Poor Zee. All she wanted was a summer fling with a hot Italian guy. At 17, the only fling she’s ever had with a guy “was when Felix Lewis flung me in the air during cheerleading tryouts.” Unfortunately, fling prospect Paolo turns out to be more dangerous than she’d realized, and Zee is turned into a vampire. Not just any vampire, but quite possibly the vampire prophesied to “bring about the death of the entire vampire race.” Quite a lot for a clumsy, awkward girl to deal with, especially when the vampire Monarchy has her in their sights.
Wynne Channing has quite the task with What Kills Me, overcoming the Twilight stigma and distinguishing her book from the shelves of other vampire YA novels. She does so with humour and some pretty cool kung fu fight scenes. To be honest, Channing hooked me with her second paragraph: “I walked out of the bakery with a box of cannoli…” I’m almost certain her choice of pastry is incidental, but that line, so close after the foreboding vampire prophecy in the epigraph, made me remember “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” from The Godfather. Zee should’ve taken the gun and left the cannoli, eh?
For the first few chapters, I thought the book was pretty solid — interesting, with Zee turning into a vampire and going on the run — but as a whole, it didn’t really grab me or compel me to keep reading. There’s a really touching passage where another vampire advises Zee to let her family think she’s dead:
“If they believe that you are alive, they will wait for you to come home.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I said, though I knew the answer.
“They will wait forever. They will never grieve and they will never move on.”
“I don’t know which is worse. Having them wait or having them move on.” [17%]
Heartbreaking reality of a vampire’s new life, and Channing renders it with beautiful simplicity. There are similarly wonderful moments in the first few chapters of the book that also stood out for me, but I wasn’t taken in quite yet.
What Kills Me really took off, in my opinion, when Lucas enters the picture. I generally don’t like the romantic subplots that YA authors seem to want to insert even into thrillers/adventure stories. But in this case, the chemistry between Lucas and Zee really pulled me in. I love their banter, which is playful, sometimes tense, but always feeling natural. For example, when Zee, frustrated at being unfairly labelled a killer because of a prophecy, crushes a box, Lucas quips, “Did that make you feel better? Are you starting your murdering spree with the wooden box?” [48%]
I also love this bit of dialogue:
I watched him put the pouch [of blood] to his lips.
“What are you looking at?” he said after swallowing half the bag.
“It just looks… weird, you drinking out of that thing.”
“I just thought vampires would like, you know, vicious while drinking blood,” I said. “You look like you’re in kindergarten with your juice pack.” I regretted it when I saw his face.”
“Shut up and drink your juice.” [45%]
Oh, Zee, always saying the wrong thing. Zee is clumsy and awkward, and in some books, these characters are usually token clumsy (really gorgeous, but just clumsy enough to be adorable to the love interest) or stupid clumsy (Bella Swan, anyone?). Channing manages to make Zee seem real, and I can definitely relate to some of the stupid things she says. For example, upon discovering some new physical skills as a vampire:
“Did you see that?” I asked. I pointed over my shoulder with my thumb.
“See me not fall out of the truck? I did like, a flip or something,” I said.
He rolled his eyes and walked by me.
“That was amazing,” I said, to no one in particular. [40%]
Yes, if it were me, I’d be doing flips over being able to do flips as well. Most of all, I love that Zee’s vampire abilities are just as much liability as asset. When she tries to leap onto a cliff, for example, she misjudges her own strength and accidentally crushes her handhold instead, almost toppling off the edge. Minor quibble: Zee’s later transformation into a skilled fighter seems too quick and convenient. I understand super strength, but some of her moves were practically Jackie Chan. That being said, I do like that she progresses from being scared and helpless to being a fighting force to be reckoned with. I just wish the transition was smoother.
There was a twist near the end that seemed almost deus ex machina, which is always a disappointment for me. Still, thinking back on the rest of the story, I saw where Channing planted hints of this throughout. The ending felt a bit anticlimactic, but the twist also created some very interesting implications for the rest of the series. With this ending, I have no clue where Channing can take Zee’s story, but I’m definitely intrigued.
Thank you to the author for a copy of this ebook in exchange for an honest review.