parody making gentle fun of the new vampire genre out there, but it goes beyond that. The novel offers Kit’s very human attractiveness against the lure of the forbidden vampire in a manner that is far too self-aware to be regarded as anything less than satire. By the end of it though, I have to say that I’m Team Human all the way.
Team Human – Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier
Allen & Unwin (July 3, 2012)