Saturday, August 9, 2008


Book: Twilight

Author: Stephenie Meyers

Publication info: 498 pages (softcover), young adult fiction, published by Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2005

Jacket blurb: "About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him -- and I didn't know how dominant that part might be -- that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."

My rating (out of five stars): * *


As a child, I grew up watching every vampire movie I could clap my saucer-sized eyes on every time my parents played cards with Howard and Bea or Charlie and Sue. They always had such a high old time eating snacks and dealing out endless hands of euchre around the dining room table that Christopher Lee and Frank Langella began to seem like tall, unfriendly babysitters who stayed with me and my brother and assorted "company kids" and freaked us all out on a regular basis.

So first of all, let me say that this novel about a girl who falls in love with a vampire, is good. Stephenie Meyers is no Jane Austen, but then she never claims to be. But she can tell a good tale and spin it out plausibly, keeping her plot moving forward through the expected exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution, although the resolution was understandably a bit weak, since three more novels follow Twilight. Her character development was the element that suffered the most in this story, in my opinion, but since the intended audience is teenage girls, they might not be as fussy in this regard as a middle-aged English teacher would be.

The main character is a high school junior named Isabella Swan. Bella's parents divorced when she was an infant and she's been living with her mother, Renée, in Phoenix since then, spending part of each summer with her father, Charlie, in the small town of Forks, Washington. Bella dislikes Forks because it is dreary in terms of both weather and opportunities for entertainment, but at the beginning of the novel, she is moving back there to live with her dad full time.

The reason for the move is not a strained relationship between Bella and Renée, but rather because Renée has recently married a nice man named Phil. He's a minor league baseball player who travels a lot, meaning that he and Renée can't be together as much as they'd like because Bella has to be in one city, in school (if they'd ever heard of homeschooling, they might have considered that option and then this book could have ended on page three.) So Bella does what she thinks is the right thing and goes off to her dad's.

Bella seems like a good girl, a fairly ordinary teenager. She's a loving daughter to her dippy mother (referring to her several times as her "best friend") and a fairly dutiful, if not warm, daughter to Charlie, whom she seems to barely know. Charlie appears to love Bella and is glad she's come to live with him, but is at the same time bemused at becoming a full-time dad so suddenly. He's set in his ways as the bachelor chief of police in the small town, and doesn't allow his work schedule or his love of fishing to suffer in the presence of his only child. He really seems oblivious and grants Bella an extraordinary amount of freedom.

Charlie probably figured that there wasn't much trouble to get into in Forks and presumably as the police chief, he'd be in a position to know, but still. He didn't meet with my approval, even though Bella tried to excuse him on the grounds that he and she were both very reticent people.

One aspect of Bella's character that I immediately frowned upon was her readiness to keep things from her dad; to tell him she was going to do one thing when she intended to do another. This was played off as a desire not to worry him, and I don't buy it. If a teenager is getting ready to do something secretly to spare a parent from concern, that almost always means that the teenager is acting out of self-interest. But other than that, there wasn't anything about Bella to dislike. She was level headed and seemed mature for her age.

Until she met Edward.

Edward Cullen, of course, is the vampire. He's an extraordinarily handsome young man, and if you don't believe me, just ask Bella. Because she'll tell you. Over and over again, she'll tell you. His eyes, his hair, his skin, his physique, his intelligence, his athletic prowess...even his breath. Yes, you read that correctly. Several times throughout Twilight, she comments on the purity and sweetness of Edward's breath. Which is like, geeeesh, girl....GET A GRIP.

Edward himself is a character as mysterious and tormented as Heathcliff, as distant and cool as Mr. Darcy and as gallantly suave as Rhett Butler. He teases Bella a bit about her lack of gross motor skills (the girl is always tripping and falling over things, bruising her shins and bumping her head) and it turns out that one of the benefits of their relationship is that he is phenomenally coordinated and saves her from being concussed, among several other things.

Like any other teenage boy, he enjoys showing off his athletic prowess and Bella nearly becomes incoherent in her adoration. If you were her parent, you'd want to cool that thing off right then and there, but of course Charlie can't do that because he wasn't informed about his daughter's new boyfriend.

In his defense, Edward can't help it that he's a modern Adonis. He's very nice to Bella (once he gets over wanting to kill her by sucking all the blood from her veins, that is), yet very guarded and rather dismissive toward the rest of the population of Forks High School, although they're a friendly bunch of kids. He's charming and says all the right things that would make any teenage girl swoon. He even appears to mean them, but to that I can only say that he's not really a teenager. He just looks like one. (One of the weaknesses of Meyers's character development is that I never could figure out why Edward was so wildly attracted to the very ordinary Bella. Or maybe that's going to be explained in one of the other books in the series.)

Other than the fact that he's a creature of the night, Edward is the kind of boyfriend every parent dreams about because he is very protective of Bella and keeps his own urges -- both homicidal and sexual -- reigned strongly in. Their relationship is very chaste and limited to several brief kisses.

