If Flannery O’Connor wrote Twilight || Jennifer the Damned by Karen Ullo

Jennifer the Damned coverA book about four nuns who adopt an orphaned, teenage vampire? A strange enough combination that I naturally had to try it. I full expected it to be Twilight for Catholics – lighthearted romance, humorous, without substance, and (hopefully) without supernatural creatures that sparkle. I was very much mistaken. If Twilight had been written by Flannery O’Connor, the result probably would’ve been something like Jennifer the Damned. This is not your typical young adult vampire romance with a Catholic glint.

Jennifer is a sixteen-year-old vampire who is about to reach the final, mature stage of her undead existence. The problem is she was adopted by an order of nuns several years earlier and they don’t know what she is. Also, the drinking of blood starts with her maturation. So things are a bit complicated.

(Abandon spoiler-free notions, all ye who enter here.)

It’s an interesting concept. Bringing the imaginary into the real world and making it seem plausible isn’t easy, but Karen Ullo pulls it off well. I quite enjoyed her take on the vampire myth. Burnt by the sun? No longer an issue since sunscreen was invented. Repelled by churches, crucifixes, etc.? Not in the way that you’re thinking.

My mother would have sooner drunk my blood than admit she envied her weak, mortal prey. Years later, however, I understood the glimpse of her deepest psyche she had revealed that day. She had watched the faithful, the meek and the dull, partaking of the only power greater than her own, and she hated the God who raised undeserving mortals into eternal glory. She surrounded me with religion so I would know the desperate rage that smoldered through her existence, consuming the fallow emptiness that should have been a soul. But I never hated the people of God. I never believed God was wrong or cruel to exclude me from a salvation I did not deserve. I only wished with every fiber of my being that, against all odds, He might love me, too.

Such a good conflict. What happens when you’re a vampire, believe you have no soul, and still desperately want God to love you? How do you be damned, yet long for blessing? That’s what’s at the heart of the story as Jennifer searches for a way to be what she believes is impossible.

As with any book, there are flaws. Her reasons behind some actions seem rather thin at times, and the murder of one character made no sense to me. Also, be warned that parts of this book are violent and disturbing. I would not give this book to young teens.

Overall, I found this hard to put down.It is reminiscent of the works of Flannery O’Connor in that fundamental truths and faith are explored by way of the darker aspects of the characters. Not that it’s all gloom. There are times of humor and lightheartedness. It is a teenage vampire romance, after all. Just not the one I was expecting.

 

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