…Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Controlling Boyfriends and Love Mushy Romance Novels
(Side note: I’ll be referencing parts of the novel that may need spoiler-alerts, so heads up. As a reminder, the books are in this order: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn.)
First off, let me say that this review will be restricted to the characterization of Bella and her relationship with Edward. There is much, much more I could say about the writing and other themes, but they would take forever to describe and I think that if I did I’d get carried away.
Second—and I feel stupid for admitting it—I used to like Twilight. In my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I swooned at Edward’s romantic advances and felt bad for Bella when he left her. However, after swiftly maturing and analyzing all of the problems with the series, I can finally give a solid opinion of the books.
With that, I shall begin. (It might help to play dramatic music before you read this review to set the mood, I know it works for me. Otherwise I’ll have “Yakety Sax” stuck in my head, thanks to one New Moon review that mentioned it.)
We begin Twilight hearing about all of Bella Swan’s pain of leaving home. She doesn’t have to leave, nor does she want to, but she’s doing it because it’s the noble thing to do. Her mother is recently remarried and Bella wants to give them space. I wouldn’t have a problem with this, except for the fact that Bella complains all the time about moving and says she “detests” (4) her new home. Right off the back we get the sense that Bella is a whiner who sees her life worse than it really is. For example, after getting a truck from her dad, she says, “Now my horrific day tomorrow would be just that much less dreadful” (8). As I warned in my first post, I’d reference Harry Potter a lot, and I think this is a good time to do so. Hermione Granger is main female character in Harry Potter, and her attitude on life is much better to look up to. Unlike Bella, Hermione’s main purpose as a character is to show girls that intelligence is valuable and worth the hard work. I’m struggling to describe why Bella was written, only other than to be Edward’s love and give false hope about love to teenagers. Thank you, Stephenie Meyer, for starting the series off with a wistful, teenage girl protagonist who I can look up to. Oh, and did I mention she’s clumsy too? A lovely technique Meyer used to make female readers think, “Ohmygod, I’m clumsy like Bella! Maybe someday I can meet my own Edward!!” Sigh.
Anyway, later on Bella meets Edward and is immediately under his spell. I couldn’t care less that he’s beautiful, but it worries me how often she tells us so and uses the word “perfect”. It’s disappointing that someone who considers herself so independent can be smitten by a guy she barely knows. Later on, she even faints during one of his kisses (“I think I forgot to breathe” (320)). I understand that a girl can get so caught up in the thought of true love, but it’s disturbing when they’ve known each other for only a couple of months. Is this what Stephenie Meyer wants all girls to think? That love happens quickly and people will drop everything they’re doing for the one they love? Being the skeptic I am, I honestly hope not.
As Bella soon learns of Edward’s gasp! vampirism, she doesn’t care because she loves him that much. I can’t tell you how many pages I read where Edward warns her of how dangerous he is, proceeded by Bella saying she doesn’t care, then they both confess their love for each other. This would be completely different had she felt some fear or been a little more cautious about the situation. Instead, her “love conquers all” attitude was a bit cheesy.
Throughout the books, Bella’s clumsiness or “selfless” acts of saving someone cause Edward to become protective of her. Wait, let me back up. Edward is always protective of her and constantly manipulates her actions to suit his. In Twilight, one of the first cases is during lunch in the cafeteria: “Why don’t you sit with me today?” (87). Several other times he gives commands, not requests, and she complies. He also has a tendency to physically force her to do what he wants, using his “siblings” to pin her down. I understand that Edward sees Bella as a fragile being and wants to protect her, but he went too far. He comes off more like an abusive, controlling boyfriend who manipulates his girlfriend into thinking his ideas are the best. Only on rare occasions do I commend her when she says no or ignores him completely (although most of the time in New Moon it’s Edward’s hallucinated voice she’s defying so she can keep hearing it). It’s discouraging that only after Bella transforms into a vampire in Breaking Dawn that he gives her more leeway, and even then he’s still protective of her. It also doesn’t help that, even when they barely knew each other, he was watching her sleep at night. Creepy.
One of the other main problems I have with the series is the lack of character change in Bella, or anybody for that matter. Sure, she becomes an all-powerful vampire by the end, but her mindset is basically the same. No mental development, no sudden epiphanies about life, nothing. Going back to Harry Potter, JK Rowling is a master at making her characters undergo extreme changes throughout her books. Harry starts out as a naïve boy, later a hormonal teenager, and finally a young man. I don’t see any of this through Bella and the other Twilight characters. For a four-book series spanning about two years, you’d think there’d be some sort of change, but there really isn’t.
Although I despise the series, I wouldn’t put it on my all-time least favorite books list. The writing is terrible and the plot falls flat at the end (no fight scene at the end of Breaking Dawn??? Come on!!), but Stephenie Meyer knew exactly how to draw in readers. When I was 15, I was, like most teenage girls, looking for a reliable, hopefully good-looking boyfriend. We chose to see past all of the book’s problems to fantasize that Edward could be out there somewhere for us, speaking in early 1900s dialect. Her descriptions also reflect what (I assume) many young teenage girls look for—what the characters are wearing, how exactly rooms look, etc. Rowling may have done a better job at this—by showing scenes and allowing us to visualize the rest in our head, rather than telling us about them—but Meyer’s technique proved successful to the masses.
There are so many more things I can say about this series, but this post is getting pretty long. As a recap:
- Bella is the opposite of a strong, female protagonist. I’d take Hermione and her I’m-smart-because-I-want-to-be awesomeness any day.
- Bella and Edward’s relationship is unhealthy. Really unhealthy.
- The writing (and plethora of words just taken from a thesaurus) weigh down the book, and the hundreds of pages filled with unnecessary fluff could be switched out with character development.
So what should preteens and teenagers read instead of Twilight? Obviously, my first choice is the Harry Potter series, though it’s a different sort of realistic magic and doesn’t focus on romances. (It also helps to have good writing and foreshadowing.) Another great choice is Meg Cabot’s The Mediator series. These deal with a sixteen-year old who can see ghosts (and fights them too!), eventually falling for one. Though there are still some cheesy moments and the writing doesn’t match Rowling’s, the protagonist is much stronger and self-confident, which I find better for young girls to look up to. Finally, for older teenagers and adults, I’d recommend the Southern Vampire Mysteries, or the Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlaine Harris (basis for the TV show “True Blood”). They’re much more adult, but they involve a mind-reading waitress (who is much less whiny than Bella) and her affairs with vampires in Louisiana.
What are your thoughts? Have you read or ever liked the Twilight series? Are there any other characters/relationships that you like/dislike? Finally, what about Jacob Black?
I think that wraps it up for this post. Sorry for the length, but there was a lot to say. Have a good week!
(If you want to check out other sites’ reviews of the series, I recommend these. They’re pretty hilarious as well):