Oskar is a 12-year-old boy living with his mother. Friendless and bullied, he is a victim - of the bullies, of his parents' failed marriage, of the estate on which he lives, with its drunks, dropouts and losers. Until, that is, he meets Eli, a 12-year-old girl who lives in the same block as Oskar. Eli, who only goes out at night, who seems so much older than 12, whose windows appear to be covered at all times. Yes, Eli is a vampire who has lived more than 200 years and always remained a child.
This is a disturbing read in which the lines between good and evil, innocent and guilty, demon and angel become blurred and even disappear. Eli has managed to live so long because she is seen as innocent, people take pity on her. And yet. And yet she has killed many, many times in order to live. At one point the reader is put in the very uncomfortable position of hoping a paedophile will manage to murder someone so as to keep Eli alive. Hakan, who adores and protects Eli, is a saviour to her, but to others a monster. It is Hakan who later becomes the actual monster that we expect from a vampire novel - the nameless thing that comes in the night.
Read as a simple vampire novel, this is a fine book. Scary, believable with an interesting take on vampire mythology. But it's what lies beyond the surface that makes the book extraordinary. This isn't just about vampires, it's about the monsters we meet every day. The fathers who can't face up to their responsibilities and so turn to drink, the men and women who are too scared or too selfish to let themselves love, the children who terrify their more unfortunate peers. It's also a novel about loss: Oskar's lost father, Eli's lost innocence, and more, companions lost to the vampire's bite, but mostly the loss of hope.
The estate where Oskar lives was built on hope, but it didn't work. Now it's populated by single mothers desperate for love, drunks desperate to blot out their loves, fatherless children, worn out women. An impassioned speech by Lacke, one of the drunks whose best friend has disappeared, says it all. They got it wrong. The estate was so carefully calibrated to be the best, but something went wrong and evil crept in. But Eli and Oskar give each other hope, they save each other. The monster becomes an angel.