Isabella Swan just moved from Phoenix to the small town of Forks, Washington to live with her father. Being rather shy and bookish, Bella isn't really looking forward to the adjustment to a new school. She is rather pleasantly surprised by some friendly kids who make her acquaintance and treat her well on that first day, but what really catches her eye is a small group of ethereally beautiful kids who are sitting by themselves across the cafeteria. Bella's new friends inform her that those other students are the Cullen family, five teenagers who were adopted by the town doctor and his wife, but that there's really no point in trying to make friends with them because they are loners. Bella is particularly taken by handsome Edward Cullen and frequently steals glances at him throughout lunch. Edward can't seem to help staring at her as well. Later, in her Biology class, Bella is a bit disconcerted to find that she will be sharing a table with Edward, who is far more stunning up close than he was across the room. Edward begins acting very strangely though. He never speaks to Bella, instead glaring at her with a fierce intensity, and sitting as far away from her as their table will possibly allow. Bella is very hurt by Edward's actions, unable to imagine what she could have done to inspire such dislike in someone she doesn't even know.
Edward disappears from school for a few days, leaving Bella relieved, but wondering why. When he returns, Edward's formerly cool manner has suddenly changed to warm and genial, leaving Bella even more confused and taken with him. When Edward miraculously rescues Bella from what could have been a fatal parking lot collision, she begins to believe that he is not just an ordinary teenager. Bella is thoroughly confounded by what happened, and Edward won't give her a straight answer about the incident and how he managed to save her. When a new friend tells Bella an old Native American tribal legend about werewolves and vampires, Bella's imagination begins to run wild. All the pieces of the puzzle seem to point to Edward being a vampire, but Bella is embarrassed to even think such crazy thoughts. Yet, when Edward affects another seemingly miraculous rescue, Bella can no longer ignore the fact that he is definitely not "normal." Edward readily confesses his true nature, but Bella knows without a doubt that she is irrevocably in love with him in spite of their differences. Edward also knows that Bella is his soul mate, and he would do anything to keep her safe. The only problem is that he cannot decide if the best way to accomplish that is by keeping her close or driving her away, for as he has told Bella, there are things lurking in the shadows that are far more dangerous than he is.
I have to admit that I haven't read much young adult literature during my adult life, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Twilight. There was also a great deal of hype surrounding this book, which can sometimes mean a really great book and other times can be a big letdown. Now that I have finally read Twilight, I have to say that it definitely lived up to the hype for me. I absolutely loved this tale of teen love between a human and a vampire. With this type of subject matter, the story could have been completely campy, but instead was very beautiful, in my opinion, with enough romance and substance to rival the best adult romance novels. In fact, I thought that Twilight exhibited a surprising depth of emotion, intimacy and even sensuality without ever resorting to anything explicit. I think the intimacy was owing in large part to the amazing level of communication between Bella and Edward. These two teen protagonists affected more stark honesty in their communication than many adult characters in romance novels, rarely holding anything back from each other. Edward was even forthcoming about who and what he was far sooner than I ever expected him to be. The sensuality was conveyed through simple things like smiles, kisses and touches and most importantly their beautiful dialog. Of course much of this was possible because neither Edward nor Bella were really "normal" teenagers. I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed the book nearly as much as I did if the main teen characters had behaved in what has seemed to become the "typical" teen manner of extreme cattiness, rebellion, and out-of-control hormones. Instead, the story became a refreshing take on teen behavior, and a gentle reminder that not all teens do behave in the "typical" way.
