Thank you to Razorbill/NetGalley for a copy of Youngblood in exchange for an honest review
High school sucks. Especially for the undead.
Kat Finn and her mother can barely make ends meet living among humans. Like all vampires, they must drink Hema, an expensive synthetic blood substitute, to survive, as nearly all of humanity has been infected by a virus that’s fatal to vampires. Kat isn’t looking forward to an immortal life of barely scraping by, but when she learns she’s been accepted to the Harcote School, a prestigious prep school that’s secretly vampires-only, she knows her fortune is about to change.
Taylor Sanger has grown up in the wealthy vampire world, but she’s tired of its backward, conservative values — especially when it comes to sexuality, since she’s an out-and-proud lesbian. She only has to suffer through two more years of Harcote before she’s free. But when she discovers her new roommate is Kat Finn, she’s horrified. Because she and Kat used to be best friends, a long time ago, and it didn’t end well.
When Taylor stumbles upon the dead body of a vampire, and Kat makes a shocking discovery in the school’s archives, the two realize that there are deep secrets at Harcote — secrets that link them to the most powerful figures in Vampirdom and to the synthetic blood they all rely on. — from the publisher.
Dude, it’s a metaphor
Sasha Laurens’s Youngblood is one of those sci-fi/fantasy books that exists to be a metaphor. For me, that’s a great thing — I gobble that up. Among other things, this novel is an indictment of the upper class and the US American health system. That was cathartic after the last few years, y’know what I mean?
The metaphor aspect does mean that the mystery and plot (especially the love story) are secondary to the message — not that they’re not developed. Just know you’ll be a step ahead of the characters most of the time. Youngblood is a cerebral experience more than an emotional one.
I wasn’t surprised to find out that author Sasha Laurens has a PhD in Political Science. And apparently, her day job is researching protest in authoritarian states.
Speaking of romance
I f’loved that Youngblood features a butch (or baby butch) romantic lead. And another queer romantic lead who really doesn’t understand that she’s queer until she’s already in love with another girl. The love story is very sweet, organic and authentic. Also, the emphasis on consent was just lovely.
Though, I definitely wanted to bop both Taylor and Kat on the head for the number of assumptions they made … y’all, communication, it’s a thing. Do it.
Warning: this next section is rife with spoilers …
Well, that was weird
For a book so concerned with social justice, Youngblood made a few missteps with its treatment of marginalized characters, which gave me pause. Namely, the death of a queer character in service to the plot and the “epilogue” choices for two of the only characters of color with any real development.
There is an intense tragic irony in the fact that Kat spends so much time bemoaning the lack of BIPOC students at Harcote, only for the two she befriends to be thrown by the wayside of Vampirdome and her to just not care. I’m just not sure if Laurens was in on the dramatic irony?
While, tragically, it may be realistic for IRL marginalized characters to become “collateral damage,” it felt like an error in judgment for Sasha Laurens not to reflect on that. I could accept these outcomes in a work of metaphor if there had been some sort of mediation upon them by either main character.
No, I don’t want any queer and/or person of color to be a Mary Sue, or even a “good guy.” However, if you’re gonna sacrifice them to martyrdom or make them a “bad guy,” you’d better have a darn good reason is all I’m saying. Though this is a very sharp point of criticism, it didn’t come anywhere close to ruining the book for me.
Should you read it?
Umm, yah! I loved this book so much. You definitely need to go into Youngblood with the right mindset, though. Don’t read Youngblood expecting to be surprised; read it to be entertained. Youngblood is a freakin’ interesting book, with fantastic world-building, that raises great questions, especially for younger readers.
Youngblood is out July 19. Pick up a copy at your local indie bookstore or library. 🩸📚