Book Review: The Awakening by L. J. Smith (The Vampire Diaries #1)

February 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

2 down, 23 to go on Goodreads Challenge

I didn’t think I would like The Vampire Diaries books because I had attached to Elena and her brother Jeremy on The Vampire Diaries TV show. In the books, there is no Jeremy, and Elena is the girl all us Bella types hated in high school—a blonde, beautiful boy magnet, bratty with entitlement. Then one evening I noticed my Season 1 DVD  came with an Audiobook of The Awakening and I listened to it while making dinner. Immediately, I got sucked into the story and was hooked. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book and read the words on the page with my own eyes.

When the story opens, Elena Gilbert is writing in her diary about a strong foreboding that she can’t explain or shake. She is the popular golden girl that all the other kids flock to, but that is all about to change. When a not-so-tall yet dark and very handsome new student comes to Robert E. Lee high school, Elena is instantly smitten and decides she has to have him. Getting guys is usually a piece of cake for her, but not when it comes to Stefan Salvatore. As he resists her attempts to win him over, strange things start happening in the town of Fell’s Church. A large, sinister crow with an uncanny knowing and watchful eye follows Elena wherever she goes. A frightening, powerful force chases Elena and her friends in the old cemetery. An old man is attacked and left for dead under Wickery Bridge. As Elena becomes more and more determined to obtain the brooding, remote boy that she cannot get out of her head, another power is just as determined to draw her forever into its darkness.

I love good foreshadowing, and L. J. Smith is a master at it. Elena’s indefinable and ever increasing dread kept me turning the pages as much as the menacing, mysterious events and her dangerous love for the tortured, haunted boy from a foreign land. Some scenes are all the more deliciously shivery because of the setup. When Elena goes to the old cemetery to visit her parents’ gravesite, it is clear something creepy is going to happen:

“The moon had not yet risen, and she could just make out the old graveyard and Wickery Bridge beyond it. . . . It had a wild look to it; brambles and tall weeds grew on the graves, and ivy vines swarmed over crumbling granite. Elena had never liked it.”

Reading what happens next, I am frozen in place, with breath held and heart racing.

Those used to the nonstop twists and turns and bloody violence of The Vampire Diaries, the TV show, may appreciate the books’ tight plotting and atmospheric buildup of suspense. Even though at times Elena is almost unlikable—for example when she pressures her recent ex-boyfriend, nice-guy-next-door Matt, to help her get Stefan—I stick with her and root for her and come to love her for her determination, loyalty, and courage. And while some of the characters’ actions and motivations are juvenile—spreading false rumors to pique a boy’s interest or conducting rituals to see their love futures—the novel taps into the singular in-between state of adolescence. They see and hear things that beckon from the unknown void, while trapped in the confines of pre-adulthood: limited resources, lack of authority, no one to turn to for help. These characters do not act like adults inside 17-year-old bodies—they remain teenagers while forced to navigate and fend off the horror that is unfolding around them.

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