I honestly can't think of a single thing that's not to like about the two main characters, Edward and Bella. Edward is a kind, sensitive and loving beta hero with a dash of alpha protectiveness (he probably wouldn't be a very good vampire without that). He wages a constant battle in his own mind between the knowledge that Bella is perfect for him and the knowledge that being near him will only increase the risks for his adorable but accident-prone danger-magnet. Edward is frequently reminding Bella of the risk he himself poses to her very life, and yet he always behaves as a perfect gentleman, even in the most difficult circumstances. I also love the gentle way that Edward teases Bella, and sometimes she gives back in kind. I enjoyed this banter and thought that it added a lightly humorous dimension to the story. In addition to having a good sense of humor, Bella was also very intelligent, shy and a bit socially awkward, and endearingly clumsy, making her entirely relatable to me. Bella considered herself to be a very plain, ordinary girl, but Edward thought her to be completely beautiful. Having played the role of parent in her relationship with both of her parents, one could say that Bella had not had the most ideal upbringing, but it did not stop her from being the best person she could be or loving her parents dearly. I think Bella's best trait, though, was her intuitive nature about Edward and things in general. I love it when the heroine in a romance novel can simply sense things about the hero and read into that accordingly. Bella did have one moment where I would predict that many adult readers would consider her TSTL (too-stupid-to-live), but I was able to forgive that lapse because of her youth and inexperience with such dangerous situations. Overall, both Edward and Bella were two engaging characters who sparkled (no pun intended, but you'll get it when you read the book) in nearly every scene that they shared. I greatly enjoyed reading them and thought that they complimented each other perfectly.
The secondary cast of characters was a wonderful dichotomous mix of both the human and the supernatural. There were Bella's high school friends, who were generally a mix of pretty good kids, the type I wouldn't mind my own kids being friends with or would have liked being friends with myself in my teen years. Edward's family was an eclectic mix of personalities. There was Emmet, the big, lovable lug of a teddy bear, mysterious and aloof Rosalie, Alice and Jasper with their amazing psychic and empathic gifts, and their "parents," Carlisle (aka Dr. Cullen) and Esme, who all have their own fascinating back-stories. I also found the Native American father and son characters, Billy and Jacob Black to be intriguing. They seem to share some contentious history with the Cullens which isn't fully explored in this volume, so it will be very interesting to see where this part of the story leads in future installments.
Twilight is a very sweet and innocent romance, which I mentioned earlier has no explicit elements. There is no sex, only a couple of mild profanities, and considering that the subject matter deals with vampires, the violence is kept to a minimum. In my opinion, this book is quite appropriate for the age group for which it is intended. I would have no problem at all with my children reading it when they are a bit older. In fact, I felt as I read the book that it sends some positive family and relationship messages to teens. Even though Bella's relationship with her parents is less than ideal, there is still love and respect between them, and Edward seems to have very loving "family" connections as well. What I liked most, though, is the development of Edward and Bella's romance. Their physiological attraction to each other is immediate and powerful, yet they take the time to build a friendship that is based on mutual trust, respect, and love, which is more than can be said for many adults. Edward and Bella only discuss sex one time over the course of the novel and in very subtle terms, but in my opinion, Edward's blood lust could be taken as something of a metaphor for sexual desire. Regardless of whether it is taken in the metaphorical or mythological context, I thought that Edward's self-control contained a beautiful message of his pure love for Bella superseding all other desires.
I found Twilight to be a thoroughly enjoyable read which has earned a place on my keeper shelf. In fact the book is so good it's hard to believe that this was Stephenie Meyer's debut novel. The first two-thirds of the book moves at a rather languid but steady pace owing to the extensive character and relationship development. After that, it almost instantly turns into a taut suspense/thriller when Bella's life is threatened. This is one of those books that was very difficult to put down. I just couldn't wait to see what might happen next or what new piece of the puzzle might be revealed, and Ms. Meyer also did not disappoint with her own unique take on vampire mythology. Even though the book is written entirely in first-person from Bella's perspective, I thought the author did a good job of conveying Edward's thoughts and feelings too, through extensive use of dialog. As an aside, I really liked the small-town atmosphere of Forks, but as a Phoenician, I couldn't help but have a soft spot for the scenes in Phoenix. As such, I can attest to all the place names being real and the descriptions of the city to be spot on, which isn't surprising since Ms. Meyer is a Phoenician as well. It was rather surreal but also pretty cool to read scenes that are set in places that I have actually been. Twilight is the first volume in the Twilight Saga followed by New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. I am really looking forward to continuing this fascinating series, and even though I am often disappointed with movie versions of my favorite novels, I am actually looking forward to the the Twilight movie which is due to be released in theaters this December (2008).
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