Friday, September 05, 2008

Review: Twilight

If you've been anywhere near a teenage girl in the past year, you've probably heard about Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. This vampire romance novel is all the rage among high school, and even middle school, girls. It's so popular in fact that it'll be coming to a big screen near you November 21st.

As a teen leader and a mom, I decided to check out this novel for myself. When my older daughters expressed a desire to read it, I was assured by their friends that it was a clean book -- no swearing or sex. I have to say that I do appreciate teen literature that is free of vulgarities. You have to actually be a decent writer and have some talent these days to get published in the young adult market without filling your pages with anti-Christian rhetoric, bizarre sex, and rampant drug use. (I think Stephenie Meyer is Mormon -- I'm not sure.)

However, a book can be free of sex, drugs, and bad language, and still be a waste of time, even a detriment to your person.

Overall, I did not like the book. I wanted to like the book. I tried to like the book. But in the end I can't endorse it. (I'm sorry Kaleb.) It was a page turner. I had no trouble finishing it in three days. Oh, that doesn't mean that I didn't have quibbles as I read. I had quite a few. I felt bogged down in the beginning by endless description and I found myself editing as I went along. I have to admit the editing thing is a bad habit I have with less than perfectly written novels. So, it's not too much of an insult to Twilight. Only the best authors get a pass from my mental editing such as C. S., J. R. R., J. K. And bad editing is not entirely the fault of the author. Publishing houses do hire people known as, yes it's true, editors.

Anyway, I felt compelled to get to the end. I really wanted to know how Stephenie Meyer would wrap the whole thing up. Surely, there would be a great resolution to the whole thing, my soul would be lifted, I would find redemption in the main characters, and we would all go off into the sunset blissfully happy that, though the world isn't perfect, we can always find some good in it.

I was disappointed. The ending seemed nothing more to me than a setup to the next book in the series.


The basic plot is this: Bella, 17, gets sent to live with her dad in dreary Forks, WA from sunny Phoenix, AZ. She hates it. She hates the weather, the people, the small town atmosphere, the school, and so on. The one thing she loves is a dazzling, amazingly beautiful boy, Edward, in her science class who turns out to be a 100-year-old vampire. The interesting thing is that he belongs to a coven of vampires who only eat wild animals (the vampire version of a vegetarian I suppose). Oh, they're still tempted to feed on humans but they know that it's wrong.

This is the one part that I found the author using the opportunity to teach a moral lesson. Now, don't get me wrong -- I hate preachy books. However, a good author (Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling) can teach through the story -- how the characters act when presented with a dilemma.

Here is an excerpt from Twilight:
He hesitated before answering. "That's a good question, and you are not the first one to ask it. The others -- the majority of our kind who are quite content with our lot -- they, too, wonder how we live. But you see, just because we've been . . . dealt a certain hand . . . it doesn't mean that we can't choose to rise above -- to conquer the boundaries of a destiny that none of us wanted. To try to retain whatever essential humanity we can."

This made me think of those who deal with same-sex attraction yet live chaste lives, as the Church calls them to do. It's hard, really hard, but you do it. Any teen reading the above paragraph can think of times they were tempted in some way -- to cheat on a test, to gossip about a friend, to go too far with a boyfriend -- and yet they rose above the temptation and did what was right. Even if everyone else is doing it, you still resist. This is a good thing.

To Edward's benefit, he does try to stay away from Bella at first. He commits himself to protecting her and tries not to get too close to her. He partly fails, he can't bring himself to stay away from her and gives her every opportunity to move beyond curiosity to obsession. He puts her in mortal danger (from the bad guy vampires) by merely allowing her to hang out with him and his coven.

There are other plot lines that get in the way of teaching the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. For example, Bella has known this boy for such a very short time yet she is ready to give up her life for him. Oh no, not give up her life in an unselfish kind of way. Not to save his life or anything heroic. She begs him to make her a vampire too so that they can live throughout eternity together as boyfriend and girlfriend, never growing old but staying 17 forever. Forget that whole giving up your eternal soul thing. Forget that you'll be tempted to feed on humans and spend your unending life fighting the temptation to kill. Forget that should she lose control for even a second she will become a murderer in the most gruesome manner, possibly someone she loves. We know this because Edward, who loves her deeply, is continuously tempted to have Bella for lunch.

Please, would you or anyone you know fall for a guy who is just dying to fill you with venom and then suck your blood from your lifeless body? I don't care how cute he is, I would have to give him a pass. Really, what kind of message is that for teen girls -- if he's a hottie then go for it no matter the consequences? Bella declares her love for Edward, but it really is nothing more than lust. He wants her to stay human, but she tempts him endlessly to make her a vampire.

I don't get why she's so hot for him to start with either. He's stone cold. I would think that any emotion over his dazzling beauty would die at the touch of his marble like fingers. But then he does have the super strength, super speed, and mind-reading thing going for him. Conveniently (this is never explained), Bella's mind is the only one he can't read.

The inability to read Bella's mind does make her attractive to Edward. Also, she smells really, really good. Actually, I think it's the smell of her blood that gets Edward all hot under the collar. Surely, she must be the girl for him.

Another thing that bothered me was the use of first person narrative. We hear the story through Bella, yet we don't really know her reasoning. Why is it she's so drawn to Edward? Yes, girls throughout history have been strongly attracted to bad boys, but this bad boy is a vampire! I want to hear Bella's inner voice tell me why Edward's ice cold hands don't creep her out, why she's not afraid of his desire to suck the life out of her, why she is willing to turn her back on her mom and dad to become a vampire herself. What are Bella's lifelong dreams, aspirations, hopes? I have no idea. Instead, we only get a step-by-step narrative of what is going on around her. Much like a "What I did on my summer vacation" report.