Twilight has a moral tone to it that I admired. Bella, immature at seventeen, can't figure out why Edward just can't bite her and make her into a vampire so that they can go ahead and be together forever, and this is when she's known him for all of four months. Edward points out that this would be an extremely unethical thing for him to do: first of all, he has pledged with his conscience to not bite humans, and she's asking him to do something that would violate that conscience, which would be harmful to him. Not to mention harmful to her.

Plus, he reminds her that being Mrs. Edward Cullen is going to be for keeps, forever. And in their case, we're not talking about "until death do us part," because these folks aren't going to die; she hasn't possibly had the time or the life experience to consider all of the ramifications of such a hasty decision.

Thirdly, she wants him to bite her without telling her parents about this, experience she's about to make. Edward counsels her that this is a really, really bad idea. Parents have a right to know when their daughters are about to become the living dead.

Bella, through all his reasoned responses, just keeps whining, "But you're going to be seventeen forever! I'm going to be eighteen soon! I'm going to be older than you are through eternity! Waaaaaaahhhh!!!" Like that's going to matter in about three hundred years.

Which just goes to show you how completely unready she is to make such a huge leap into the unknown. Meyers carries that theme along like every argument you have ever heard about teenage sex and pregnancy, teen drug and alcohol use. By the time a girl reaches the last page, she'll have no leg to stand on when it comes to believing it should be okay for a person her age to get birth control or an abortion without her parents' knowledge. All a mom or dad will have to do is hold up one hand and say, "Neh neh nehnehnehneh....remember Twilight, dear?"

There were three things that really bothered me about this book, though, and those things concerned possible lessons teenagers could pick up from Meyers's casual treatment of some very important subject matter.

::The first I've already mentioned, and that's Bella's immediate dependence on Edward to get her out of every mess from breaking a glass on the kitchen floor to rescuing her from mugged and/or raped to saving her from a predatory vampire, one who has not sworn, as Edward and his family did, to live without drinking human blood. In many ways, she gives up a lot of herself, totally surrendering to Edward's leadership.

So it's a good thing for Bella that Edward (and his family) have her best interests at heart. But what about all the other girls reading this book who don't have a trustworthy Edward looking out for them, but instead have a guy who says all the right things because of ulterior motives and not out of the purity of his agape love?

::The second bothersome concept in this book is also one I mentioned previously, and it is Bella's desire to keep her father -- a grown man and a police chief -- from "worrying" needlessly by keeping him in the dark about what's going on with Bella, even when her life (and his, by extension) are threatened by the predatory vampire. Call me crazy, but adult have the right to know what their children are doing, especially if they are in some kind of difficulty or danger.

This business about keeping Charlie on a need-to-know basis is a bunch of crap, frankly. Bella even does something deliberately cruel to her dad and justifies it by saying that she didn't want to do it, but had to do it because it was the best way to protect him. WRONG.

::The third issue is one that just makes my skin crawl and I honestly can't believe that Stephenie Meyers's editor didn't cut it out. Edward, among having the perfect hair, skin, teeth, breath, et cetera, is also able to do a number of supernatural things, like run reallyreally fast and kind of appear and disappear (maybe by becoming a bat or a shadow like Dracula?) As the plot unfolds, we find that Edward has been coming into the Swan's house by night and watching over Bella as she sleeps.Without her permission, or most importantly, her father's.

Watching over her as. She. Sleeps. To protect her even while she dreams, he says.

Girls, I'm sorry, but this isn't sweet and romantic behavior. This is creepy, obsessive stalker behavior and Bella should have risen up in a furnace of white-hot indignation and told him a thing or two about personal boundaries and personal privacy and respect, right before she doused him with a bucket of holy water.

But what did Meyers have Bella do?

First, she had Bella balk, troubled by the fact that Edward has been standing sentinel at her bedside, presumably watching her drool and scratch and fart....and talk in her sleep. But then, a typical smitten girl, Bella acquiesces to this invasion of her privacy. And is okay with it. Even a little flattered that this handsome, charming vampire loves her so much, he can't even bear to be separated from her when she sleeps.

That is not the reaction a normal person should have when she's just discovered that she's being spied on, particularly in a vulnerable time like sleeping. A normal mature person, anyway. Which kind of shows us all that Bella is not ready for even the limited relationship that she and Edward have; never mind about anything more permanent. She is far too willing to subjugate herself to his authority, even though he is a benign leader.

Bella accepts what Edward tells her, and is willing to make herself an open book, while he remains a bit aloof. She's willing to trust him completely with her safety, without ever thinking what she can do to save herself from harm.

And most worrisome of all, she allows Edward to take the place of her father as her main counselor, guide, teacher and protector. That's not a wise idea for seventeen year old girls, even fictional ones.

Because of the seriousness of the last three issues, I can only give this book a two-star rating for Meyers's skill in storytelling and forwarding her plot with finesse. The character development was very spotty (although I'm willing to cut her some slack because of Twilight's being the first book in a four book series). In some ways, it was very morally commendable, but I find that I just can't get past those last three things.

I recommend that parents proceed with caution before allowing their daughters to read this book. If it's allowed, it definitely seems like the kind of book that a mother is going to want to read first so that she can discuss it with her teenager. This isn't Anne of Green Gables, Mom. You should be prepared to talk this book over with your teenage girl.

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