|My physical book pile.|
Please be aware that some spoilers lie ahead.
Tana lives in a slightly futuristic world where a rogue vampire decided to break all of the ritualist rules of Vampire Secrecy by infecting hundreds and hundreds of people with the Cold, and they, in turn, infected thousands and thousands and so on. This created worldwide havoc, but at least in the US there are a handful of Coldtowns, where vampires and humans live side by side in an uneasy alliance: humans allow vamps to feed on them just a little via IV tubes rather than by biting (which spreads the Coldness), and therefore the vamps' food source doesn't dry up (literally) and the humans can keep on being human and not Cold.
One day, Tana wakes up from an all night party to discover she is the only partygoer left alive from a mass vampire attack. When she discovers Aidan, an exboyfriend infected with the Cold, and Gavriel, a mysterious but insane vampire, chained up in a bedroom, her split decision to try to rescue them both by driving to the nearest Coldtown changes all of their lives. You'll find no romanticized notion of vampires, no helpless heroine, and no love triangles here. Instead, you'll get a moral-but-complicated-heroine who often doesn't know what the right thing to do is, plus a vampire who is unhinged, secretive, and seductive. In other words, this book is thoroughly fun and refreshing.
She and her best friends, Chipo, Bastard, Godknows, and Sbho, are only around 10-11 when the book opens, but already they inhabit dual worlds of innocence and worldliness that juxtapose sinisterly. A scene in which the kids are sneaking off to Budapest (a wealthy neighborhood far from their shantytown) to steal guavas to assuage their hunger pangs but joking about breaking into the houses to steal other things, is echoed later in the book when an angry mob on a rampage destroys a house, drop-kicks a dog to its death, and drives away the wealthy white occupants--the kids watch in terror and then pour into the emptied house to make their own brand of mischief.
Or when Darling, Sbho, and a new neighbor want to re-enact a scene from ER because they want to emulate the beautiful and successful doctors on TV, only to come dangerously close to inflicting real harm to pregnant Chipo with their wire hanger and herbs mixed with urine as abortants. Not to mention the scene when Chipo breaks her voluntary muteness to finally tell Darling how she got pregnant (raped by a family member), and Darling's response: "I watch her and she has this look I have never seen before, this look of pain. I want to laugh that her voice is back, but her face confuses me and I can also see she wants me to say something, something maybe important, so I say, Do you want to go and steal guavas?"
In other words, Bulawayo breaks your heart with these characters while she makes you want yell and scream at them, and then you remember that they're only children and your heart breaks all over again. This is a strong debut but not a comfortable read. I definitely recommend it.
NB: I read advance reading copies of each of these books, which were provided upon my request by my sales reps. We Need New Names was published by Little, Brown in May 2013 and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown will be published in September 2013.