Title: The Vampire Inside Me (review copy)
Author: Liz Hsu
Genre/Themes: Adult/New Adult Contemporary, Authentic Illness Representation, Romance
Blurb from Goodreads
At twenty-one, Lucia Farris is graduating college and looking ahead to graduate school, believing her future to be bright and secure. But life comes to a painful halt when she is admitted to the hospital and rushed to several emergency surgeries. The doctors diagnose her with two new autoimmune diseases: pulmonary arterial hypertension and lupus.
Lucia doesn’t know what to expect, but she knows her life is forever changed—nothing she’s diagnosed with is curable, not that her life expectancy is more than six months, anyway. Her dreams, including working at the International Monetary Fund, seem grounded for good.
In the present, told in an alternating timeline three years later, Lucia is lucky to be alive, but life will never be what it was. Yet, when she meets Oskar, an Austrian graduate student, her body is painfully aware of her reaction to him (and how long it’s been since she hit her last O). From date one, sparks fly. When lips meeting becomes hips meeting, both find their bodies as dangerously compatible as their minds.
As feelings shift toward more, Lucia’s all too aware that her disease was “too much” for boyfriends in the past. And Oskar doesn’t plan to stay in Atlanta forever. Still, there’s a pull they just can’t resist.
Have you ever read a book that made you bone crushingly sad? Sad because it’s a book that makes you keenly aware of all the dreams that you’ve had to let go of in your life. But also reading this book gave me a sense of validation as a person and made me feel seen. Made me feel human when so frequently I feel like a burden.
The Vampire Inside Me is an #OwnVoices novel for chronic illness. The main character, like the author, has a number of autoimmune diseases including Lupus. These illnesses are the vampire inside her rather than this being a Twilight style novel.
I too have chronic illnesses.
Not lupus nor any of the other conditions in the book but my life has mostly been on hold since I was a child. I can’t remember what it is to have a day without chronic pain, nor to wake up feeling refreshed after a sleep.
My body is fatigued.
My mind is fatigued.
I’ve lived this way for nearly thirty years. I’ve had brief interludes over the years where I was able to live a little more normally but for the last decade or so I’ve been pretty much housebound.
Liz, the author of The Vampire Inside Me, reached out to me on Goodreads after she had read a review of mine for Sick Kids in Love (an excellent read with great chronic illness rep.). Liz asked would I be interested in reading her #OwnVoices novels because of my affinity with the experience and I immediately said yes.
The Vampire Inside Me is a contemporary romance with a little side of steamy! Not typically my jam because I get so embarrassed when I read steamy scenes… I know. I’m such a prude! But if like me you’re not typically into novels that don’t shy away from the bedroom I would still urge you to read this. Because this novel shows that people who are chronically ill and/or disabled are sexual beings. That just because so much of their lives are taken up with being frequently sick, medical appointments, medications, and extra difficulties navigating a world designed for healthy individuals etc etc. doesn’t mean that they can’t have the same romantic and/or sexual wants and needs. (Okay admittedly I did skim some of the sexy-sexy times because it was too much for me but I really appreciated the aims of this novel with regards to the steaminess.)
In this book the main character Lucia has to navigate a life changing diagnosis at 21 that forces her to give up on her dream job, that prevents her from being the person she once was… and it’s incredibly well written. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t gone through illness could write this effectively.
There are moments in the novel that completely floored me because I knew exactly what Lucia was going through because I’ve been through similar.
I think for any reader who wants to understand what it means to be chronically ill this book is hugely eye opening. And if you, like Lucia and myself, are chronically ill then you will see aspects of your life on the page and it will make you feel seen. Feel authentically represented in literature.
What’s wonderful about this novel is that it uses a dual timeline narrative. So Lucia’s diagnosis and most deadly hospitalisations are all happening three years in the past. This means that we as readers know that Lucia will get through these dark times and come to a point in her life where her illnesses are somewhat manageable.
Chronic illnesses are just that.
You don’t ever get well.
You don’t put them behind you.
But you hopefully, with the aid of medical care, get to a point where you can somewhat live with the condition/s. But I liked knowing that Lucia would have brighter days in her future as I think being able to keep hoping for better days to come is of vital importance when you’re at your lowest health wise. At least that’s been my experience.
