Friday, September 05, 2008

Book Review: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Ok, before I sucked right into the second book, I thought I'd take a moment to a) resurface, b) eat dinner, and c) have a little chat with you about this book.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Here's the premise: Bella is a lovely young teenager who has reluctantly moved back to the small town in the Pacific Northwest where her father has been living. Despite a propensity to trip over her own feet, she manages to charm everyone at her new school and become Popular in a few days. She's got a great group of friends and several boys who follow her like puppies, but here's the hitch. Bella's got the hots for this guy Edward. And, as is revealed in dramatic play-by-play action, it turns out that he's a vampire. Smoldering looks, quickening heartbeats (on Bella's part, at least - hardy har har), and trouble ensues.

And this is my take: Twilight is a teenage romance novel at its very best, and
it had me hooked - right down to the last throaty whisper and drop of tantalizing blood. It's one of the most riveting and entertaining books I've read in a long time, by which I mean that I was only half joking when I said I was glued to the couch and a rumbling stomach was a major inconvenience.

A great novel, it was not. Masterfully written, it was not. There were a few too many 'smirks' and repetitious, round-about conversations between Bella and her vampire for my taste. But let's be clear about this: Twilight is a young adult novel and as such, it was exactly what it needed to be.

Meyer captured that particular and excruciating anxiety of being a teenager right down to the last self-conscious shoe lace.
The scenes and conversations felt very real and believable. In fact, many of her passages felt all-too close to my own memories of that time (particularly the scenes of Bella fumbling every attempt at grace in gym class). I could see a teenager reading this and finding solace for her own teenage-y discomfort.

Meyer also captured that equally particular and excruciating anxiety of being freshly in love, that time when a smile turns your bones to jelly and a frown feels like your world collapsing. Those early scenes between Bella and Edward - oh Lord, yes! I'd be lying if I said those scenes didn't make my own heart beat a little faster. There's a part of me that wants to give this book to every teenage boy (and a few grown men) and say, "Here! THIS is how you romance a lady! You're welcome!"

Her characters had me charmed from the get-go. Bella with her awkwardness and refreshing honesty. Mike, Tyler, and all her other admirers in their geeky boyishness. Bella's shy father and her relationship with him. And of course, Edward with all his inner turmoil, sureness, and chivalry.

The plot was decent, if predictable. I felt that the climactic turning point happened a little too abruptly, coming so swiftly on the heels of Bella and Edward finally getting their adorable/scintillating act together. There were a few moments that seemed glossed over in the rush to the finish - like how Bella becomes suddenly accepted by Edward's family.

Meyer can certainly paint a scene, though. Emerging from this book felt like coming out of an intense dream. I had to blink a few times and remind myself where I was. Even when the action was slow, I was still devouring every word without blinking.

I had a few rather major philosophical problems with the book, however. The first is the issue of love.

Bella is 17. Edward is 18 going on 100. They "fall in love" in about two weeks, and tell each other so very quickly. I feel that this scenario happens too frequently in young adult novels, and the conclusion is inevitably, yes, they really are in love. They will get married and be together forever. No trouble. No lasting heart ache. Love wins!

But I just feel that this isn't real. It's not how life works. And it feels contrived and convenient when it happens in novels. I fully admit that this may be my own world view and perhaps true love at 18 that lasts forever happens more than I think. But I think not. And even if so, what's wrong with saying, "Yes, I love you madly. Yes, I feel like I want to be with you forever." but then showing that sometimes love fizzles out? And that it's ok when that happens? What's wrong with showing that, huh?

What I'm getting at here, in my thinking-out-loud kind of way, is that I think novels that show teenagers falling in love - real, forever love - can be misleading for real-life teenagers. They think that the fireworks and electricity is how it will be forever, and when that mellows out or fizzles out, they think something is wrong. Or worse (and yes, this is most certainly my paradigm) they think that they've done something wrong and actually failed at love in some inexplicable way.

I just don't think showing characters jumping headlong into "forever" is a good example, I guess. I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but it would be nice to have a dose of reality in our fantasy now and then. Especially when the readers are young adults and are still trying to figure out how the world works.

The second issue is with how Edward treats Bella. Oh, he's chivalrous and gentlemanly, but there are so many scenes where he shuts her down, dismisses her wishes and desires, keeps her deliberately in the dark "for her own good", or makes it clear that he must protect her. It rings of old male-female/husband-wife patterns.

To her credit, Meyer has created a well-spoken, confident character in Bella, and Bella frequently stands up for herself and bullies Edward right back. Toward the end of the book, Bella brings up the idea of equality in their relationship, stating that "It just seems logical...a man and a woman have to be somewhat equal...as in, one of them can't always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally." It's not clear to me in the novel whether Edward really hears her or not, or if he just dismisses her as not really understanding what she's saying [which is that she wants to become a vampire, so they can be equal].

I'm not sure where this is headed. I'm curious, if a bit skeptical, to see how the relationship develops. Maybe the point is that Edward is from another era when the relationships between men and women weren't quite so equal, and he must now learn to be in an equal relationship. Or maybe Bella will succumb entirely to his topaz eyes and remarkable abilities to keep her safe. Who knows?

On that note, back to the couch I go! Luckily, I was able to procure some Fresca and Twizzlers in my brief resurfacing, so I should be good to go for the next few days.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I started the Twilight books a little over 2 weeks ago, and I have now finished all four books. I have 4 kids, 3 are teenagers and very little time on my hands. But once I started these books, I couldnt put them down!

A Work In Progress.. said...

I am glad to hear you liked the books, because the story of the author is a great one...did you know that this idea came to her in a dream! She didn't want the story to end so...voila! She is a mom and I think that is so cool!