Thursday, July 30, 2009

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

498 pages
Published 2005, reprinted 2008
Little, Brown Young Readers

Let me preface this review by saying I have never had any interest in reading vampire stories or any scary monster story for that matter. As a teenager I read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but I never took the time to read Bram Stoker's Dracula and I never bothered to watch a vampire movie or TV show. They just didn't interest me. And so it shouldn't come as a surprise that until this summer I have not had any interest in reading or seeing Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

What changed my mind was the fact that both a sister-in-law and my own sister, having read the books and seen the movie, kept telling me I should read the series that it wasn't just a vampire story. After months of hearing this I finally decided to add Twilight to my TBR list with the goal of reading it before the end of the summer. And so, I put a request in for Twilight at my local library. Surprisingly it came in a lot faster than I expected and thus spent over two weeks sitting on my nightstand before I even gave it a second glance. And then last weekend after a marathon reading of Dickens I decided I needed a break and picked up Twilight... The result was a 24 hour period where I didn't read anything but Twilight.

The Plot
As most of you know, Twilight is the story of 17-year old Bella Swann, who moves from Phoenix, AZ to Forks, WA to spend some time with her father after her mother's remarriage. At first Bella hates her new home. Not only is Forks the rainiest part of the United States, but it is a small town with a small school and she's the new girl. But then she meets Edward Cullen, a very beautiful and very mysterious boy in her school. Initially he seems to hate her and goes to great lengths to be as far from her as possible, but over the course of the school year they strike up an unlikely friendship and after he has saved her life twice she learns his secret... he's a vampire. What ensues is a fantasy story of star-crossed lovers -- the human and the immortal -- living in a modern world full of temptation. (*Note: The picture of the fruit on the cover is to symbolize the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. Bella and Edward, and others in the book, face various forms of temptations.)

My Thoughts
Overall I was surprised to find I really enjoyed Twilight. While I don't class Meyer's writing as "fine literature," I did find her writing style quick and easy to read, as well as very detailed and descriptive. The story is told in the first-person through Bella's eyes, and this combined with Meyer's creative prose helped to bring the story alive, as if I was watching it played out in my mind's eye while I read.

My overall opinion of the book could probably be dissected into three parts. For the first third of the book I was utterly and completely intrigued. I couldn't put the book down! From the start of the story I was curious to find out what would happen next and I was fascinated by Edward's character. He isn't your average vampire.

By the second third of the book Bella and Edward's relationship is established (i.e. she knows he's a vampire and he's determined not to hurt her) and the story settles down. I almost found the second third of the book a little dull. I know lots of things were happening at that point in the story, but for a while I felt as if it was just Edward and Bella mooning over their their forbidden and almost impossible romance.

Then comes the last third of the story. At this point the mooning takes a back seat to the drama. Bella is in danger and Edward must save her. From the start of this section until the end of the book the story resumes its roles as a fast-paced read and comes to a halt in a temporarily satisfactory ending. (I say temporarily because it is obvious there is a sequel.)

Further Thoughts: objectionable content
I was pleased to find that the vampire theme isn't really the point of the story. Twilight is really a story of love overcoming unreal obstacles. It is a story of people facing and dealing with temptations. It is a story of self-discovery and finding that you can overcome things you don't like if you are determined enough to do so. Overall Twilight was a fairly clean story. It has very little violence: there is one scene where Bella is attacked by a carnivorous vampire, but Meyer's handles it tactfully. There are no love scenes (though there is plenty of chemistry between Edward and Bella). And there is only a couple uses of mild profanity (I think I only remember seeing one or two words, if that). As far as objections to a story about vampires: the immortal living-dead. I know that some might object to the content, but I mark it up there as fantasy right along side books like Dracula, Harry Potter, Frankenstein and the like. Not all are classics, but they are all stories written (and successfully so) for the entertainment of the reader.

My Summary
On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate Twilight a 3.5. I really enjoyed the story. I found it entertaining, comical at times, suspenseful, and the love-story heart-warming. I liked the unique star-crossed lover angle that Meyer's uses in the book and look forward to some more light reading when I pick up New Moon from my library later this summer.

Bonus Review: Twilight, the Movie
Having read the Twilight I went ahead and borrowed the movie from the library. The film, released to DVD in 2008, is fairly close to the book. But that being said, there are some definite plot changes.

While I enjoyed the movie (it was fun to see the characters come to life on the screen), I do have some complaints and they fall mainly with the script/screenwriters.

First, because of the nature of film vs. novel the story does lose some of it's natural intimacy. In the book you're reading the story through the form of first-person (Bella's thoughts, etc.), but in the movie you are only able to view Bella's story as a third-person. A lot of the dialog and thought process is lost in the translation from book to screen and you don't get to know Bella and Edward as well as you do in the book.

Second, due to the condensing factor that happens when a long novel is moved to the big screen a lot of the scenes and dialogue ended up feeling choppy and at times almost corny. Some of my favorite scenes in the book were lost when translated to the screen, which is a shame. And again, this resulted in the viewer not getting to know the main characters and their back story as well.

Third, due to the plot changes there are some scenes of violence not included in the book, which annoyed me. But they are almost all implied and off-screen, so that was good.

Overall the story, the costumes and make-up, the film sets and scenes, and the special effects could each be scaled from good to great. The actors are well chosen and the music fitting. I can see why teenagers are crazy about this movie.

As I said, it was fun to see the story come alive on the screen, but if asked I would recommend viewers read the book before watching the movie. Too much of the story is lost if you only watch the movie.


Nathan & Alison said...

I have been immune to the draw of these books. Like you, I have no interest in vampires, but I just might have to give these books a chance after all.

Whitney said...

A fair review, I think. I read the first book and found that it read *too* quickly. For me, it goes in the "beach read" category. I'm curious to know what happens, but not enough to pay for them. :-p

J said...

I've heard many descriptions of the story after Twilight, and that has put me off more than anything. I'm a bit curious to read it to see what all the fuss is about, but I've heard enough blow-by-blow descriptions of the whole story that I think I will pass.

Your review though does make the first book sound a bit more interesting.

I'm also a Vampire 'purist'. I rather do like Vamp stories, but I prefer them in the original style - evil creatures of darkness. Anne Rice took one of the first steps toward ruining them. The shift has accelerated since her books.

Reading a story about a vamp who can walk around in the sun with glittery skin almost rules the book out right there.

Carrie said...

Oh Sarah, Sarah, why hast thou forsaken me?!


I march alone.

Anonymous said...

Little by little I think I'm coming around to reading Twilight. I think I'm at where you sounds intriguing, but vampires? I've never really been into them...

Amy said...

I am admittedly really surprised you enjoyed it so much!

I liked it okay, but read it close to a year ago and haven't read the other books yet.

And I love vampires! Vampire stories are never really about vampires. :)