If you have any affection for vampire fiction - in any form - you’ll get a kick out of They Don’t Come Home Anymore. Personally, as a reader who cut her teeth (excuse the pun) on Anne Rice, and whose favourite book of all time is Let The Right One In, I absolutely loved this novella, and devoured it in a day.
Hettie is a lonely, misanthropic teenage girl, who is besotted with Avery –an impossibly cool cheerleader. Avery is also very, very sick. Desperate, Hettie decides that the only way to cure Avery is to track down a vampire who can give her eternal life. As you do.
Along the way, Grau mercilessly skewers the many pop culture facets of the vampire myth. From sexual goth icon through to classic Dracula iconography by way of cocaine-snorting snarks straight out of an episode of Buffy, he strips away the layers of expected tropes until the actual creatures Hettie discovers are the barest bones of what we know of as a vampire; impossibly old, and impossibly hungry. Grau doesn’t even indulge in any gore, outright skipping over any scenes of carnage...making the rampage that builds to the story’s climax all the more unsettling. This is something truly unstoppable.
Hettie herself is a fascinating character - all at once naive and world-weary, afraid and determined, devoted and incredibly selfish. She both longs for and abhors the company of other people. Grau writes the reckless insanity of a teenage crush beautifully; having such strong feelings for someone can be a terrifying thing. It’s made apparent that Hettie’s obsession was catalysed by one brief conversation with Avery, before she became ill, and the unspoken question throughout the story is “would Avery actually thank Hettie -a girl she barely knows- for ‘saving’ her?”
At its heart, They Don’t Come Home Anymore is a story about loneliness, and the drastic, strange things it makes you do when you have a chance -imagined or not- to never be lonely again.