Oct 01, 11
Read in September, 2011
The Radleys, winner of 2010′s ALA Alex Award, is the story of a typical family. Relatively affluent and living in suburban London, they enjoy the comfort of a posh home and all it’s trappings. They are respectably employed law abiding citizens who socialize with their neighbors and whose children go to school with little trouble to be had. Only thing is that in actuality the Radleys are far from typical. They may appear to lead the life that most everyone else leads but in reality they have a big secret. In reality, they are a family of vampires — abstaining from the kill and the blood drinking, but vampires none the less. Add to this the fact that the children Rowan and Clara are blissfully unaware of this fact and you have yourself the perfect paranormal satire.
In a book that could have gone over the top into being extremely campy Haig did well to make it seem realistic. The parents went to work, the kids went to school, each had a place in their respective social structures. Helen and Peter (the parents) had neighbors over to dinner regularly while Rowan and Clara were both targets of bullying and persecution. It seems that at some deeper level their peers knew something was off. Something more than their strange appearance. In the end they were right.
The abstention from blood kept the entire family weak, dull-witted, pale skinned and a variety of other physical and mental attributes. What makes this interesting is that neither child is aware these ailments are anything more than just some genetic deficiency since their parents have kept the vampirism a secret from them. That is until Clara inadvertently is overcome with the desire to kill and drink the blood of an overbearing boy who is forcing himself on her. At that point all bets are off and the Radley family is forced to acknowledge who and what they are. From there it’s a comedy of errors as they try to cover up the murder of this young boy and hide their true identity. Enter Uncle Will, the bearer of even more family skeletons in the closet.
I quite enjoyed this book, far more than I was expecting to actually. All of this rests squarely on the shoulders of the great characterization and outstanding writing by Matt Haig. You see, he’s taken a really simple plot and setting and added one small twist. vampirism, that turns everything upside down. What I absolutely adored was how mundane everything was, how painfully ordinary the Radley’s lives were, except that they just happened to be vampires. It was almost like Haig was shrugging that fact off. Not in a bad or careless way, mind you, but rather in the way that it was just part of their lives just like say, having grey hair is part of mine. It’s just one of many characteristics they each hold. It was fantastically done.
Sure, the paranormal elements of the story are front and center to an extent but I don’t want to diminish the plot elements that are less fantastical in nature. There are common themes found in any book — bullying, fidelity, bigotry and acceptance to name a few. The Radleys have marital problems just like everyone else. Their children have issues at school. With a few notable exceptions, whether individually or as a family, they work through these issues in much the same way as you or I would. Most importantly, as parents Helen and Peter want their children to have a decent life, they want them to be able to lead them without fear or any stigma and that is what has lead to the abstention from blood and the subsequent cover up. What they come to discover however, and in my opinion one of the best parts of the story, is that you can’t hide who you are and that in order to be happy you have to be yourself.
An interesting take on vampires living among us, The Radleys isn’t necessarily for the younger YA readers. There are a fair amount of adult themes to wade through that may not be appropriate for tweens. But older teens will certainly enjoy it as it has a different tone than most paranormal fiction out there. It’s a bit noir, a bit satirical and a whole lot of fun.