If I had to choose a superhero power, it would be a tie between invisibility and reading other's thoughts. Ariella Montero, the 14-year-old hero of The Year of Disappearances, can do both. But she's no superhero. She's a vampire.
Author Susan Hubbard has taken that hackneyed world of vampires and given it an original, intriguing twist. Introduced in The Society of S, Ariella now lives with her mother in Homosassa Springs. Ariella does just fine in the hot Florida sun as long as she remembers to apply a heavy coat of sunscreen. She doesn't drink human blood, not that the thought isn't appealing. As long as she takes regular doses of Sangfroid, basically freeze-dried flakes of blood, and drinks a special blood-derived tonic, she can eliminate the need for (fresh) human blood.
Ariella, who discovered her vampire heritage only the year before, is dealing with an absent father, a new mother, her growing sexuality (a problem in the surprisingly celibate and prudish vampire culture) and being a murder suspect. Despite this she is about the sweetest, most erudite and considerate vampire in literature.
With a delicate touch, the talented Hubbard manages to merge environmental concerns with a murder mystery, a coming of age tale with a literary vampire twist. In Ariella's world not all vampires are as nonviolent as she and her parents are. Different sects believe that humans are destroying the Earth and must be made extinct before every other living thing is. Underlying the menacing plot of missing young women and sinister demons is the urgent need for environmental activism. Hubbard, a professor of English at the University of Central Florida, weaves the desperate state of the environment into the plot, ending with a barely disguised plea for action.
With plenty of mysteries left unsolved and questions unanswered, there's rich material to carry on the next chapter of Ariella's story.
Tammar Stein's second novel, "High Dive," is coming in June.