I read and enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, and was excited to include his vampire novel in my study of the paranormal genre. Peeps has been honored by both teens and the ALA; it is included in the YALSA Teen Read Week Teen’s Top Ten List 2006 (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/teenreading/teenstopten/06ttt.cfm) and is one of the ALA Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten 2005 (Back Cover).
Series Title: Peeps
Author: Scott Westerfeld
ISBN-10: 1595140832 ISBN-13: 9781595140838
City and Publisher: New York: Razorbill
Copyright Date: 2005
Author’s Website: http://www.scottwesterfeld.com/
Reader’s Annotation: New York’s monstrous underbelly is policed by a secret agency of hunters, scientists, and record keepers, called the Night Watch. Hunter Cal Thompson must find and capture maniacs driven mad by a parasite which makes them hunger for human flesh, despite carrying it himself.
Plot Summary: Cal is part of the Night Watch, an agency of the secret government of New York, dedicated to keeping a lid on Peeps. Peeps aren’t your everyday magical vampires; they’re Parasite-Positive individuals, infected by a virus which makes them maniacal. The parasite spreads through saliva; it creates a maniacal need to bite and rend human flesh and in order to encourage the Peep to hide away creates a hatred of all the things they once loved. Cal carries the disease but not the mania. When the Night Watch assigns him to find and capture the woman who infected him, Cal meets Lacey, and discovers that both the Night Watch and the disease are not what they seem.
Critical Evaluation: Despite the fantastical peeps themselves, most of the horror in this book is derived from nature itself; every other chapter contains an engaging description of a real life parasite. True devotees of paranormal or horror genres might be disappointed by the lack of magic and mystery, but Westerfeld’s use of the natural world creates a very believable scenario. Gruesome descriptions of Guinea worms, wolbachia, and even lice build a truthful terror for the reader, which enhances the chapters that advance the plot.
Westerfeld’s characters are likable and believable. The story is told through Cal’s point of view and he is insightful but not omniscient. The adults in the story often have secrets and quirks, and their motivations remain somewhat mysterious to Cal.
Teenagers, particularly boys, may identify with the nineteen year old Cal. His disease makes him almost constantly horny, but he can never act on it because he would infect his partner. This coupled with his inexperience makes him rather awkward around girls.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 and up
Curriculum Ties: The information on parasites contained in this book makes it an excellent just-for-fun tie in with biology classes. Westerfeld provides a bibliography of non-fiction materials at the end of the book which includes books on parasites and icky things as well as Charles Darwin’s The Origin on Species. Peeps is to some extent a science fiction story which examines how a new parasite might shape the evolution of humans and society. It could be use to engage the imagination of students and help them think about how evolutionary biology and symbiosis shape the human condition.
Booktalking Ideas: Read selections from the chapter on Toxoplasma (including the part about infected people being more attractive to the opposite sex). Then talk about how vampirism might just be a parasite as well.
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Vampires, Animals who are Vampires
Influences from Other Genres: Science Fiction, Popular Science
Challenge Issues: Peeps does contain premarital sex, but with perhaps one of the best deterrents attached (at least for most of the book). People who carry the virus turn their lovers into raving monsters. And even kissing is enough to spread the disease. Carriers are constantly horny but cannot ever act on their feelings or they will create more fiends. The descriptions of real life parasites in every other chapter are also perhaps enough to make teens think twice about the physiological consequences of any form of intimacy…or even leaving the house.
About the Author: Westerfeld pulls the ideas for his books from his real life interests and research. He is married to author Justine Larbalestier. He originally started out writing science fiction for adults, but finds it more interesting to write for teens because of their tendency to play with language. (Pavao, 2006 Retrieved July 31, 2009 from http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6318086.html?q=Westerfeld)