Written By: L.J. Smith Grade: B
The Awakening is the first book in the popular series, The Vampire Diaries aimed at young adults. It was originally released in the early 90’s and was re-released in 2007. The Awakening really hasn’t aged a bit since its original release. Since then it has reached an entirely new audience and has been picked up for a TV pilot by the CW.
The Awakening begins with our protagonist, the beautiful and popular, Elena Gilbert, who has it all. She has always seemed to have a power over boys, often without even trying much. Every girl in school wants to be her. She’s the homecoming queen and pretty much has her whole world wrapped around her finger. After being in Europe over the summer she comes back to the small town of Fell’s Church to start off a new school year. She has this overwhelming fear that something horrible is going to happen. When she arrives at school the first day she is surprised by something, but pleasantly so. There is a new student, a transfer student from Italy named Stefan Salvatore. Just like every other girl, Elena is completely mesmerized by him. She has a boyfriend, but has already claimed Stefan for herself. She begins thinking about her relationships with her boyfriend, Matt, and realizes that she does care for him more than any other guy she has been with, but as a friend.
Stefan wants to fit in, to get of the darkness that he has lived in for years. Still, he can’t help but be cold and dismissive towards Elena who has made it her mission to make Stefan hers at all costs. She even makes several game plans to make this happen. Stefan is overwhelmingly attracted to her and is craving her so much that he can barely contain himself. He promises himself for both his and Elena’s sakes that he will stay away. He is afraid to get too close because she looks almost exactly like Katherine, the first love of his life; the one who turned him in to a vampire. This spawned an eternal hatred between his brother, Damon and himself. Stefan still secretly looks out for Elena as he can’t bare the thought of anything happening to her. However, whenever he saves her he also ends up hurting or killing someone else, often not even being conscious of it, but knowing that he is the only one who could have done these monstrous things. Stefan tries to drink animal blood over human’s, but when he does drink human blood he tries to only drink enough so that person will still be able to recover. He is constantly in a weaker state than most vampires and particularly compared to his much stronger and malicious brother who comes in to town after countless years of the two seeing each other.
Just as Elena must have what she craves, Damon must as well. He kills victims constantly and then drinks their blood since it is gives him the most strength just before the body is dead. He thrives on the power he has over others and has many other powers including telepathy, transforming in to animals, and mind control. Damon and Stefan have always been very competitive and just as he stole Katherine away from Stefan, Damon plans on doing the same with Elena. As much as she loves Stefan at this point and how entirely he consumes her mind, Damon clearly has this power over her. He lures her in almost instantly and was able to get her to forget about Stefan completely, which she hasn’t been able to do since they met. Elena is able to stop herself though, which just infuriates Damon, but also makes Elena more desirable to him. As she learns more of the horrors of his past and how he has hurt Stefan who she loves more than anything else, she just wants to get even with him while Stefan tries to protect her even if Damon kills him in the process.
The one flaw in The Awakening is Elena as our protagonist. She’s gorgeous, extremely popular, and has gotten everything that she ever wanted. Elena had an incredibly sweet, good looking boyfriend who really cared for her. Then as soon as she sees something that she can’t have, she must have it and disregards those who have been there for her in the past. At first, it is not easy to relate or feel for Elena. It is questionable why she has to have Stefan, but luckily as the book goes on it becomes easier to feel for her. There are a few things about her past that makes her seem more human. We learn that although she has everything, she ultimately feels empty; as if something has always been missing from her life. As she gets closer to Stefan it is clear that having him in her life is that void she has been feeling. She has her world widened and both her dreams and nightmares become a reality. Through this we see her mature and let go of some of the superficial tendencies that were the center of her existence before. Also, through this we see her strength, which becomes a key part to her character and deserving of our respect. If this strength wasn’t there, she probably wouldn’t be around for four books and most likely wouldn’t be able to resist being captured by the dark side.
Every once in a while the book shows us diary entries from Elena. Still in between this, most of the book is told from Elena’s perspective. If we weren’t given her thoughts from her point of view I’m not sure it would have worked as well as it did. Through this we are able to sympathize, understand, and root for her much more than if it was told from another view. Still, Elena’s isn’t the only side that we get. Stefan tells us things from his side of the story, so we have this understanding from both of them, which just builds up the need for these two to find a way to be together. Stefan’s story is actually one of the most interesting elements of the book. He grew up during the Italian Renaissance while he was still human. We learn what his life was like back then including a first love so strong that he would give up his mortality and his rivalry with Damon that has being going on for as long as he can remember.
The dynamic between the two vampire brothers really powered The Awakening. The two are so different, but through these two characters we get two sides of essential elements of vampires. Stefan is trapped, fearing the monster that he knows he is. He is extremely lonely and tortured. Stefan really wants some sense of peace, some way for him to live the eternal life he has to live outside of the shadows. Damon is more of the classic vampire: pure evil. He has embraced being a vampire and thrives on the power he is capable of and how he can use it to control everyone around him. Damon had many of these qualities even as a human, but becoming a vampire has only made this more possible. Especially through his interactions with Elena we see how he captivates her through the control he has over her mind, his thrilling voice, and chilling looks. He lures her in, most likely at first to kill her and take her blood. After time, feeling that he has to have her, perhaps he actually wants to be with her. Stefan on the other hand thought it would be too painful to be with her and just wanted to keep her safe. There is a great complication between the relationship between the two brothers as well. I certainly feel for and care for Stefan much more. I want to see Elena and him together in the end as they are truly great for each other. Still, there is something very dangerously unknown about Damon that captures you and takes you in to his character just as Elena was in her weaker moments. There is something completely thrilling and mysterious about him that represents and strengthens the classic vampire ideals. He is the one main character that we don’t hear a version of his own story on. For all we know he could have justification in his evil ways. He could have a great untold story in how knowing that he will be eternally damned has driven him to embody the creature of the night that he has become. Even without knowing any of this, we are given so many thrilling moments. I think part of this is not knowing what he truly is and being wary, fearful, and fascinated by him.
L.J. Smith did a great job of putting the reader in Elena’s position especially through the language of Stefan and Damon. You almost feel like as Damon speaks he has the same control over you as a reader that he does over Elena. In the end, the loyalty is to Stefan, who is nearly as exhilarating as Damon. He holds back so much, but as he begins to let go it is very satisfying. Damon has the same luring quality over us, as if we are one of the victims as well who is aware of the danger he possesses, but are intrigued all the same. This also helped with the book’s biggest flaw of at times feeling alienated by Elena. In the end, we were able to feel what she was and as she was changing she became more and more relatable as we could see what she was going through. Through the writing from the beginning we have these subtle, but still very evident foreboding feelings that are displayed through the character’s thoughts, Elena’s best friend’s psychic abilities, and animals that seem to have something very unnatural about them. Smith uses and epitomizes the nature of the classic vampire as well as giving us a contemporary vampire, both who use genre elements that we are familiar with and create a few that only exist in the story she is telling. Smith set a dark scene, but did it in a small town in the world of high school, combining the ordinary with the supernatural. The Awakening is a great start to a twisted and breathtaking love triangle, with danger and death surrounding it.