By Robin McKinley

Book cover: SunshineYou know those Eat This, Not That books? This is a Read This, Not That book review. During the height of the Twilight craze, whenever I saw someone reading or talking about the Twilight books, I wanted to grab them and shout, “Go read Sunshine!”

It is definitively the best spunky-young-heroine-and-vampire novel I’ve yet read, and that is saying a lot considering both how saturated that market is and how many of them I’ve read. McKinley has a long history of writing strong female leads (The Blue Sword was one of my favorites growing up), but lately she’s been sort of dicking around with dragons and pegasus, when she must know perfectly well that her fans all want a sequel to Sunshine.

The heroine, nicknamed “Sunshine,” is just out of high school and working as a baker in her family’s cafe (there are lots of extraneous but delightful descriptions of pastries) in a post-magic-war world where various magical creatures are an acknowledged reality but avoided if possible. The world-building is solid and interesting, and the action begins fairly quickly when she gets randomly kidnapped by a gang of vampires.

Avoiding spoilers, but attempting to describe what makes this book so much better than the Twilight series, especially for teen female readers: Sunshine acts almost entirely on her own recognizance at all times, relying on her own intelligence and summoning up unexpected personal strengths when the situations call for it. The particular vampire she aligns with is both frightening and intelligent, and their alliance is born out of need and not romantic in any sense (at least not right off the bat).

Sunshine actually takes three-dimensional characters, puts them in fraught situations, and then fleshes out how that changes and matures them. It is seriously the anti-Twilight, and everyone should read it (although perhaps not young kids, because it does have sex and violence).