Thirsty: The Darker Side of Young Adult Literature.

M.T. Anderson. Thirsty. Cambridge Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 1997.

M. T. Anderson’s Thirsty, is a classic coming-of-age tale with a seemingly horrifying twist. The main character, Chris, is a young boy, who is in the midst of learning how to accept and cope with the changing relationships within his life. His changing relationship with his family is only one of the many examples in of this conflict in his life. Many times conflicts and tensions are experienced at home as a result of his parents tumultuous marriage. At the very beginning of the book, Chris describes his parents relationship, "A year and a half ago my mother and father informed us that as soon as we go away to college, they are getting a divorce. They are waiting...Things were very bad for a year...They do not like to fight in front of Paul and me, ever since they overheard us referring to them as Ward and June. Now they go out to dinner alone once a month to fight" (p 6). In the midst of his struggling family, Chris' own body presents him with a new relationship to himself. Forced, he learns to adjust to his own changing hormones and desires that accompany puberty.
Or is it just puberty? These changing emotions often leave him feeling isolated and alone in his quest for understanding; no one seems to understand. Along with new bodily urges and changes, Chris begins to experience emotions and desires not quite of this world. "I feel a violent urge. I do not know where it comes from...I feel strangely strong. I want something terrible to happen to him. My mouth is watering" (p 26). In the midst of a changing family and a changing body, Chris also begins to experience the distancing and changing in his relationships with his boyhood friends. For any teen, such a loss is hard to understand and come to terms with.
All these new and different changes accompanied by his new view on the opposite sex, and the fact that he is simultaneously turning into a vampire leaves Chris exhausted, drained, and feeling utterly alone and helpless. Chris often speaks vividly about the daunting isolation he feels. “Damn Chet, damn him because now I can’t speak to anyone, can’t tell anyone; and the thing I want to tell them most, the thing I need to say to them, is just that: that I can’t speak and that I’m all alone; and how can you tell you’re all alone when you’re all alone” (p 141). While he is changing from boyhood to adulthood and human to vampire he feels himself torn from the world he once knew. As relationships begin to end, he feels as though he has no place to turn. Finally, Chris decides to turn to Chet only to find out that this first relationship in his transition to the adult world, will be fraught with betrayal. Can he figure this out in time? Can he save those he loves from the impending doom of vampirism gone rampant? Most importantly can he save them from himself? In order to save those he loves (and the world as he knows it to be), Chris must willingly isolate and distance himself for the good of mankind.

M.T. Anderson’s book, though at times vividly gruesome, is an excellent display of the emotions, circumstances, heart ache, and stumbling blocks all experienced during one boy's transitions from boyhood to"vampirehood?" Vampires have always been linked to a raw sexuality. Within Thirsty, Anderson couples this image of primal sexuality with changes, puberty, and maturity to help readers understand the multiple tensions and stresses Chris is subject to at this volatile time in his life. M.T. Anderson bravely crosses the barrier present in almost all genres of literature and bluntly displays teenage sexuality in the very real way that it exists.

Recommendations for Teachers
Many teachers may find this book difficult to teach, and in fact, it may be a better idea to place it on a reading list where students can choose which books they would like to read. Because of the vivid gore, teenage sexuality and even the discussion of vampires, this book will most likely be challenged in any high school setting. Those who teach in especially religious regions must be very prepared to defend this book, as it will likely be called into question. The sexual tensions between the characters must also be dealt with in a sensitive manner because teenage sexuality is a touchy subject. To learn more about teenage sexuality visit the documentary link below. Though this book presents some problems for teachers, it deals with issues ranging from depression to racism (look for links between the old south, soon after the emancipation, and the way vampires are treated and talked about by the other characters). Teachers can also discuss the role of the guide (Chet) and what his betrayal means to Chris, as well as the idea of authority. This book opens many doors for discussion and a chance to take an honest look at the lives of teens, but the teacher must be willing open this door and provide the same honesty in the classroom that the book provides.

About Name of Author

M. T. Anderson grew up outside of Boston Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University where he received a degree in English Literature. From Harvard he attended Cambridge University and finally received his MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. Though Anderson has written a variety of fictions for all age groups he is most well known for his satiric Young Adult novels, the most famous of which is Feed. (See below for interviews with the author regarding his writing process)

Additional Resources:

  • Thirsty Interview: PDF file of an interview with M.T. Anderson regarding Thirsty.
  • The Writing Process: M.T. Anderson discusses his writing process.
  • Getting Personal: A more personal look at M.T. Anderson.
  • Other Books: A listing of books by M.T. Anderson from
  • Teen Culture and Sexuality: A documentary style look at the teen culture of sexuality. Good background reading for dealing with sexual innuendos and the sexual nature of vampires encountered in this book.
  • American Library Association: This book will most likely spark controversy if used in an educational setting. This website will offer teachers tools to deal with these issues. Search under "Censorship" or "Intellectual Freedom" for more information.
  • Dark Humor: An cursory explanation of dark humor which will be helpful in explaining the morbid humor Anderson uses in Thirsty.
  • Vampire Lore: A short introduction to general vampire legends.
  • Vampires in Literature: Excerpts from The Blood Is the Life: Vampires in Literature, by Leonard G. Heldreth and Mary Pharr.
  • Plot Synopsis: Also includes discussion of important themes.

Annelise Gray
Natalie Kotal
Wendy Wagenmaker

I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier