Review: Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

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November 12, 2012 by Heidi

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan book coverTitle: Team Human [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Justine Larbalestier [Website|Twitter] and Sarah Rees Brennan [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Published: July 3rd, 2012 by HarperTeen
Format: Hardcover; 352 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Just because Mel lives in New Whitby, a city founded by vampires, doesn’t mean she knows any of the blood-drinking undead personally. They stay in their part of town; she says in hers. Until the day a vampire shows up at her high school. Worse yet, her best friend, Cathy, seems to be falling in love with him. It’s up to Mel to save Cathy from a mistake she might regret for all eternity!

On top of trying to help Cathy (whether she wants it or not), Mel is investigating a mysterious disappearance for another friend and discovering the attractions of a certain vampire wannabe. Combine all this with a cranky vampire cop, a number of unlikely romantic entanglements, and the occasional zombie, and soon Mel is hip-deep in an adventure that is equal parts hilarious and touching.

Acclaimed authors Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan team up to create a witty and poignant story of cool vampires, warm friendships, and the changes that test the bonds of love.

Coming off of my Unspoken high, I was ready to take on anything established YA author Sarah Rees Brennan could throw at me.  If that was a co-written humorous teen vampire novel promising to address the eye-roll inducing nature of the countless ‘Team ____’ scenarios in YA today with some surprising depth–a book that just happened to have made my most anticipated list for 2012–bring it on.

It would have been so easy for Team Human to have read like a joke.  In fact, I know many fellow readers thought it was a joke when they first encountered the title.  The authors kept the book a secret while writing, so there wasn’t a lot of build up before there it was in the catalogs, available for pre-order.  The pleasantly surprising reality about Team Human was that it was no joke whatsoever.  It was an incredibly fun, satirical, and touching story about friendship and acceptance, with just a dash of foreboding mystery and some zombies thrown in to keep things on edge.

That said, Team Human did get a little overly heavy handed for me when it stumbled into big message territory, and my inability to connect with our narrator and main protagonist, Mel, made it a bit of a disappointment.  Mel is a very well developed and real teen character, but as with all character-driven stories, if I don’t connect, I never fall in love. She’s a good sister and daughter, protective and caring for her friends–but the later is pushed to the extreme.

In Team Human, Mel will go to great lengths to stop her best friend, Cathy, from dating a vampire and making very serious life decisions regarding him.  She refuses to give her friend the credit she probably deserves as a free-thinking and intelligent individual, or to give anyone she deems as ‘not a person’ a chance.  That’s right–Mel’s racist!  She’s constantly saying things like “I’m not prejudice, I just think vampires and humans shouldn’t mix” in the same way that a white girl in 1950s Mississippi might say “I’m not prejudice, I just think Jim Crow laws are there to protect and benefit everyone”.  I guess this is part of the humor of Team Human, but I must admit I found it more grating than funny, and Mel’s transformation into someone who has an increasingly open mind towards vampires was a bit ‘let’s hold hands and skip in the sunshine dead of night’ for me.  On top of which, we all know I hate characters who poke their nose in where they don’t belong, and what could do that more extremely than constantly telling your friends what to think and feel?

Despite my issues with Mel, the rest of the cast of Team Human was excellent and fun.  Francis, the old-fashioned and pompous vampire, Cathy the girl who can’t help but fall for him, Kit, the kid raised by vampires, and a number of other friends, vampires, and family members of all those involved.  Team Human looked at multiculturalism from various angles featuring an American born Chinese main character who finds it difficult to understand another culture until she is able to see it from the inside.  Indeed, without Kit–our cultural guide to vampirism–to lighten the mood and bring some perspective to Mel, I wouldn’t have enjoyed Team Human half so much.  Kit brings the humor, a lot of which is based on the reality that he knows so little about being human.  How can you not love a 17 year old boy whose reaction to his first (human) kiss is to say “Hey, I don’t want to have sex with you”?

On top of this, I love any authors who will unabashedly point out repeatedly the complete inappropriateness of a 100+ year immortal creature dating a teen.  As John Green would say, “It’s not because you look old.  It’s because you are old.”  I will stress that most readers will likely not be as bothered by Mel as I.  She is a loyal and good friend, who though mistaken in her convictions is not unwilling to learn and grow.  In short, she’s a normal teen, convinced she knows everything until she realizes on her own that she does not.

If you’d asked me before reading Team Human, I would have said, yes, I am Team Human 100%.  But after having read it, I’m not so sure.  Maybe that was the whole point in the authors creating this book–to make vampire lovers and vampire haters come together and say “I guess you’re not so bad.”  Or maybe it was just to have some fun.  Either way, I’m happy with the end result.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  
When I picked up Team Human, I also grabbed a copy of The Demon’s Lexicon.  Now, however, my enthusiasm has been dulled a bit and I’m no longer chomping at the bit to dive into this series.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, and I do plan to read it, but probably not as soon as originally planned.

I’ll admit to not having been familiar with Justine Larbalestier prior to reading Team Human, but looking at her backlog I’d really like to check out her Magic or Madness series.

Recommended for:  Pretty much anyone who has at some point read and rolled their eyes at a YA vampire story.  Yes, Twilight readers, I’m looking at you.

Get a second opinion: 
Book Harbinger – “As expected, beyond the witty dialogue the writing is sharp and meaningful in both what is said and what is unsaid.”
The Book Smugglers – “In the end, I laughed. A lot. What I didn’t expect was that I would also cry – a lot (good tears).”
Late Nights With Good Books – “Although I did not find it super thought-provoking or award-winning, Team Human is an entertaining, somewhat clever satire that contains some good messages about the importance of friendships.”
Literary Exploration – “The story is fast-paced, exciting, and laugh out loud funny, you won’t want to put it down!”
Good Books and Good Wine – “In all, this is a refreshing, fun and touching satire with a world I had fun checking out.”

