Study Guide

Nina Harrison in The Reformed Vampire Support Group

By Catherine Jinks

Nina Harrison

Quite Contrary

Our main girl Nina is many things, but happy to be a vampire is not one of them. Since she is a vampire, though, this leads to her acting cranky, stubborn, and generally irritable. We can't say we blame her—Nina was fifteen in 1973 when Casimir infected her, and she still looks fifteen. This means she can't drive or drink or generally act older than fifteen without raising some eyebrows… not that she goes outside much. Or more like ever, really. Part of surviving as a vampire is staying under the radar of the general public.

Vampirism hasn't done good things for Nina's attitude or her looks. Because she can't go see a hair stylist, her mom has to cut her hair, resulting in hair "which was thick and dark, and cut in a heavy, clumsy, old-fashioned style that didn't suit her bony little face" (1.2) In fact, Nina looks like a total waif:

Her hands on the keyboard were like chicken's feet, all dry and scaly. Her skin was the color of a maggot's, and her legs were so thin that her tights were wrinkled around the knees. (1.13)

We're not ones to judged, but when someone is described as looking like a maggot in any way, shape, or form, we're thinking they're not looking too hot. Add this to the fact that the vampiric infection leaves Nina nothing short of exhausted and sick feeling all the time, and it's no wonder this girl's bumming on her fate.

Nina won't admit it to herself, but another part of the reason she's so bummed all the time is that she has a thing for Dave—feelings he doesn't seem to reciprocate. To complicate matters further, when Reuben enters the scene, Nina worries about "The fact that Dave might think I was in love with Reuben" (19.105). What's a girl to do?

The Creative Type

How does Nina deal with her unhappy un-life as a vampire? Escapism, of course.

Nina publishes vampire fiction under the pseudonym N. E. Harris. Her books about Zadia Bloodstone are pretty controversial among real vampires, though, since Zadia has all kinds of cool powers that real vamps don't have. Here's how Nina puts it:

Vampires are meant to be so glamorous and powerful, but I'm here to inform you that being a vampire is nothing like that. […] On the contrary, it's like being stuck indoors with the flu watching daytime television, forever and ever. (1.32)

Sounds terrible, right? No thank you. And the more we learn about Nina's stinky life, the less we blame her for her creative escape. Not everyone agrees with this stance, though. Sanford always get on Nina's case about it, claiming: "She's a symbol of your flight from reality […] You feel compelled to invest vampires with a battery of superhuman powers […] just so you can tell yourself that you're not really a vampire" (1.67). Ouch, Sanford, that's kind of brutal.

We're not qualified to weigh in on whether Nina's novel writing is a destructive form of escapism (you know, since we're not vampires), but we do see Nina thinking quickly and creatively throughout the book. When first faced with a vampire slayer running around, Nina experiences "a flash of inspiration" (4.19) and realizes that everyone would be safer at her mom's place, since they'll have a human guarding the door. Later, she feels a sense of "wonder at the scale" (7.80) of the landscape that unfolds on the road trip to Cobar. In other words, her brain's pretty active even if her body isn't.

Interestingly, by the end of the book, Nina comes to agree with Sanford: "Perhaps Zadia always was an act of repudiation. Perhaps she was my attempt to deny the truth" (29.41). Of course, what Nina does with this realization is… write another book. Seems like this girl's creative to the bone.

Against the Grain

Nina spends a lot of time complaining about how useless vampires are: Gladys whines, George is kind of dumb, and the whole group is useless and whiny. But is Nina herself any different? After all, she complains about other vampires' whining… Nina admits that her attitude problem has to do with the group dragging her down:

I snap at everybody a lot. I don't mean to, and I'm not as bad as I once was, but it's hard to keep your temper when the vampires around you are finding every possible excuse not to get off their butts and do something. (4.42)

We can sympathize with Nina's attitude because, after all, she's stuck with the other vamps for survival, and she feels like they're constantly dragging her down. It kind of seems like she could throw a little empathy their way, though—it's not like she's not intimately acquainted with a lack of motivation or stamina.

Despite her distaste for her life (and the people she has to hang out with), Nina let us know that she doesn't want to die. And this, in and of itself, makes her very un-vampire-like:

I hate so much about my life. I hate the cramps, and the nausea, and the boredom, and the listlessness. I hate surviving on guinea pigs, and not being able to get a decent haircut. But on that night, when it came to choosing between life and death, I didn't hesitate. Not for one second. (4.94)

So even though Nina whines a lot—and whining is a very vampiric activity—she wants to set herself apart from the rest of the pack. She wants to keep on un-living. The road trip to Cobar to track down the silver bullet buyer after Casimir's death is one opportunity to do just that. When Nina initially ducks out of the discussion about who'll go, she realizes:

For years I'd been accusing the others of being typical bloody vampires, and now that the chance had come to act—to be involved—I had chickened out. I'd done what most vampires would do: nothing. (6.67)

After some introspection while eating a guinea pig (nom nom nom), Nina decides to take the plunge and commit to the trip. Then, on the trip, Nina gets to prove that she's different from other vamps in a key way: She gets blooded—meaning, she is faced with the temptation of fresh blood and resists the urge to latch onto a vein and drink to her heart's content. She's not the only vamp to pass the test (Dave does, too), but it's a big way that she distinguishes herself from the rest. She might be infected, but she's still running her own show.

Big-Hearted and Brave

So is Nina just a waste of space, like she assumes all vampires to be? Nope, she actually manages to act courageously and compassionately from time to time. For instance, she has the wherewithal and sympathy necessary to successfully handle an angry werewolf. When Reuben looks furious enough to explode, Nina observes:

After thirty-odd years of group therapy, I knew enough to hear the pain behind the anger. I could detect the fear that Reuben was trying to conceal.

And I felt deeply sorry for him. (14.86-87)

Because Nina sympathizes with Reuben, she can talk him down and help win him over. She sees beyond the scary werewolf to recognize his vulnerability.

In addition to sympathy, Nina has some bravery going on. When the McKinnons are going to auction Reuben off to an American collector, Nina proposes that they mount a rescue mission. Yes, it helps that she's secretly crushing on Reuben a little, though not as much as she is on Dave—but still, this is scary stuff, since the McKinnons are armed, and Nina follows through.

It's worth noting that while she may be physically weak, our heroine isn't entirely powerless. For instance, Nina has great night vision. She goes along with Horace's crazy plan to rescue Reuben in part based on the idea that vampires will be able to see the McKinnons before the McKinnons can see them. The rescue attempt goes poorly (surprise, surprise), but Nina keeps her act together for the most part, so props for that.

And, strangely enough, Nina's intimate knowledge of vampire disorders helps her assess the situation where Dermid goes a little nutty during his transformation, and ensure that it doesn't turn out to be a total disaster. She draws courage from the fact that "Dermid was feeling bad. Really bad. He was on the verge of throwing up" (28.33)—armed with this knowledge, Nina starts to talk him down, and she and her friends manage to subdue him before he can cause more trouble.

Nina winds down her narrative by telling us about something else brave she's doing: writing a truthful account of her existence as a vampire (with identifying details taken out, of course). She says: "I've done my best to be clear, and honest, and straightforward" (29.42). In the end, we see Nina bravely recounting what it's really like to be a vampire, which includes some bold and selfless actions on her part, as well as revelations about some of the ugly parts, like puking and looking like a maggot.

Nina may start the book out hating her life and hating being a vampire, but by the end, she comes to terms with her reality. She might look fifteen, but we'd say she's far more mature than she appears since she finishes the story actually at peace with her existence. You go, girl.