Verdict: Mystery/horror/paranormal romance that breaks all the molds of these popular YA genres. A suspenseful page turner with plenty of humor and wit. I don’t even like horror novels, but I loved this book!
Perfect for: People who love YA fantasy/paranormal but want to read something that feels fresh and new.
Summary: Cas is a teenager with a secret life: he hunts troubled ghosts who have turned dangerous and kills them (for a final time) with a mystical knife he inherited from his father who died battling the dead. He moves from town to town with his Wiccan mother searching for these troubled dead, playing a normal teen by day as best he can. When he gets a tip about a powerfully troublesome ghost named Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas knows in his bones that this will not be just another routine job, but he doesn’t realize just how much the Anna case will change his life.
If you’ve read past LitHacker posts, you know how LitHacker is so over the First Person Present Tense in YA books. When I first started reading Anna Dressed in Blood and discovered that it was yet another FPPT book, I felt myself predisposed to dislike it on those grounds alone, but by the end of the first page I realized I had been too hasty. Cas’s narrative voice is awesome. Part of it is because he is narrating a totally new and interesting kind of life (a part-time ghost killer), part of it is because he is funny, and I think part of it is that even though the narration is in FPPT, it avoids that ploddingly boring syntax pattern that so many other FPPT books seem to favor (“I walked down the street. I wondered what to do next. I felt a rush of panic.”). It also helps that Cas’s narration is artfully spliced with past-tense memories of his childhood and his father.
The other thing that is awesome about Cas and his narration is that he is that Mysterious Loner Dude that so many other female YA narrators seem to swoon over – and it’s fun to see the world from the MLD’s perspective. Cas has been to twelve new schools in three years so he has figured out how to get hooked into a social scene quickly in order to see if he can get information about local stories of ghosts and strange happenings. He’s figured out that the best way to get information is to get in good with the most popular girl in school and he is really really successful at this strategy. He says:
“Girls…have always come easy. I don’t know why that is, exactly. Maybe it’s the outsider vibe and a well-placed brooding look…Or maybe I’m just damn easy on the eyes.”
LOL!! But unlike in other YA books narrated by female characters, Cas’s aim in meeting girls isn’t to fall in looooooove, it’s entirely practical – to get information quickly. So when he manages to get alpha popular girl Carmel to be interested in him, he appreciates her good looks but isn’t trying any kind of romantic angle with her and he doesn’t want her to be directly involved in his ghost hunting. But after she does inadvertently become involved, he hopes that she does not see herself as a damsel in distress who needs him to rescue her. DOUBLE LOL!! Thank you, Cas! Now go visit about a hundred other YA books and tell that to all those FPPT female narrators who love brooding boys who rescue them from danger.
Cas does not need to worry that Carmel wants to be a damsel in distress, because Carmel is no stereotypical Prom Queen. And the nerd and the jock that also get involved in dealing with Anna Dressed in Blood are no stereotypical nerd or jock. It is so refreshing to see these stock kind of characters transformed into more believable and interesting versions.
It’s hard to think about Cas hunting down ghosts with the help of some unlikely allies without thinking of Scooby-Doo, Ghostbusters or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So the book makes wry references to all of these in clever ways. There are also references to Casper, The Watchmen, Beowulf, and other ghost/horror media, but these references are deployed well and do not overwhelm the story. Sometimes YA authors try to show how hip and cool they are by throwing in a bunch of pop culture references but this can sometimes feel like desperate name-dropping. In Anna Dressed in Blood, the references feel just right – funny and appropriate to enhance a character or the plot.
Anna Dressed in Blood is at its core a mystery. How did Anna die? What makes her such a powerfully fearsome ghost? Why does she kill so many people? But why does she spare Cas? What can stop her? Should Cas stop her? And as a side plot: How did Cas’s dad really die? Will Cas be able to avenge him? These questions and the well-crafted action sequences propel the plot and keep the reader turning the page.
Look, I am totally that person that relates to wanting to put a book in the freezer when the story gets too scary. I could not finish Stephen King’s The Stand. I have been known to read the last page of books that were stressing me out too much because I didn’t think I could keep reading if everything was going to be horrible. I “watched” The Dark Knight through a one-centimeter gap between my fingers. I absolutely do not understand the appeal of horror movies. So it surprised me how much I enjoyed Anna Dressed in Blood. Especially because it contained mucho creepy suspense as well as graphic descriptions of decayed flesh (sight and smell and squishiness [ewww]) as well as depictions of violent disembowelment and other nasty ways powerful ghosts choose to kill the living. Totally not my thing, but the fantastic narration, the characters that made me care about them, and the dashes of humor made me enjoy every page.