If you're looking for pulp fiction with a little romance, a little horror, and little redeeming value, then this may be the book for you. Parents note that you shouldn't hand this over to your 13-year old. Read it first if your older teens are begging you to read it so that you can express to them why it may not be in their best interest. At the very least discuss the moral implications over dessert at the coffee house.

With all that said, I should add that I don't have a thing against horror novels per se. In fact, Dracula by Bram Stoker is a favorite of mine. If you haven't read, give it a try. You'll be struck by the underlying Catholic themes. The teens in my high school reading group chose it last year as one of their selections and they picked up on the Catholic imagery too. For example, Dracula (evil) cannot enter your home unless you invite him in. Of course, he needs to trick you into the invitation. Like sin, he is disguised in a welcoming, attractive package and you only recognize him for what he truly is after it's too late. But you can fight him back with strong determination.

Actually, I didn't read Dracula but listened to it on audio. One word of advice, don't listen to the last chapters as you're driving far out in the country around midnight with a full moon above. Believe it or not, that's what I did. I was terribly lost, unable to find the home of a fellow 4-H leader to pick up my kids with Dracula playing in my cassette deck. It was too scary!

Dracula ends with good triumphing over evil. Twilight ends (major spoiler ahead) with Bella relentlessly begging to be made into a vampire and Edward going for her neck. Because the edition I read included the first chapter of the next book in the series, I know that Edward doesn't actually make her into a vampiress. That's it. That's the end. It's anti-climatic at it's worst.

So, what's my overall opinion on Twilight. It's an okay book. Not great literature. A compelling story? Yes. Good for the soul? I have serious doubts. At this point I'm not sure if I'll read the sequels. I have hope that they will contain the redemptive ending I so desire, but if they don't I'll feel even more regret at having started this process.

Addendum: Regina's Twilight review
and a review from Cozy as Spring.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Maureen! I have been wondering about this book as there's quite a bit of interest in it here in our area.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's what I thought, too, after reading Twilight. I only decided to pick up the other books after Kaleb decided to write about it on his twilightguy website--a year after I read Twilight. The books are interesting to read, but the characters bug me so much sometimes, especially Bella, and the books aren't very well-written, either.

Sarah - Kala said...

Reading your review makes me all the more determined to make sure they never sneak past me into my home. My niece was here this summer and raved about the books. She's 13. My girl is 12 and I had to say "no" based on SFO Mom's review - I just trusted that wonderful Catholic mom's opinion, which I read before my sister and her daughter came to see us. I was able to say "no" and why. I, too, don't understand why a girl would want to be with an "undead". That, in itself, is anticlimatic.

I have to say I do not like it when publisher's add on the first chapter of the next book!

M.E. said...

Thanks, Maureen. My nieces told my daughters they *had* to read Twilight. I picked it up and flipped through to the end and was creeped out by exactly the passages you cited, mainly that Bella wants to become a vampire. I appreciate the long and thorough review.

Anonymous said...

My daughter read them. She said the 1st was alright. The 2nd was
her favorite and then they went downhill from there. By the last one I think she thought they were really a waste of time. We saw the
author on her book tour. We (my dd and I) were pretty appalled that
a homeschooling friend was letting her 8 yr. old dd read them (after
having read them herself). My dd said that by the 3rd book they were not appropriate for that age level. So I guess there are different opinions.

Connie's Daughter said...


Have you ever read the Warrior cat series by Erin Hunter?
I searched on Love2Learn, but didn't find any reviews. Apparently these are very popular, especially with boys, and even "non-readers" read them. I'd sure like to know what you think of them!

CMinor said...

I just read Twilight for a Girl Scout book discussion and I have to say you are spot on. Having read plot synopses of the rest of the series I've concluded this is neither a series I want to finish nor to encourage my young teen to finish. Thank goodness there are plenty of other books she prefers.

I will be bringing up some points in discussion I bet haven't been considered by the girls in my troop!

Thanks for the post. I find reading what other people have to say helps me to clarify my feelings on the book. I was frankly creeped out, but it wasn't because of the vampires!

Anonymous said...

I think if you read all four books, you might feel a little differently because it seems like the value of rising above your baser instincts is definitely played up, plus the value of marital devotion, and the value of family, including parents caring for their children who are "abnormal." Also, the shape-shifting wolfs are essentially supernatural police officers, who make sacrifices to protect humans from danger.

I have a lot of faith in my teen daughter to make good choices, and I let her pick what books she wants from the library. I think she's earned that right, and I don't worry that something she reads will cause bad behavior on her part. I trust her.

Anonymous said...

I missed this when you posted it, but I agree wholeheartedly. Your review is brilliant.

Maureen said...

Connie's Daughter, sorry to be so very late in responding to your question. The Warriors series is really popular among the homeschooled boys here. I picked it up today and plan to start reading soon. I'll post my comments on the blog in the near future.

Boniface said...

Dracula playing in my cassette deck.

Cassette deck? Get with the times, Maureen! That is so late 1980's!

Maureen said...

Yes, well, being married to Mr. W. all my cars are about that old. Though our most recent car purchase (only 12 years old!) does have a CD player. I'm moving up in the world!