I was a lonely girl in 6th grade. Like many young nerds, I was vastly unpopular. No matter how hard I tried to fit in with the cool kids; I couldn’t get past my mousy hair, poor fashion sense, and thick glasses. My crush never took interest in me (even after I hurled rocks at his head). My classmates shunned me because I brought down their coolness quotient. I literally got thrown out of the daily lunchtime tag game because I was too nerdy to play with the popular kids.
It was around this time that I started writing fiction as an escape. I had discovered R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series the year before, but then a new author hit the scene: L.J. Smith. She had a trilogy that made me fall in love with supernatural fiction and inspired me to write my first novel. This trilogy was The Vampire Diaries.
Yes, the popular CW show of the same name was based on a modest mini-series from the early 1990s. The story follows teenager Elena Gilbert, a beautiful and popular girl who can’t seem to snag Stefan Salvatore, the new boy in town. There’s something strange and mysterious about him. Sure enough, he and his brother Damon are vampires. Stefan is a genuine, old soul, and Damon is the cunning bad boy. Elena is caught between Stefan’s love and Damon’s obsession. The unknown evil power brewing in town only complicates things. The trilogy is gripping and full of action, magic, and romance.
The series began as a trilogy with The Awakening, The Struggle, and The Fury. The whole thing had a beginning, middle, and end which is why the fourth book Dark Reunion felt out of place and not nearly as compelling. When the CW announced the TV adaptation, I wondered how they could make it work when the series had a very clear ending. Turns out, they barely followed the books at all. Some of the main characters were the same, but most of events that unfolded in the TV show were drastically different.
The Vampire Diaries is an excellent read for anyone interested in young adult fiction. They’re exciting, and Elena is a lead who can stand on her own. The supporting characters are also fleshed out and interesting to follow. In recent years, publishers added on to the novels, but they used ghostwriters to expand the franchise for money so I can’t really get behind them.
L.J. Smith’s works certainly don’t stop with vampires. She has several other trilogies as well as her Night World series. The Night World books are mostly stand-alones that allow you to pick up whatever you like depending on the type of supernatural horror you prefer. However, it’s harder to get drawn into these without reoccurring characters to love.
The Secret Circle, though also a television show, had a lot more room for an expanded universe. This trilogy follows Cassandra Blake, a teen girl who moves to New Salem only to discover that she comes from a long line of powerful witches. Her presence allows a local coven to complete their circle and perform some very powerful magic. Of course, with great power comes great evil that wants to use that power for…well, evil. The Secret Circle had a lot of the supernatural intrigue that I loved about The Vampire Diaries, but it was about witches, and Smith’s attention to the details of witchcraft gives it some authenticity. Again, publishers released new books after the TV show came out that I honestly can’t recommend. Read at your own risk.
My other favorite trilogy was never made into a TV series. Frankly, I think it would work much better as a single movie. This was The Forbidden Game, a story about a group of friends who get sucked into a dangerous board game that makes their fears a reality. They have to escape the game while being hunted by Julian, The Prince of Shadows. The trilogy was very gripping and constantly moving because everything was a life-or-death race against time.
I reread these trilogies every couple of years and still enjoy them to this day. I think what makes them so good is that they’re all exciting. The adventure is constantly moving. Characters are always in danger. Evil is always out to get them. They’re excellent choices for readers who want exciting stories that pay as much attention to the world building as they do the characters.
Smith’s works had a huge impact on my formative teen years. They introduced me to the massive, creative possibilities of supernatural fiction. I continued to write, now totally into vampires and witches and all things magical. Reading and writing helped me to cope with the hardships of being an outsider. I even bonded with my best friend at another school thanks to these books.
But more importantly, Smith’s works inspired me to stay imaginative. To this day I still LARP and write and roleplay because I still feel the same joy in creating stories as I did as a child. Someday I hope to pass on that joy to other young readers with my own stories.
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