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They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill

The Psychological Meaning of Supernatural Monsters in Young Adult Fiction

Joni Richards Bodart

Teen readers have always been fascinated by monsters, but lately it seems like every other young adult (YA) book is about vampires, zombies, or werewolves. These works are controversial, since they look at aspects of life and human nature that adults prefer to keep hidden from teenagers. But this is also why they are so important: They provide a literal example of how ignoring life’s hazards won’t make them go away and demonstrate that ignorance of danger puts one at greater risk.

In They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill: The Psychological Meaning ofSupernatural Monsters in Young Adult Fiction Joni Bodart examines six different monsters—vampires, shapeshifters, zombies, unicorns, angels, and demons—in YA literature. Bodart first discusses the meaning of these monsters in cultures all over the world. Subsequent chapters explore their history and most important incarnations, comparing the same kind of creatures featured in different titles. This volume also contains interviews with authors who provide additional insight and information, and the bibliography includes a comprehensive list of titles featuring the various monsters.

Analyzing the most important and well-written series and titles for teens, They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill will be useful for parents, teachers, and anyone else hoping to understand why teens want to read books in this genre and what some of the benefits of reading them might be.
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Scarecrow Press
Pages: 256Size: 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
978-0-8108-8227-0 • Hardback • November 2011 • $50.00 • (£32.95)
978-0-8108-8228-7 • eBook • November 2011 • $49.99 • (£32.95)
Joni Richards Bodart is assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. She is the author of The World's Best Thin Books: What to Read When Your Book Report is Due Tomorrow (Scarecrow, 2000), Radical Reads: 101 YA Novels on the Edge (Scarecrow, 2002), and Radical Reads 2: Working with the Newest Edgy Titles for Teens (Scarecrow, 2010).
Blood and Chocolate (shapeshifters) (Delacorte, 1997), A.J. Whitten’s The Cellar (zombies) (Houghton, 2011), and Diana Peterfreund’s “Rampant” series (unicorns) (HarperCollins). Excerpts from author interviews, including book-and-author related online resources, enrich the accessible text. Effort is made to connect the nature of the particular monster being discussed to the developmental stages of young adults, as well as to occurrences such as the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001....Bodart uses sources such as pop-culture icon Stephen King, developmental authorities Piaget and Erikson, and professional LIS journal articles to expand her discussion and inform her conclusions. This is an informative look at a popular publishing phenomenon. An appendix lists recent paranormal series titles (stand-alone, continuing, complete, and unknown) and provides a solid core for collections of this particular genre.
School Library Journal

Depending on your viewpoint, the recent explosion of paranormal entities in YA fiction has either been a bane or boon. Regardless, librarians ask the same question posited by Bodart in this book’s introduction: “Why does a literary form that revels in rot and ruin appeal to teen readers?” And what are the cultural coals fueling this most recent fire? Bodart divides her investigation into four categories: vampires, shape-shifters, zombies, and “The Unexpectedly Deadly” monsters of angels, unicorns, and demons. Her opening remarks, reminiscent of Stephen King’s Danse Macabre (1981), are enlightening, swift studies in each subgenre’s history, growth, tropes, and major works. Chapters focusing on individual authors follow, from Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Blood series to Charlie Higson’s The Enemy.
Criticism is mostly absent. Rather, the chapters serve both as a tour through each invented universe and as a study of the author’s relationship to the books, drawn mostly through existing interviews. The fact that few of these series are actually scary is often sidestepped, but this entry in the Scarecrow Studies in Young Adult Literature series is nonetheless an ideal window through which librarians and readers can view the current landscape—and choose what to read next.


Bodart’s summation of scary stuff in young adult reading cuts to the heart of Gothicism. Her introduction, a gem of a lecture on otherness, connects the dots between the literary no man’s land and the unstable, unknowable path between the teen age and adulthood. Her bibliographies present classic and recent sources from Maurice Sendak to Anne Rice and Stephen King. . . . This is a worthy book for the public and school library and for psychology and young adult education shelves of teacher’s colleges.
American Reference Books Annual

Like a vampire to blood, it is hard to resist a book with a title like this one. Why does it seem that every young adult fiction author is suddenly writing about supernatural monsters like werewolves, zombies and vampires? Are these books popular now because of the economic downturn? Or is the popularity due to a need of young adults to learn about monsters and demons, what they are, why they are dangerous and how to overcome their threats within the safe, controlled confines of a story? Do young adults live in a reality between an adult’s and a child’s world, like the fictitious monsters in these books? These are the questions Joni Richards Bodart addresses in this scholarly analysis of the ‘monster’ phenomenon in young adult fiction. Dr Bodart is well placed to write on this topic. She holds degrees in psychology as well as a doctorate in librarianship. In addition Bodart is an expert in young adult literature, having written around 20 books on the subject. Despite the scholarly tone of this work, she writes in a very readable and enjoyable way, which tempts readers to seek out for themselves many of the books she discusses.This book is not only a fascinating scholarly account of the reasons for the current proliferation of zombies and vampires in young adult fiction, but it is also a useful guide for librarians interested in current series of fantasy and horror books for these readers. The book lists horror/fantasy series and individual titles by sub-genre, such as vampires, shapeshifters, zombies and demons, as well as giving historical context to the current phenomenon. There is a US bias in the selection of titles, but, that aside, it is still an excellent selection guide. As a mother of three young adults as well as a librarian, I thoroughly recommend this book both for its insight into the world of supernatural fiction and for its use as a guide to what is available in the horror/fantasy genre for young adults. This book is a worthwhile guide to enjoying the ‘darkness in all of us’ in a good story.
Australian Library Journal

They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill: The Psychological Meaning of Supernatural Monsters in Young Adult Fiction is essentially a monster mash documenting books that appeal to an American teenage readership. Bodart focuses on six different monsters - vampires, shape-shifters, killer unicorns, zombies, evil angels and demons. Each of Bodart's four main sections cover the particular topic followed by an examination of specific subject books, such as Melissa de la Cruz's Blue Bloods and Charlie Higson's The Enemy series. . . . They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill is clearly intended for public and school libraries and teenage readers.
The Age

It is useful as a reference work about some current Young Adult horror fiction. I found Bodart’s book to be well organized and designed for readers to skim and take from it what they needed. . . Bodart’s selection of books to analyze is useful for someone who wants to gain a better understanding of the breadth of the subgenre or perhaps get a detailed description of a book or series that cannot be gleaned from the Internet.
Dead Reckonings: A Review Magazine for the Horror Field