YA book review: Twilight

I picked up Twilight by Stephenie Meyer because it was at the top of every teen reader list on Amazon, my library actually had it (gasp!), in multiple copies no less, but they were checked out, and a thirteen-year-old in the book store told me the series was SOGOOD and I HAD to read them. (She told me a ton of other things too. We were there for a while.) Now, I’m always skeptical of a book that is this hyped. Just because Little, Brown’s marketing machine is working overtime, and now that the book’s been optioned for a major motion picture, there’s a studio pushing it too – none of these factors signify to me that a book is well-written or that I personally will like it. So going into this with that degree of skepticism, on top of which, weighing in at 500 pages it was most likely going to throw me off my 2-4 book per week reading goal, let’s just say I wasn’t very enthused.

But…I LOVED THIS BOOK.

I read it in two days. I could not put it down, I could not stop thinking about it, and I dreaded the moment when it would end. I don’t know how I’ll stop myself from going straight to the book store and buying the next two books in the series – well, I won’t. Let’s face it, it’s a losing battle. I won’t know what to do with myself when I am finished with them. I’m fired up for the movie, too. I had to go onto the IMDB and check out the casting, and though the promo shots look pretty cheesy, the choices are good. But man, those actors better have chemistry or they’ll never pull it off.

Plot synopsis

Bella decides to go live with her dad in the pacific northwest when her mom marries a minor-leaguer and opts to follow him on the road. Bella finds that she is vastly more liked and popular in her new small school than she was in her huge inner-city school back in Phoenix. She attributes some of this to her pale skin and long dark hair fitting in better in the land of no sun than it did back at home, where everyone was blond and tan. Then there is Edward whose interest in Bella seems piqued from the start, though in the beginning in a negative way. Come to find out (and I’m not giving away anything that you can’t learn from the back cover), he is a vampire who is grappling with the issue of falling in love with Bella while also finding her a morsel more tempting than any he’s ever had to resist.

Notes

The book is very well-paced. The first 300 pages of the book chronicle their relationship, then we get some of Edward’s history and meet his family, then about two-thirds of the way through, there is a conflict that plays out the rest of the book. I thought it was cool that most of the book was really about these two characters, and no one else really mattered all that much. In my writing, I’m always afraid to stick with the same thing for too long, but here it was so appropriate, because if there was anything between Bella’s and Edward’s scenes, you’d just want to skip it.

The most impressive, successful, enjoyable, addictive – there are numerous adjectives that fit here – thing about this book, what kept me turning page after page, making me late for things and antisocial at others, was the feelings it evoked. The book is hot. It’s sensual, engrossing, charged, while staying absolutely and decisively PG. More than that, the feeling of first love – the electric charge you feel from the swimming sensation in your head down to the tips of your toes that’s sometimes so strong it’s nearly unbearable, that urgency, that feeling that everything must happen right now because time no longer exists and there is only this moment. That feeling that your body gets desensitized to and you never quite feel the same way as you did that first time – Stephenie Meyer captures that so successfully I can’t actually think of many books that do it as well or better.

Adolescence is a time when every emotion is set on fire. This is one of the challenges and the joys of writing for young adults. You need to remember that; you need to relive that; you need to put aside everything you know and feel and have already processed in your adult life and experience things for your character for the first time. It is daunting, but so rewarding. And it can be painful, because adolescence is painful, but it’s also juicy and brimming with innocent self-importance – your characters still deem themselves the center of their world, with everyone else playing bit parts. They are still a few years off from learning that there is a whole big world in which they are merely itty-bitty-bitty parts. Bella and Edward are the center of the world in this book, and in the world of whoever is reading it in those 500 pages time, and everything else just circulates around them – and you – not really catching up or mattering all that much.

So from a writing perspective, there’s not much to say. There are no devices here. There are some very well-developed characters and a great story well told. If you would read this thinking “But it’s about vampires. That’s totally gimmicky.” I’d say they are well-rounded characters that happen to be vampires. It brings to mind the “What if” character building exercise in which you start sketching a character and then you say what if he were a fireman, or a veteran, or a vampire, and then you have a whole history to fill out and motivations to explore, all filtered through this new piece of information. And in doing so, you make your character and your story richer. Stephenie Meyer What-if’d her way into a lobster etouffe topped off with double chocolate volcano cake explosion of richness. And man was it delicious.

Do I recommend this book?

Hell to the yes.

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5 Comments »

  1. As a fellow YA writer, and true fan (perhaps a little obsessed) of the Twilight series, I couldn’t agree more with your critique. Stephenie has gotten a lot of cirticism about her writing: it’s not good enough, it isn’t literary, it won’t stand the test of time…yada yada yada. But, as Kristen Nelson says, millions of readers can’t be wrong. I truly believe that writing is only part of the equations, and the even bigger part is the story. If you can tell a great story with great characters, the writing is going to take care of itself.

  2. ifyoubelievethenclap said

    I had to read some Amazon reviews after reading your comment, because I had no idea she had gotten such a bad rap! I’m wondering how much of this is just success backlash. It falls into one of those genres where people want to be the first to discover it, and then once it garners acclaim, the first to discredit it. It’s the Juno effect: at first it was “You have to see Juno!” and then “Juno’s cute!” and then “Juno’s over-written!” and then “You have to have an opinion on Juno!”

    I thought the writing carried this book. The story – meh – it is what it is, but it’s these carefully imagined characters that make me care about it. And I think sometimes genre fiction lends itself to cliche a little bit, and to me, that’s acceptable. Drawing on archetypes from fantasy and fairy tale give the reader a history to start with that can add to a story when done well (or can be completely transparent when done poorly). Neil Gaiman does it well.

    Neil Gaiman’s also not afraid to be cheesy once in a while, because cheese happens. There are so many life experiences that in the retelling could not be described as anything but cheesy or cliched (first kiss, marriage proposal, sometimes wedding, seeing your baby for the first time), but it’s strong characters, and experiencing these things through the individual that make them special.

    And I have to say, there are things I don’t like about each character too. In real life Edward would be a bit of a stalker (watching her sleep? eek.). And Bella’s needing to be “saved” all the time perpetuates a stereotype that I don’t love. But I accept these as parts of these characters, and enjoy the bits that I enjoy. And some of that comes from holding the adolescent experience under an adult microscope, which really isn’t fair. And it’s hard not to do as a writer and as a reader. And I definitely think that is also what some of the reviewers have mistakenly done.

    Wow, sorry for the long, convoluted response. I guess I had more to say that I didn’t get into the original post. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Danielle said

    Oh, mother FUCK. I have been avoiding this series like the PLAGUE, and I think you’ve finally wore me down. I can’t fight it anymore. FINE. Here I go, ready to fall into yet another YA series of tomes that will consume my freaking life. Woo!

  4. ifyoubelievethenclap said

    I have to say, the whole time I was reading, my brain was going “danielleneedstoreadthis…danielleneedstoreadthis….”

  5. Sada said

    Okay, I just borrowed this from a coworker—because there are 238 holds on it at my library. TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY-EIGHT! That’s insanity!

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