Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Written by Stephenie Meyer
Published by Little, Brown Young Readers
Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Written by Stephenie Meyer
Published by Little, Brown Young Readers
There’s something you need to know about me. I’ve mentioned it before, but I feel I need to really impress it upon you now. I love words. And I don’t mean like, “I’m an avid reader” kind of love. I mean I regularly engage in a passionate affair with the written word. I love the way words look on paper, and the way they sound when spoken. When someone, anyone, strings them together in a way that pleases the eye, the ear, or the mind, I feel physical satisfaction. I’m not just a bookworm. Give me a dictionary and a thesaurus and I can occupy myself for hours. Talk to me about palindromes and synonyms and subtexts and I’m all a quiver. I’ve always been this way.
At the tender age of seven, in addition to reading my Nancy Drew, The Babysitter’s Club, and Encyclopedia Brown, this zeal led me to explore my parent’s extensive library – to pick up books like The Fall of the House of Usher (I barely understood it, but what a lovely sounding title!), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and Pet Sematary. Thus began a lifelong habit of insatiable literary curiosity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a painstakingly crafted work of erudite art like Floubert’s Madame Bovary, or a children’s book like Dr. Suess’ The Butter Battle Book. Whether its poetry, true crime, fairy tales or romance novels, I’m willing to give everything a fair chance – and if it’s any good I devour it greedily.
I tell you this, because it’s this voracious inquisitiveness that has brought us to this place. Until my dear colleagues here at Dread Central began reporting on the upcoming “>Twilight movie, I was fairly unaware of the existence of the series. I’d heard the name mentioned in passing, but it had never been on my radar. And then we posted our first news item on it and I thought “Hmmm, a vampire movie. Interesting.” And that was about it. That is, until people started posting comments responding to the news. The rancor, derision, eye-rolling and mocking directed at the film news made me wonder – Young adult or not, was the source material all that bad? I had to find out for myself.
Book 1: Twilight
I was skeptical enough not to want to blind buy and spend $16 or more dollars on a book I might not like, so I added the first book in the series to the top of my Bookswim pool. (Bookswim is like a literary Netflix; it feeds my addiction beautifully.) Right off the bat, the reader is introduced to 17 year old Bella Swan, from whose perspective the entire story is told. Author Stephenie Meyer quickly establishes Bella as a unique character, both within the context of the fictional world she’s created and in the pantheon of young adult heroines, which was surprising.
Given the series’ explosive popularity with teenage girls, I was half expecting a heroine who fit in with her contemporaries, like pop icons Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Or perhaps more fairly, like “Gossip Girl”’s Serena van der Woodson, or Disney’s Hannah Montana.
But Bella resembles none of these characters, real or imagined, in the slightest. Instead, she’s somewhat shy, sarcastic, self-effacing, intelligent, clumsy and introspective. She cares nothing for sports or fashion. She loves to read and listen to music; she’s smart but not overly nerdy. She’s just as squeaky clean as any Disney “it” girl – she does her homework, cleans her room, cooks dinner for her divorced father, and is loathe to skip class – but without the bubble gum, Crest white smile, super saturated color, saccharine sweetness that makes Disney fare so wincingly unappealing to grown ups. Bella’s often dry wit, self awareness and insightfulness are a pleasure, which is thankful, considering the reader spends the next 400+ pages inside her head.
Of course, the story that unfolds focuses on Bella’s recent move to the small town of Forks, Washington and subsequent romance with Edward Cullen, a boy in her class who just happens to be a nearly 100 year old vampire, the youngest (technically, he’s still 17) of a family of vampires. And though Edward hasn’t fed on a human in over 80 years, Bella’s blood smells to him like the rarest of fine wines to a connoisseur. So, apart from the normal trials and tribulations of young love, the pair must deal with his constant struggle to overcome his desire for her blood.
