056 – Crave by Melissa Darnell

Crave cover Savannah Colbert has never known why she’s so hated by the kids of the Clann. Nor can she deny her instinct to get close to Clann golden boy Tristan Coleman. Especially when she recovers from a strange illness and the attraction becomes nearly irresistible. It’s as if he’s a magnet, pulling her gaze, her thoughts, even her dreams. Her family has warned her to have nothing to do with him, or any members of the Clann. But when Tristan is suddenly everywhere she goes, Savannah fears she’s destined to fail.

For years, Tristan has been forbidden to even speak to Savannah Colbert. Then Savannah disappears from school for a week and comes back…different, and suddenly he can’t stay away. Boys seem intoxicated just from looking at her. His own family becomes stricter than ever. And Tristan has to fight his own urge to protect her, to be near her no matter the consequences…
I can pretty easily sum up my feelings on this book:

I can’t even summon up the will to be irritated with this book, just perplexed and disappointed. Have we just completely given up on the idea of show-don’t-tell as a publishing prerequisite? Have we? Because honestly, the writing on display in Crave just puts me at a loss. It’s bad. Baaaaaad. Not quite Once in a Full Moon bad, but it came dangerously close, and oh God, I just cannot do that anymore. I seriously considered making this a DNF, and I never do that, because hey, bad books are half the fun. But oh man, CraveCrave was just too much.

Crave is about Savannah Colbert, a fifteen-year-old girl who learns not long after the book begins that she is half-vampire, half-witch. This is apparently a BIG DEAL, because vampires and witches have been warring like forever, yo, and have only recently fallen into a fragile peace. Savannah’s birth threatens this peace because both races’ Ruling Councils fear that she could be seduced over to the enemy’s side, which would apparently be a Thing. So Savannah is only allowed to exist under very strict conditions, the most important of which being “keep it under wraps” and “do not fraternize with the witches”.

You could probably guess what was going to happen next even if it weren’t in the summary.

Yes, Savannah manages to fall in love with Tristan, a witch, or “member of “the Clann””, if you want to get cheesily vague. Not just any witch, either, but the Future Leader. You see, for some reason it was totes ok for Savannah and the Clann kids to be BFFs back in grade school, but then Savannah and Tristan had cock it by having a pretend wedding. The Clann parents lost their shit and ordered their children to socially ostracize her, so now they’re in high school, and the Clann spawn are rich and powerful popular kids who humiliate their former friend mercilessly. However, both Savannah and Tristan nurse secret crushes, and thus the great majority of Crave is devoted to the slow but inevitable progression towards yet another Romeo and Juliet Romance.

I’ll admit, there are bits and pieces in here that work, or at least would work if they were developed more. I did a forehead slap when we were introduced to the characters Savannah deemed “the Brat Twins”, two Clann girls who used to be her friends. They are now, of course, the beautiful school bitches (a trope I absolutely adore *gritting teeth*), picking on Savannah for no real reason. But Savannah surprised me by actually standing up to them, calling them out, and asking why they’re so mean when the three of them used to be friends. And the girls surprised me by actually getting a little bit sad and nostalgic for the old days, and I thought, “Hey, this could be a really great subplot and subversion”…until the scene ended, and the relationship was never brought up again. The “Brat Twins” go back to being the kind of non-presences I hesitate to even call “cliches”. They appear once or twice to insult Savannah, and otherwise have no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the plot.

Likewise, I appreciate that at the very least there’s more at stake here for Tristan and Savannah than just their parents’ or society’s disapproval. By the end of the book, the vampire Council has more than proven itself willing to take Savannah out of she continues on with the relationship, so…there is that.

I also kind of liked the way the book approached Savannah’s mother and father’s relationship – it’s portrayed as a youthful fling, something of an act of rebellion, passionate, but brief, and something Savannah’s mother has been able to get past. It’s rare that you see any kind of romance with a vampire played out with an even vaguely realistic perception of the transient nature of love and relationships.

On the downside, there’s…the rest of the book. Savannah as a character is a fairly realistic portrayal of an immature, self-absorbed fifteen-year-old, I suppose. Shes also pretty consistently annoying, and likely will be to anyone who is not the same sort of teenager. She and Tristan take turns narrating the story, and neither of them come off as terribly mature. They’re still at the age where their wants and desires are all that matter, and reality has yet to set in – for example, it’s Tristan’s parents’ wish that he take over his father’s mantle as Clann leader, despite his desire to play football – not just any football, mind you, but in the NFL. Like I said, reality hasn’t really set in for these kids yet. So he huffs and puffs and ignores his father’s requests to learn magic, which causes all sorts of problems for the other kids in the school, but whatever, he doesn’t care because they’re not him.

