Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Rampant" by Diana Peterfreund

Summary: Astrid has grown up hearing her mother's crazy stories: that she is descended from famous unicorn hunters (all virginal female descendants of Alexander the Great) who years ago drove the killer beasts into extinction. These tales are just fantasy to Astrid until one evening when her date is attacked by a unicorn and saved only by her mother's vial of Remedy--a magical substance that heals wounds.  With other strange attacks on the rise, Astrid's mother learns that an order dedicated to training young hunters is reopening in Rome.  Astrid's not interested in being a unicorn hunter, but her mother insists, and Astrid finds herself in Rome, confronted with unicorn lore, a very cute boy, and increasing danger.   

Musings: I'll admit I was unfairly prejudiced against this book when it first came out.  When I heard that the unicorn hunters could only be female virgins, I was immediately put off for two reasons.  First, I hate the idea that virginity is a black or white you are or you aren't, and secondly, I hate the idea that being a virgin somehow makes you better or more special than those who aren't.  However, I began to see Rampant on lists of feminist young adult titles (imagine my surprise!), and I loved Peterfreund's short story in Zombies v. Unicorns. I gave the book a try, and it turns out I was wrong. Rampant is not only a highly enjoyable read, it also approaches teenage sexuality in an admirable way.

Astrid's a great strong character, and I especially liked her (and most of the girls in the book's) approach to virginity.  She doesn't have twisted purity ideals or believe that her virginity is a special wrapped gift to give her husband.  At the same time, she doesn't want to sleep with just anyone, and she wants to do it on her own terms.  Truthfully, this is the way I felt as a teenager, and I think it's the way a lot of young adults--girls and boys--think. There's a lot of open and frank discussion about sex in the novel, which I appreciated.  The novel also gets double feminist points for its depiction of rape between people dating and its position on victim blaming ideology.

Apart from those issues, Rampant is an excellent combination of unusual unicorn lore, self-discovery, action, friendship, and romance.  Yes, there's a swoon-worthy love interest, but that relationship doesn't dominate the novel or Astrid's life. And besides, I hate to be all mushy, but it's hard not to fall for Giovanni, and there are definitely some steamy scenes.

There were a few points that were off to me, like Astrid's mother (whose characterization in the latter half seemed odd and inconsistent).  Sometimes I didn't completely follow what was happening in a battle, but that may have been because it was too fun to race through the book.

I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, Ascendant, soon.

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