Sunday, June 29, 2008

Why I'm Not Crazy About "Twilight"

"Softly he brushed my cheek, then held my face between his marble hands. 'Be very still,' he whispered, as if I wasn't already frozen. Slowly, never moving his eyes from mine, he leaned toward me. Then abruptly, but very gently, he rested his cold cheek against the hollow at the base of my throat." ~from Twilight by Stephenie Meyer


OK, it's a huge best-seller. Teenage girls have read the entire trilogy multiple times. The fourth book, to be released this August, has bookstores across the country holding midnight parties a la Harry Potter.

My students fell in love with Twilight by Stephenie Meyer this year, so I eagerly picked it up a few weeks ago to find out why.

300 pages into it, I'm still wondering.

I know some of my blog readers have read and enjoyed this book, and I know most of you aren't teenage girls, so I'm curious to know what the big draw is.

Storyline: awkward teen Bella moves to a small town and finds herself inexplicably drawn to Edward, a perfect/ godlike/ beautiful/ dangerous "bad boy" sort of hero in school. The problem? Edward's a vampire.

My problem with this book? The first half is incredibly slow, a day-by-day account of what Bella wears to school, who she sits with in lunch, how she finds Edward so amazingly gorgeous she can hardly breathe when he's around...By the middle there is marginally more action, but I'm somewhere around page 350 and there's still not a whole lot going on.

My bigger concern, though, is the way the two main characters are developed. Bella is 15, plain and clumsy according to her own accounts...yet within the first month of school 4 boys ask her out. There's a whole lot of "poor me" whining on her part that drives me up a wall. Not only that, but her insecurity makes my teeth ache. She mentions how beautiful/gorgeous/breath-taking/perfect Edward is on at least every other page. OK, I get the teenage fascination with a good-looking bad boy who's out of one's league. But I get angry when an author reinforces the idea that a plain girl who's shy and not terribly graceful is not possibly worthy of someone with good looks. Bella is absolutely submissive to the mere idea of Edward, and her world revolves around the moments he looks at her.

And Edward, by the way, is not really a nice guy for the first half of the book. Here's the thing: if you're going to give me a hero, you better make sure I like something about him early on, despite his flaws. But Edward is rude, smirks (I'd like to count how many times the author uses that verb to describe his actions), and makes fun of Bella and other kids in the school. So when my students say, with great heaving sighs, "I want a guy like Edward," it pisses me off. Why are we still raising a generation of girls who think that it's OK for a physically gorgeous, unattainable guy to be emotionally manipulative? For a girl to throw away plans with friends and lie to her father for the mere chance of spending time with a good-looking guy who at one moment is kind and the next moment is incredibly distant and rude?

My students say, "Yes, but Edward's only keeping her at a distance to protect her...so he won't eat her. And he saves her life!" Yes, he does, more than once. He rescues her from being crushed by a careening truck and then later from being assaulted by a group of unsavory older men. For those reasons alone, I am finishing the book and reserving judgement, to see if Edward turns out to be a hero worth admiring. But I won't be running out to pick up the next book in the series.

I'd love to hear from anyone who's read Twilight and honestly enjoyed it from start to finish. Please tell me if I'm way off base here...

14 comments:

Amy said...

I haven't read Twilight and had no plans to. But I agree with you on reinforcing the idea that the shy/plain girl is unworthy of the gorgeous bad boy and this his rudeness is "for her own good." Grrr.

MaryF said...

For me, the pace was just deadly. I listened to it on my iPod and I think it took me over a month. I stopped for awhile and went back to it, just to say I'd finished it, but it was sloooooow.

I've heard the comments about Bella being submissive, but that bit didn't stand out to me.

I'm with you, though. Won't be reading the next one, but when the movie's on DVD, I'll put it in my queue.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read it but did read her first adult fiction - The Host, which is on the NY Times Bestseller List. It is very good and told mostly from the alien POV. BUT I would've have changed the ending. LIZ

Morgan said...

i agree with your annoyance of bella. i read all of the books and cant stand the girl. yet, in spite of wanting to slap her across the face for being so "bella", i still kept reading and anticipate the arrival of the next book. i do see your point with edward acting like a jerk for a fair amount of the first story, and i agree that it reinforces the bad boy image. but that is where most of these teenage girls are at in their lives, they will soon find out that the world is made up of jacob's and edwards, the bad boys and the genuine ones. i think playing on the fantasies of many young girls...and even some of the older ones...meyer finds teens going out and reading her books. i have read alot of books in my short life, (22 years) but i think why i found myself turning the page is because of simple entertainment. i wanted to see what would happen next. yet, i wish the writing of the story was a bit more sophisticated, she does uses words and phrases again and again, and i feel as though bella and edward have the same conversations over and over. but i agree with your opinion of the book, but if you thought the first 300 pages of twilight was slow, new moon is even worse, i found it my least favorite of the series. ~C.J.

LaskiGal said...

I read it not long ago when a few students suggested I add it to my "teen" reading list.

I wasn't thrilled, at all. I could see the draw to some degree, but for me, I think you said it best: "There's a whole lot of "poor me" whining on her part that drives me up a wall"

Allie Boniface said...

Liz, Maybe I should check out her adult fiction.

MaryF, I can't imagine listening to it...the first half must have just about killed you!

Morgan, Thanks for stopping by. I think your viewpoint is pretty typical of a lot of the 16-25 year old readers.

MaryF said...

My friend Trish LOVED The Host.

Yeah, I ended up taking a break from listening and listened to two other books then went back to it. I'm glad I finished it, but....

MaryF said...

My friend Trish LOVED The Host.

Yeah, I ended up taking a break from listening and listened to two other books then went back to it. I'm glad I finished it, but....

Devon Gray said...

I haven't read this (or heard of it). Have I been under a rock?

Allie Boniface said...

Devon, It's the lateat YA craze...mostly female readers. I only heard about it through my students, but it definitely has approached cult status this spring!

chandlermariecraig said...

Agent Kristin Nelson on Pub Rants did a great post awhile back--can't find the link right now--about how millions of readers can't be wrong. I agree that it can be fun to engage in this kind of talk, but she raises good points. Readers in droves spend good money to buy these books the second they come out. No one is forcing them. And that as writers we should be trying to figure out what is working for in these books more than how they miss the mark.

Soo...I think a few things really worked in Twilight was the obvious sexual tension, the new vampire lore, and the fact that I think with all the description (that does get repetitive) readers feel as if they are falling in love with Edward themselves. Also, I do think the ending series with the tracker was exciting.

Alice Teh said...

I don't know why, Allie, but I actually love the book. I'm 30...

Allie Boniface said...

See, that's what I find interesting, Alice...a lot of people I've talked to (esp. my students) can't articulate WHY they like the story. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a 53 yr. old male professor, with a Ph.D. from continental Europe; I'm teaching at a prestigious university...I like the whole 4-volume vampire "saga" of Meyer...New Moon is for me the most boring...Twilight and Breaking Dawn are better. What I like in Meyer's work is that it has somehow brought back many teenagers into reading mode again (with the lack of better sources of stimulation other than video and audio stuff and booze and s..) But what I like to say is that teenagers fondness for either Bella or Edward is also a reflection of their own dispositions--their psychological/emotional states which truly hanker for fulfillment, love, sentimental attachment...things which Meyer has "offered" for our fantasies or unfulfilled hopes.