Savannah’s version of this immaturity is similarly annoying: thanks to some growth-stunting tea her mother and grandmother have been giving her since childhood (that literally stopped her from getting her period/physically developing until age fifteen, yeah, that sounds like it’s terrific for her health), Savannah is incredibly physically uncoordinated until her vampire powers manifest. Once that happens, however, over the course of a few days she a) develops breasts, b) gets shampoo-commercial hair, c) can mesmerize boys with her eyes (yes, vampirism is literally puberty here), and d) becomes the most graceful thing to walk the face of the planet. As such, she excels in dance class, the latest in a long line of sports Savannah has attempted and previously failed miserably at.

Up until this point she’s hated dance, but because she’s suddenly good at it, Savannah decides that it is her TRUE CALLING, the only good thing in her terrible life, and decides to try out for a spot on the dance team. Unfortunately, she’s just so good at dancing that her father decides it’s TOO DANGEROUS for her to stick with it, because she might expose herself as a SUPERNATURALLY fantastic dancer, and the humans might somehow connect this to being a VAMPIRE! Since vampires are still in the closet, this would be a death-penalty level offense, so Savannah’s father bans her from it, and when she tries out anyway, the Vampire Council manipulates the judges in to not choosing her.

Talk about micro-managing.

It sounds like a dumb thing to quibble about, but Savannah’s sudden and VERY DEEP ~love of dance~ is a huge part of the book. She child-disowns her father when she finds out what the council did, she then joins the team as a manager, and dance practice becomes the setting for a lot of the book. For a while there, it seems like we do nothing but go from dance practice to dance practice, after Tristan becomes her co-manager, and the two spend the daily practices falling in love.

And all the while Savannah supposedly has this great love of dance, occasionally mentions how it kills her to not dance with the others, ignores her father and his potentially helpful vampire-living advice for weeks because of it, all because this is the sport that she just happened to be participating in when she developed her vampire grace.

Dancing isn’t her passion, it’s just the first thing she tried! She could have been playing volleyball or soccer or fencing or fucking polo and you’d have gotten the same reaction/instantaneous devotion. But we’re supposed to relate to Savannah in all this, we’re supposed to empathize with her pain at not being able to do this thing that she’s enjoyed for all of a month, and we really should, by all rights, because nobody wants some distant council running their lives, right? But we don’t – or at least, I didn’t – because Savannah came off like a spoiled child in the midst of a phase.

That’s Savannah’s maturity in a nutshell, and that attitude permeates throughout the book and both character’s worldviews. Parents are so unfair, they just don’t get it, why do they tell us how to live our lives, they don’t know how hard it is, man. And while, in some respects, the book tries to disprove that – with Savannah’s father, in particular, and we’ll get to that – you also know that love will ultimately conquer all, which will end up vindicating much the children’s beliefs.

The best thing that could possibly happen to the series is that the relationship would actually start a war, hundreds of people would die, and these kids would be forced to grow up and understand that the universe does not revolve around them.

tl;dr it’s very hard to sympathize with whiny teenagers, even when the alternative is a limitation on free will.

On the upside, I appreciated that the romance was the result of years of friendship (if a bit, er, gaping in the middle there), and months worth of time spent together and dating. Sure, they’re in love from page one, but at least it’s not insta!love in practice. The downside of this, naturally, is that this is the entire book. We read through months of the two longing for while actively ignoring one another, through boyfriends and secret rescues and hot and cold games, until Tristan finally cracks, then it becomes months of Tristan pursuing Savannah, which gives way to months of secret real-world and shared-dream dates.

During this time, Savannah pretty much ignores developing/testing/experimenting with any of her vampire super powers, aside from the dance thing she can’t use, the random empath abilities she develops but ignores, and the enchanting-boys-with-her-eyes thing, which she can’t control, and needs Tristan to save her from the repercussions of.

Yes, Tristan has to save Savannah from the fruits of her burgeoning sexuality, which is essentially inspiring obsession in any boy she makes eye contact with, to the point that they would stalk and likely eventually try to rape her. Except for Tristan, of course. I just, I can’t…

Tristan, by the way, is one of the more unrealistic teenage boys I’ve read about, of late. His every move, whim, and thought seems to revolve around the heroine – he’s a “player” (at fifteen, I remind you), but it’s all just an act because he can’t have the one girl he wants. Even so, he longs for her, has nightmares about the look on her face when he abandoned her (they were, like, seven), he watches over her from afar, and eventually defies both his parents and their society to pursue her. Once he makes up his decision to do this, the floozies are gone (not that we ever see them; we’re just told he’s a player, but that’s pretty much the same, amirite?), and he’s 100% devoted to winning her over, to the extent that he joins a team he doesn’t really care about, gets up hours before he needs to to have time alone with her, endures weeks of rejection without batting an eye, and sleeps outside on a regular basis in order to connect with Savannah in their dreams.

When they finally do start dating, Tristan takes Savannah on surprise picnics, ballroom dances with her, sets up elaborate romantic dates that occasionally harken back to their childhood, and puts absolutely no sexual pressure on her. In short, Tristan is what every fifteen-year-old girl imagines the perfect boyfriend will be, and a far cry from what any teenage boy actually is.

