Book Review – “Twilight”

Twilight-cover
The Story:
[from Amazon]
Isabella Swan’s move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Isabella, the person Edward holds most dear. The lovers find themselves balanced precariously on the point of a knife-between desire and danger.

My Take: Okay, I’m finally going to do this. I have long since avoided writing a review for Twilight because I tend to shy away from penning reviews for uber-popular books. I’m not sure why but I think it’s because books such as this tend to amass a love-it or hate-it kind of following, so I harbor some trepidation that I will annoy or anger one camp or the other.

But today I felt in the mood to compose a review. Call me wacky.

The plot of Twilight is fairly simple and I wonder if most of the trends we see in YA these days (e.g. first-person POV, teen drama and angst, love triangles, insta-love, etc.) are not somehow due in part to the success of Twilight. I want to state up-front that I do not hate Twilight as it has its merits, but I do not love it either.

Hence, in the immortal words of Randy Jackson…
Dawg

First, Twilight isn’t all bad or even mediocre. For starters, the setting is nice and well-described. I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest before, but I had no trouble visualizing the story’s physical environment and its climate. To the book’s credit, its descriptions are just right – not so sparse that you feel like the story takes place in a black box but not purple prose either. Plus, as a quick sidebar, I love the cover for its elegant simplicity as well as its good color contrast.

Likewise, some of the characters were fun and made me interested to know more about their histories. Oddly enough, the most interesting characters for me were the secondary characters. Alice, Jasper, Rosalie, Emmett, Carlisle, and Esme struck me as very individual, unique characters that I wanted to know more about. One thing to their credit – they are all given something memorable about them in background, character, or ability. I really wished more of that could have been explored here as I think my patience would have lasted a little longer.

Lastly, I did, at first, like the story’s pace and its (sort of) slice-of-life approach. The novel opens with Bella Swan having to contend with living with her father in Forks, Washington (quite a far cry from her life with her mother in Arizona) and being the new girl in school and around town. If I was in the chief age demographic for this book, I might have gotten more out of all of the high school portions (i.e. at school, in class, at the prom, etc.), but I did initially like the way Bella’s new life was introduced slowly.

Now on to the less-than-stellar parts. Speaking of the plot and its pace, Twilight is s-l-o-w. Maybe not at a snail’s pace but it seems to take a considerable amount of time to get to where it needs to go.

Which would be…
don't know shrug huh
I’m not sure.

Hence one of my biggest issues with the novel – there is no central plot. Yes, the novel is about how Bella discovers that Edward is a vampire and how she starts to see the man beneath the monster. But that’s it. There is no goal for the characters to reach, no ultimate revelation they discover. About 90% of the book focuses on Bella and Edward talking about how he isn’t good for her because he is dangerous and how she doesn’t care about that. That’s essentially it.

In a way, Twilight reminds me of why I dislike Regency fiction: there is too much exposition and not enough action. In fact, Twilight picks up for me near the end when James tries to track Bella down. These are the scenes where the characters are actually on the move and doing something, not just languishing in a clearing. That’s why I would label Twilight chiefly as a romance novel (not paranormal or urban fantasy) for this very reason as its central conflict is seeing if Bella and Edward can put aside their “differences” to become a couple. But it’s a conflict driven more by exposition and brooding (sometimes both simultaneously) and less by physical action.

Also, the lead characters were not particularly interesting. Edward at least has a sympathetic backstory and I appreciated his civility, chivalry, and attempts to talk sense into Bella’s head at times. But he’s just not memorable, or at least not as memorable as, say, his sister Alice, who I imagine to be a chipper Goth chick with a heart of gold, kind of like Lydia Deetz from the old “Beetlejuice” cartoon show:
Lydia
If Lydia could see into the future, that is.

Honestly, I wished this novel could have been about the dynamic between Edward and Alice (as brother and sister, not anything else) as I think it would have been more enjoyable and Alice tends to put more color into Edward’s normally bland character.

Which brings me to Bella Swan, the lead protagonist and the character with whom I had the biggest problems.
Ack not again eye roll
I’ll just come right out and say it – Bella is simply boring.

She is intended to be a “plain Jane” figure, which is fine, but even plain Janes need something to make them sparkle. Granted, characters need to be relatable but Bella seems a bit too commonplace. Similarly, she doesn’t possess any striking traits or flaws other than she’s clumsy. Inadvertent clumsiness can elicit reader sympathy but it quickly becomes tiresome. This happens to Bella often as we’re reminded many times of how clumsy she is and how plain she thinks she looks. Okay, we get it – she’s ordinary and a klutz. But a leading character has to be more dynamic.

My other gripe with Bella is that she’s very flippant and immature. When faced with the choice between preserving or destroying her soul in becoming a vampire, she chooses the latter without much consideration, showing she possesses little to no executive decision making abilities. Perhaps all of this is to show Bella’s immaturity as she is a teenager after all, but it works against her rather than for her. Overall, Bella had potential as a character but needed to be less of an “everyman” figure and display some degree of maturity for her to resonate with me as an adult reader.

Content:
Language – Essentially none, save for a few sporadically-delivered PG words.

Violence – No graphic violence though there are generic blood drinking references and the book’s final fight scene contains some tense moments and peril that results in some of the participants being hurt, maimed, or “killed,” but the scene isn’t described in gory detail.

Sexual Content – There is sexual tension but no sexual content. However, there is insta-chemistry/insta-love in this book that, naturally, doesn’t reflect reality. Likewise, some of Edward’s actions towards Bella, such as his spying on her and staying the night with her (under a non-sexual pretense) could be seen as questionable. Not to mention the fact that Edward sees himself as a “monster,” which might implant the idea in younger readers’ minds that it’s good and even desirable to want the “bad boy” and not comprehend the fine line between a protective man and a possessive man. Naturally, adult readers can look past these issues, but I, myself, would not recommend Twilight to the under-15 crowd.

The Run-Down:
I don't know shrug
Overall, Twilight is okay – it’s not great but it’s not terrible. Some points in its favor are that it does take a different approach with vampire mythology (though some liberties are a bit too liberal), it has an interesting secondary cast, and it features a realistically-rendered physical environment. But this work of paranormal romance puts the romance factor first. Thus, if you enjoy romance stories set in the present day but feature non-human characters, you might enjoy this novel. But if you like to venture more into the fantasy/paranormal side of vampire stories, or if the YA cliches we’ve come to know and (not) love annoy you, then this won’t be your cup of tea. In the end, Twilight is worth reading at least once to see what the hype is/was about. But whether it deserves repeated readings will be up to you.

In closing, I thought this meme was a good comparison between Twilight and The Hunger Games as both contain a central female protagonist, a love triangle, and are insanely popular:
twilight-meme-comic-hunger-games_large
So I guess books about girls who move to a town where it rains a lot just aren’t really for me. 🙂

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