The potential for melodrama is incredibly high, but Meyer manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of teen angst. The writing is, on occasion, admittedly somewhat awkward but that lends itself to the environment of Bella’s mind rather well. And I was more pleased than I would have thought that Meyer remains true to that environment. We learn nothing that Bella doesn’t know, see nothing that Bella doesn’t see. This can be frustrating at times, but it allows the reader to feel the same tensions and exasperation Bella feels. And the reader learns a great deal about Bella’s character through her thoughts, deeds, and reactions. She manages to both be an admirable Everywoman and truly extraordinary in a way that has nothing to do with being a supernatural creature.
Speaking of the vampires, Meyer does interesting things with the vampire mythos, playing with almost all of the preconceived notions established fang-o-philes might have; expanding on some ideas, doing away with others completely, and creating several of her own unique characteristics. The vampires of Meyer’s creation possess preternatural speed, strength, agility, and heightened senses; have skin as hard as stone, no fangs and a venomous bite. The sun doesn’t hurt them, nor do crosses, garlic, or wooden stakes.
They do drink blood, though the Cullens have made the choice to only feed on animals. However, this is a rare trait, common only to them and one other small coven in Alaska. None of the other vampires you meet throughout the series share this preference – which in fact leads to the climax of this lover’s tale, and perhaps my biggest issue with this book. I don’t have an issue with climax itself, when a group of nomads stumble upon the Cullens during a game of baseball vampire-style (which, cinematically speaking should be a fun scene in the film, if done right) and one of the group (a tracker named James) gets a whiff of Bella’s yummy blood and decides to hunt her. It’s high octane, full of tension and emotion and a good dash of pain (though nothing overly graphic). My issue is that the last hundred pages feel fairly disjointed from the first 400.
The beginning four fifths of the book build very slowly. It works very well to establish the world the reader is going to inhabit (hopefully) for the next three books; the environment, the characters and their traits. A first time reader will likely only notice that the dialogue is generally snappy and often funny, and that the major characters have very distinct personalities. It’s only if you stick with the series that you realize how much of a foundation Meyer builds within that first book.
And that’s a great thing … but once the story progresses from foundation to action, it happens in a split second. It’s hard to switch gears from the experiences and hardships of young love to a life or death game of cat and mouse. For me, it took a bit of time to go from one speed to another. Though once I did I enjoyed the climax and denouement quite a bit. Aside from the swift change of tone and pacing near the end, my only other gripe would be the abundant over-usage of the word “incredulous” in all its forms. I ached to mail Ms. Meyer a thesaurus with the entry for the word highlighted.
But still, Bella is a treat to get to know and her and Edward’s story is amusing, sweet and exciting – in more ways than one. Meyer has been hailed because Bella and Edward’s relationship is chaste. And it is chaste, just not puritan. Bella is a passionate girl, and Edward doesn’t just lust after her blood. But given the situation, Edward’s strength and Bella’s tantalizing smell, even kissing is playing with fire for the pair. Still, it doesn’t stop Meyer from writing several steamy scenes of nuzzling, non-sexual touching, and kissing that one reviewer dubbed “the erotics of abstinence”. It’s a good term, and Meyer definitely proves you don’t have to have sex to be sexy.
I freely admit the book has its flaws. The writing is solid, but not exactly inspired. It’s occasionally awkward, and the wording somewhat naïve. There are also the pacing issues I mentioned. But I still enjoyed it much, much more than I ever thought I would. I was entertained thoroughly. Granted, this is very much for the ladies – although it’s not overbearingly girlie or lovey-dovey, so it’s not impossible that a guy could enjoy it. But I think those who love vampires would enjoy Meyer’s clever twists, and those who enjoy a good epic romance will enjoy Bella and Edward’s. Twilight is a strong opening piece that makes the reader want to know what’s going to happen next. And that’s never a bad thing. I’m still skeptical about the movie, but as for the book… like another recent children’s book series by a certain Ms. Rowling, I think if you write it off as mere kid’s stuff, you’re really missing out.
3 1/2 out of 5
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