I’ve also reviewed: 

The Spring Before I Met You by Sarah Rees Brennan (The Lynburn Legacy .25)
The Summer Before I Met You by Sarah Rees Brennan (The Lynburn Legacy .5)
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (The Lynburn Legacy 1)

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17 comments »

  1. Holly says:

    Aww, I’m sorry to hear this didn’t work as well for you. The Demon’s Lexicon is awesome though (better than Team Human and perhaps Unspoken) so I hope you don’t stay away from it for too long.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Holly! I WILL read The Demon’s Lexicon series, I just have to get back in the mood for it. I don’t know if I just read Team Human at the wrong time, or if it just really didn’t work for me. I was surprised to be disappointed since others that I tend to agree with (like you!) had enjoyed it so much.

  2. I’m mad at myself since I had to give this one back to the library before I even had the chance to read it, especially because I knew just how fun this book would be! Ahh, I’m hoping to get back to it at some point, because I really can’t resist a book where maybe fang bangers and haters can “come together and say “I guess you’re not so bad.””. So excited, bro. ^_^

    • Heidi says:

      I hope that you do get this one back and give it a chance! I think you’d really have fun with this one, Asher. I’m the only one I know of who was really rubbed the wrong way by a lot of this book, so hopefully you fair better.

  3. I think I’ll be skipping this one after all. I’m not into humorous novels for some reason and like you, I have a feeling Mel would grate on me. I’m so upset though that your excitement for The Demon’s Lexicon has abated! :( It’s truly AMAZING, as is the sequel, even though the conclusion wasn’t as promising as I’d hoped. The Magic or Madness trilogy is another one I read a looooong time ago and I remember liking it, just not overly loving it, but it’s quite good too. I’m curious to see what you make of it and I hope you decide to pick up TDL soon! Fabulous review, as always, dear! :)

    • Heidi says:

      I promise, I’ll still read The Demon’s Lexicon! I just have to get back in the mood again, which may take a while (I just gave it back to the library in defeat yesterday). And I don’t know what my issues with Team Human were, I mean, obviously I do–I wrote them down–but I’m the only one who seems to have them. Maybe I was just in a funk, or maybe Mel really is kind of annoying. Who can say? 😛

  4. Okay, I don’t know if I would like this much, based on what you said about Mel. I absolutely need to like the MC in a character driven book. Actually, in almost all books.

    Have you seen the Team Human book trailer? It’s very funny.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I can deal with not being in love with a character if it’s really plot driven, but even then it makes it hard.

      The trailer is funny! I guess I just ended up feeling like mixing satire with big message didn’t work out so well, particularly not when I didn’t click with Mel.

  5. I have The Demon’s Lexicon out from the library right now, but I haven’t picked it up for…I’m not sure what reason. I think because, like you, I’m riding a post-Unspoken “I love Sarah Rees Brennan!” high, and I don’t want that to be shattered by potential reality?

    Either way, hmm to this book. How to balance being a good friend with giving your friends the respect to live their own lives is an interesting topic, but the kumbaya tone would probably be off-putting for me as well.

    As for Justine Larbalestier, read Magic or Madness! I read it last year, and really enjoyed it. (Though at the same time, I’ve had the sequels sitting on my Kindle ever since, but haven’t read them so…???)

    • Heidi says:

      Oooh, I’m excited to check out Verity Books when you launch in December, Anna!

      And yeah, I just get turned off by books when the message hits you over the head. I get that it was being funny and satirical, but I just wasn’t laughing…

      I hope for both our sake’s that we’re not disappointed in Demon’s Lexicon! If you read it before I do, let me know. :)

  6. I am glad that you were able to enjoy Team Human, Heidi! I didn’t really consider that Mel is racist, but I suppose that is technically true. She’s humanist? Definitely elitist. But I didn’t mind it that much, since she does undergo a huge transformation and clearly the message we as readers were left with is that stereotyping entire groups of beings is bad. It definitely was an entertaining book but managed to take a much-needed new approach to the paranormal genre.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I really didn’t think many readers would be as bothered by Mel as I was–I think she just hit one too many of my buttons, as did the overly saturated message of the book. Still–it was worth the time I spent reading it, and I enjoyed a lot of it! Especially Kit, who was definetely a new kind of character. 😀

  7. Sorry to hear it got a bit heavy-handed at times, but it still sounds like a lot of fun. I have never read either Rees Brennan or Larbalestier, which is something I really need to fix.

    • Heidi says:

      It is a lot of fun! Most people haven’t been as annoyed with the message as I was, but I tend to shy away from books where you can clearly label the message without a moment’s thought. I like my stories to be good stories, not necessarily to be written as teaching tools. *shrug*

      I do highly recommend giving Rees Brennan a go at some point, though I need to read more of her books myself. She’s really not for everyone, but I’ve found I enjoy her humor.

  8. Ah, love this review. Vampires were my first love in the world of paranormals, and really they still are. I still enjoy a good vampire book even in today’s over saturated market. I love that this is satire, but still sends a message. And I love how you picked up on the underlying prejudices of the MC. This review has made me want to read it even more:)

    • Heidi says:

      Oh I’m glad that it makes you want to read it, Heather! Like I said, I don’t see other readers having the same annoyances that I did, and I really think that it’s fun and lots of people will love it. If you enjoy a good vampire book every now and again, and you read a lot of YA, this is really a great one to pick up!

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