Day Boy by Trent Jamieson
At the centre of Day Boy is Midfield, the kind of small town that I’ve passed through, but never lived in. I’ve never grown up in a place, feeling it to be home because it’s all I’m familiar with, the landscape of all my childhood memories, feeling its edges press against me as I grow too large for it, like an ill-fitting garment. Knowing that in order to be the fullest person that I can be, I need to leave. The sorrow and the conflict in this decision making. Day Boy is a coming-of-age story. It’s a story about boys and a small town and trying to live up to other people’s expectations. It’s about those moments where a choice made is a choice about what kind of person you’re going to become. This is a story about being brave enough to face the truth of the world and to take that leap into the unknown in order to find your true place in it.
Also, it’s a story about vampires.
Sounds a little unlikely, right? Well, Trent Jamieson made this concept work. His vampires are fully realised characters: violent and blood-thirsty as is their nature, but with enough nuance that you can see that the men they were still exist as a shadow beneath the beast they’ve become.
The main character, Mark, is a day boy. That is, he is a servant to one of the “masters”, a vampire for whom Mark is a servant. He acts as his eyes and ears during daylight hours and performs mundane domestic tasks. The relationship between the masters and their day boys is intriguing. Part master and servant, part father and son, the masters appear to be truly fond of their charges, perhaps clinging to their last vestiges of humanity through this intimate connection. Indeed, some of the masters appear to regret the world they have created and mourn their old lives.
Also fascinating is the relationship between the masters and Midfield, the town that feeds them. The vampires appear to have a system whereby all inhabitants of Midfield take turns to be visited by a master and provide blood. This seems to be a relatively civilised system for organising an activity which is actually quite horrific. In return, the masters offer the services of their day boys to help their victims with tasks which seem mainly to be home maintenance related.
In fact, the whole system, and even the circumstances that led to the end of the world as we know it, are left tantalisingly vague. We aren’t sure how far in the future this story is, how the vampires rose to power, or even exactly where we are. Midfield could be any little, red, dusty Australian town, baking in the relentless sun. I like this, though. It keeps me guessing.
Although I say Day Boy is a story about boys, I have to give a shout out to the character of Anne. Through her, Mark learns important lessons about what it means to care for someone. She is a wonderful character, not just a pretty mannequin to serve a purpose for the emotional journey of the protagonist. She is strong and brave and has aspirations that go beyond her feelings for Mark. As much as she cares for him, she has enough self-awareness to know that to base her life decisions on these feelings will be at the cost of fully realising her self. Day Boy kept me interested and thinking the whole time. This is YA fiction at its best.