Book Review: Awake While I Die by K. E. Woodruff
A teenage boy goes into the woods with every intention of killing himself. When he comes out, not only is he still alive, he's also become an immortal vampire...and he's not at all happy about it. What follows is the emotional and thought-provoking story of how protagonist Jason Harper navigates being a vampire and everything that comes with it. Because he still very much wants to die, but things are a lot more complicated now that his vampire mentor is trying to solve a mystery and Jason is starting to catch feelings for the cute vampire girl he just befriended all while trying to stave off his new cravings for human blood.
I think vampire stories have become especially tricky to execute ever since their surge in popularity with Twilight and other books. We all have our own ideas about what vampires should be, with some readers preferring a more romanticized view of them while others just want the monsters in all their bloody horror. This book strikes a good balance between the two. These vampires aren't bloodthirsty monsters who go around murdering everyone, but they also aren't the super sparkly, extra beautiful and mostly harmless types you'll find at the other end of the spectrum. I did wish we had spent a little more time exploring vampire society/culture, how they'd managed to stay hidden and cover up their feeding, what a mentor/fledgling relationship is supposed to be, etc. By the end, I still had so many questions and felt like not all of the plot threads were really wrapped up or even fully explored, and that was a bit frustrating. So much of those external plot pieces felt very rushed, and I really wished we had spent some more time on certain scenes.
However, this is very much a character-focused story, with the plot serving as more of a backdrop to Jason's growth and development. There is an element of mystery in the plot and some definite excitement in certain scenes, but we spend a lot of the story just sitting with Jason and moving about his world as he comes to term (or doesn't) with what has happened to him. And where that focus on character is concerned, I thought the author did a really good job. Jason is angsty and maybe even unlikeable in some regards. He's a very damaged kid and he has every right to be. But those characters are often the most interesting to go on emotional journeys with because they have so much potential to change for the better...or to become completely self-destructive until they crash and burn horribly. I won't say which camp Jason falls into, but I loved delving into his character and thought his arc was satisfying throughout the story.
Overall, I think this is a unique and well-executed vampire story, and a lot of that uniqueness comes from the close examination of Jason as a character and what it means to keep living when you feel like life isn't worth living anymore. Pick it up if that sounds appealing to you. Awake While I Die releases on October 31, 2020.
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