In the graphic novel Fake Blood, Whitney Gardner – author of the 2018 Schneider Family Book Award winner You’re Welcome, Universe – dips a gentle toe into the thrills of vampire romance and ponders how far one ought to go to impress a crush.
AJ’s first day of Grade 6 already feels like a disappointment. His friends Ivy and Hunter had much better summer adventures, they grew more than he did, and unlike him, they aren’t pining for an unrequited love. AJ is infatuated with Nia, the smartest girl in class. But she’s never even noticed him. AJ’s just a boring guy and Nia’s obsessed with vampires.
When their new teacher pairs them up for a class project, AJ realizes the key to attracting Nia’s attention is transforming himself into the brooding, bloodsucking hero of her dreams. As he embraces his new persona, he drifts further and further from Ivy and Hunter. And as Nia takes notice of his carefully cultivated vampiric traits, it becomes clear that her true interest in creatures of the night is far from romantic.
Fake Blood exists in the same happy middle ground between the daily grind of preteen emotions and wacky supernatural hijinks that characterize popular titles such as Lumberjanes and Gravity Falls. People are not necessarily what they seem, both in terms of their true feelings and mortal status.
Gardner’s artwork is whimsical and charming, and the cartoonish faces perfectly capture the extreme moods inherent in this age. Warm colours and dynamic shifts in visual perspective give Fake Blood an autumnal coziness that pulls the reader into each scene.
The subject matter could easily have gone into full Halloween mode, but instead it lingers in a subtler space that’s more campfire tale than trick or treat. The story has a simple sweetness to it, championing family and friendship over hard-core action or fighting. In the end, we find out that everyone was trying to be someone else – someone better, someone braver, someone cooler – and they all learn just to be themselves instead.