In the present timeline Lucia meets Oskar. And he’s dreamy. He’s sweet, handsome, and just all kinds of male romantic lead goodness. The two immediately hit it off and begin to date… but dating when you have a chronic illness is complicated especially when you’ve been burned in the past by exes that made you feel you were nothing more than a sick person who was a burden. So Lucia has a lot of emotional baggage about her self worth especially with regards to her validity as an equal partner in a romantic relationship.
And this was so moving to read.
Her emotional struggles. Her fears. Her doubts… they were all written with such care and tenderness. I just can’t imagine any potential reader not being deeply affected by this aspect of the plot.
What Lucia isn’t insecure about is her body though. And I LOVED this! She owned her surgical scars and just wore them with pride. And was so confident sexually which is a refreshing change from the typical narrative of being ashamed of a body that is frequently sick.
A great bonus in this novel is that we also get some chapters from Oskar’s point of view so we get this great contrast with how he sees Lucia as a valuable life partner versus how she sees herself. Plus these chapters just further emphasise how much of a sweetheart he is.
If you’re a fan of New Adult and/or contemporary romance novels then I think there’s much to enjoy here:
- There is an incredibly authentic female lead
- There is heartfelt emotion that would draw tears from a stone
- There is fantastic family representation
- There’s authenticity with regards to how chronic illness affects a person not only physically and emotionally, but also with regards to how it impacts their life choices e.g. choosing a career path with affordable health insurance and flexibility of attendance
- There’s an honest depiction of what it means to be the partner of someone who’s chronically ill
- There’s an ending that is realistically romantic
Therefore I would definitely recommend this to all fans of romance novels and also to people interested in understanding what it means to live with chronic illness.
I opened this review by saying this book made me bone crushingly sad and perhaps I should try to explain why.
I’m chronically ill. The main character here is chronically ill.
But our two stories, though incredibly emotionally similar, are entirely different in how they’ve played out. I don’t get very many good days anymore so I found it difficult reading about Lucia’s good days… that’s not a critique on the book. It’s just where I am emotionally (and physically) right now.
And unlike Lucia I never found that someone who made me feel I was a valid life partner. In fact I actively destroyed that potential aspect of my life so this book cuts deep for me.
That’s why I think romance stories featuring chronically ill characters who get to have a happy ever after are hugely important. All the books I read when I was younger that featured chronically ill characters killed off those characters (or like a relatively recent hit YA book turned film just erased the chronic illness at the end for an ableist vision of what happy ever after means.). Typically in these books their *sad lives* were always used to show the main character how to live their able bodied life to the fullest. Chronically ill characters were merely one dimensional creations that suffered quietly, died off page, and inspired everyone else to live their best life.
Now I’m not blaming these books I read for my own human frailties and choices I made in my life. These are my issues and struggles alone… But it would have been nice to see that maybe a romantic happy ever after was possible for someone like me so I’m very glad that Lucia got hers. It gives me hope. It helps me chip away at my own internalised ableism that I’ve struggled for years with.
The pervading view in able bodied society is that people who are chronically ill and/or disabled are somehow less than. One only has to look at reactions to the current COVID-19 global pandemic and the way that persons with disabilities and under lying illnesses have been treated. Deaths of these people from COVID-19 are always asterisked; yes the virus killed them but they were sick anyway…
It’s ableist attitudes like this that have deeply affected my own self worth. I’ve been chronically ill since I was a child. I have always needed extra help to do the things that able-bodied people take for granted. And because of the insidiousness of ableism in society I bought into the viewpoint that somehow I was not and never could be the equal of a potential romantic partner (among other things). Society fed me a lie which became my lifelong struggle with internalised ableism.
So I want to thank Liz Hsu for this novel.
Thank her for writing stories like this one that need to be heard.
Stories that will not only help to change the narrative of how chronically ill people have been portrayed but stories that have the power to make frequently voiceless chronically ill people feel seen and represented. And maybe most importantly stories that will help chronically ill people fight their own battles with internalised ableism.
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me via Booksprout for honest review*
Published 25th January 2021