You could argue that this is Savannah’s perception of him…except that it extends right into Tristan’s narration, as well. Again, this book really has no basis in reality.

Anyway, any action and/or non romance-related plot development is saved for the last fifty pages or so, which makes that like 300-someodd pages of nothing but romance and high school drama. The climax can’t quite be counted as a Deus Ex Conflict, because the threat of the Council has been there all along, but it certainly does give us our first glimpse into the vampire world fairly late in the game. The Council finally intervenes in Tristan and Savannah’s increasingly public relationship, and decides to keep the peace by kidnapping the heir to a prominent Clann family and using his blood to tempt his vampire girlfriend into eating him, so that they can justify killing her.

And they’re worried Savannah is going to start another war.

Even the book acknowledges how much this utterly contradicts their stated intent, but…oh well, that’s how the story goes, I guess. It’s here the Savannah succumbs to what I’m going to assume is our new relationship road block (aside from the whole “inter-species war” thing): giving in to her vampire. This basically means blocking out all her emotions, slipping in to her “ice princess” facade in which she doesn’t give a shit, and LOGIC reigns supreme.

This is one of those concepts that might have worked if the writing had employed a little more subtlety, but as it is, it’s pretty cheesy. It comes off as teen melodrama, like Savannah is living, walking emo poetry, all ~numb~ and ~ice~ and ~dead inside~.

To return to my original issue, the writing in Crave just doesn’t enhance the story at all – in the beginning, we’re put through pages of expositional internal narration, where we learn about the world, characters, and their situations with all the subtlety of a brick to the face, e.g.:

The Clann kids had probably learned their bullying tactics from their parents, who ran this town and a good portion of Texas, inserting themselves into every possible leadership role from county and state to even federal levels. Local rumor had it that the only way the Clann could do this was by using magic, of all things.
Bunch of controlling witches. Just because my family had lead those power addicts for the past four generations didn’t mean I wanted anything to do with their magic or their stupid rules.
Unfortunately, my parents had other plans for me that had nothing to do with football at all. The expected me to follow in my dad’s footsteps and become the next clan leader. Because of that, I’d had to practically beg just to be allowed to play.
Unfortunately, his [eyes] had always been better at hiding his emotions, staying an icy gray no matter what. Mine had an annoying habit of turning colors depending on my mood, making it impossible for me to hide anything.
Tell, tell, tell…any one of these passages would have had more impact if we’d seen the conflicts or concepts they refer to before hearing the character whiningly explain them to us.

The actual expositional dialogues aren’t much better – it’s pretty transparently obvious that Savannah spends much of her “You are a dhampir” speech asking questions in order to plug the plot holes in her mother and father’s backstory.

I was particularly disappointed by the way Savannah’s realization about her father was handled. The idea reminded me a bit of Manifest, another book in which an oblivious teenager comes to better understand the parent she unfairly despises. But, oddly enough, Manifest did it much better, because we get to see the truth come out, when the preferred parent exposes his ass, which enables his daughter to better see her mother’s side of the story.

Here, Savannah’s father just says “Hey, I’m doing this for you”, and Savannah instantly realizes he’s ~always cared~. We don’t see her father act any differently, Savannah just expo-terrogates him so we get an explanation for his dickish behavior, while he’s as impassive as ever. It’s supposed to be this very emotional moment of realization, and it falls flat because you don’t see any emotion or unusual behavior from him. It just didn’t work for me.

To be clear, I’m really not trying to be cruel or vicious by bringing up the writing here, but it has to be said. It had a huge impact on my enjoyment of the book, and on my inclination to pick up another one. I really feel like this should have been smoothed out before publication, and I don’t understand why it wasn’t.

This book just massively missed the mark for me, but I think I finally understand why. This book is not written for me. One of the extras at the end of the book is a playlist that the author complied, with several songs per chapter intended for specific scenes. It was when I saw that playlist that I understood.

This is not a book for YA-loving adults, or perhaps even older teenagers. This is a book for Savannah. For kids who listen to Miley Cyrus and David Archuleta and Jesse McCartney, kids who still hate their parents for grounding them, kids who will relate to Savannah and Tristan’s ~pain~, and that’s totally fine. It’s probably even got a decent lesson for them to learn.

The rest of us can probably survive without it.

One Star


8 Responses

  1. darkmanifest

    January 31, 2012 8:18 am, Reply

    Oh my god that songlist. I like some of those songs, sure, but the fact that the author compiled a contemporary teenage soundtrack for every scene is just…XD

    • Kayla + Cyna

      January 31, 2012 3:15 pm, Reply

      I know right? It’s not even really contemporary, though. I mean, I could almost understand if it was like Lady Gaga and Kesha, but it’s “contemporary” alt-pop-rock music from like 3 – 10 years ago. SO BIZARRE.

    • dreamworlder

      April 21, 2015 11:56 pm, Reply

      It makes me cringe that I like some of the songs on that list and that I even picked a few out for my writing playlist.

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