Meyer, Stephanie. (2005). Twilight. New York: Little, Brown & Co. ISBN 0316160172.
It’s the story of a high-school aged girl named Bella (short for Isabella) Swan whose mother sends her to live with her father, Charlie, in Forks, Washington. Bella is an awkward and somewhat clumsy girl, but she seems to be instantly accepted at her new school—her attention even sought after by several guys. The only problem she has is that she seems to be the target of hatred of Edward Cullen, the mysterious guy who sits near her in biology class—he spends class periods glaring at her as if he couldn’t stand the sight, or smell, of her. Bella can’t understand why Edward would have anything against her.
After a several day absence, Edward returns, seemingly reformed and instead of treating her with revulsion, he now seems strangely fascinated by Bella. And Bella, in return, can’t explain why she, too, is so captivated by Edward. She does what she can to avoid him, but can’t seem to get him out of her thoughts. He even saves her from several near-missed injuries, including being hit by a passing car. But Bella is suspicious of his strange, almost supernatural, powers.
Eventually, Bella discovers that Edward and the Cullen family are a pack of vampires who do not feed on people. But by then, it is too late… Bella is in love and ready to accept Edward’s “condition.” Instead of withdrawing from him, she begs him to share himself with her and all that goes along with being a vampire.
Edward introduces Bella to his family and is even invited out to the woods to watch them “play.” But the youthful vampire frolicking is suddenly interrupted when they all pick up an unfamiliar scent—another vampire family has sensed Bella and is homing in on her to feed. The Cullen family intervenes, declaring Bella as a “friend” but it is too late, the vampires—especially the tracker James—now see Bella as a challenge and begin stalking her.
Things get so serious that Bella has to flee and go back to her mother’s house (who is out of town with her new beau). The problem is the stalking vampire is not so easily tricked. He lures her into a trap, planning on feeding her. He swipes her about like a doll but just as he is about to go in for the kill, the Cullens appear and kill the rogue vampire, burning him to ashes.
Bella and Edward return to Washington and prepare to go about their lives as usual. Edward takes Bella to the prom and begs him to turn her into a vampire so that they can be together forever.
IMHO, I tried to read Twilight last summer and HATED it. For one, I found Bella not to be a likeable or believable protagonist. She flip-flopped between being this liberated, somewhat feministic young woman who didn’t really seem to care about what people thought about her and a weak, trembling little girl who constantly let herself be overpowered by the sneering, “glaring” Edward. I saw this as a sickening display of the strong woman “brought down” by the “gorgeous,” overpowering male. I didn’t think it was a good testimony to women—even though it was written by a woman—and frankly, that disgusted me.
On top of that, page after page was FILLED with descriptions of the mundane: Bella brushing her teeth, Bella wondering what she would wear, Bella wondering what she would fix for dinner, Bella doing this, Bella doing that—my summer was just too short to read all that blah blah blah. Not to mention the fact that though we have hints very early on that there is something supernatural about Edward—we KNOW he’s a vampire, right?—we have to wait nearly half-way through the book to have it really confirmed. That means we have to spend over 150 pages getting to know (and hopefully like) Bella enough to care what happens when the action FINALLY gets started.
That was LAST summer. I got to page 200 and was so disgusted, I decided to cut my losses and put the book down.
That fall, I saw Stephanie Meyer in person at a book festival in Austin, Texas. There was a horde of pre-teens and teenagers sporting vampire teeth and home-made shirts with quotations such as, “Call me Mrs. Cullen,” “I love Edward Cullen,” “Jasper Needs More Lines,” etc. I was impressed until I heard her speak to them. She was sort of, well, snobby. She answered many of her questions with an air of superiority I can only compare to the “mean girls” from high school—even bordering on ridicule. It made me wonder why 1) young teenaged girls would read such a tedious book after such an interaction with the author and 2) why what seemed like a group of “outliers” would be so attracted to someone who seemed so “mainstream.” But since John Green and Barry Lyga were also there, I didn’t spend TOO much time pondering Ms. Meyer.
Then, later that winter, coerced by a group of teenaged girls I know from my public library (actually, it was sort of an exchange… I told them that if they read some books I recommended, that I would TRY to make my way through both Twilight and its sequel, New Moon), I FORCED myself to read both books. Then, early this summer, I re-read Twilight.
While I maintain my earliest impressions of the tedium of the writing itself, the shakiness of many of the characters and the somewhat transparent plot-line, I did find a few things to LIKE about the book.
For one, even though I still can’t STAND neither Bella nor Edward as characters, I have to say that the chemical/sexual/sensual (or whatever you wanna call it) tension between the two of them was admittedly VERY skillfully done. The sensory details in some of their interactions were more than believable. Several times, I found myself relating to the urgency they felt—this, I-want-to-hold-you-but-I-can’t-touch-you-for-your-own-good conflict was very effective. In fact, I wish this could have gone on for just a little bit longer—just one more excruciating moment—because when they finally do start making out, the tension fades (as it does in uber-intense, real-life forbidden relationships). That is, until the idea pops up that he should “turn” her. I spent the rest of the novel (and most of the “Edward” parts of the sequel, mentally BEGGING Edward to bite her).
Another thing I found irresistible—truly, in spite of myself—was the Cullen family. Every member of the entire Cullen family has such a complex and magnetic personality, it is not unbelievable that they are vampires. They are all attractive and rich in their own ways, making them just the sort of people a coven a vampires might be. I found myself wanting to spend more time with them and less time alone with Edward and Bella (who seemed to spend HOURS and HOURS alone blah blah blahing their romantic banter—frankly, they were more interesting when they weren’t talking but rather trying NOT to touch one another… whenever they talked, Edward ended up sounding like an arrogant jerk and Bella a wilting, withering, cowering flower—yuck!).
I do have Twilight to thank for a very important epiphany. It wasn’t until Twilight, that I realized the importance of reading EVERYTHING that is popular with teenagers. Before having finished it, I wasn’t able to really discuss the phenomenon with the young adults I am dedicated to serving. Now, I feel armed to have lengthy, complicated conversations (and debates) about the elements of the story—giving me yet another way to relate to my “constituents,” my young patrons—whereas before, I was just another grown up. Because of Twilight, I have found myself less reluctant to read books I know are popular but which do not interest me—because in the end, it’s not just about reading what I like, but also about being able to better serve the kids. So, thanks Ms. Meyer, for that.
Reviews for Twilight (via Amazon.com):
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–…Realistic, subtle, succinct, and easy to follow, Twilight will have readers dying to sink their teeth into it.
Starred Review* Gr. 9-12. In the tradition of Anne Rice and YA titles such as Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss (1999) comes this heady romance that intertwines Bella Swan's life with that of Edward, an alluring and tormented vampire. ...There are some flaws here--a plot that could have been tightened, an overreliance on adjectives and adverbs to bolster dialogue--but this dark romance seeps into the soul.
New York Times Editor's Choice (2006)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults nominee.