It's Bella Swan's 18th birthday. She has always felt older than her years, and now with a boyfriend who is an immortal vampire, she feels the press of mortality even more acutely. Far from being happy about the event, Bella wants everyone to simply forget about it, but Edward can't possibly allow the occasion to pass by unnoticed. He and his family have planned a celebration which he talks a reluctant Bella into attending. Unfortunately, a minor accident turns into a life-threatening situation for Bella, leaving Edward once again deeply pondering the best way to keep her safe. He makes a fairly quick, but earth-shattering decision which rocks both their worlds to the core.
Bella is left a shell of her former self for months after, until one day, fueled by anger at Edward's perceived betrayal, she decides to consciously attempt to break a promise she had made to him. Bella's quest leads her to her old friend, Jacob Black, and as they spend nearly every day together working on her "project," a deep friendship develops between them. Little does Bella know though, that Jacob is going through his own life-changing events, and when he finally gives Bella the clues she needs to solve the mystery of his strange behavior, she may be in even more danger from him and his friends. In addition, a vampire from Bella's past returns, bent on seeking revenge. Then Bella's own recently reckless behavior leads to a terrible misunderstanding that places Edward's life in grave peril, and Bella and Alice in a race against time to save him. Even if they succeed, Bella may not be able to believe in Edward ever again, but at the same time, she may also loose forever the precious gift of her newfound friendship with Jacob.
Twilight was a grand romance which frequently left me smiling, but New Moon takes on a bittersweet, angst-filled and edgy tone in this continuing dramatic saga of teen love between a vampire and a human. The book gets off to a rather explosive start, but rapidly turns to heavy sorrow when Edward make a fateful decision concerning Bella's safety. Following his decision, Edward is off the canvas for about the next two-thirds of the book, as is the entire Cullen family. During this time, the story is very reminiscent of Twilight in that it moves at a languid but steady pace while extensive character and relationship development occurs. The fall-out to Bella's psyche from Edward's choice is heart-wrenching to read. Stephenie Meyer is so good at writing Bella's agony, that I felt like my own heart had been ripped to shreds. Then a newfound depth in her friendship with Jacob Black, seems to be Bella's saving grace, bringing some sense of peace to her otherwise chaotic life. Still, danger lurks everywhere, bringing a certain level of suspense to the story, which then escalates into a taut thriller when an unfortunate misunderstanding places Alice and Bella in a race against time to save Edward from certain death. With so much going on, New Moon was yet another installment in the Twilight series that was extremely difficult to put down.
I can't help but continue to enjoy the characters in this series. I still like Bella very much, but I found myself wishing that she would have a little more confidence in Edward's love for her. After the beauty of their romance in Twilight, it was hard for me to understand how she couldn't, but ultimately, it seemed that her feelings of inadequacy - of not measuring up to a spectacular creature like Edward - simply got the best of her. Thankfully she did have an epiphany before the end, so hopefully will be beyond that stage by the next book. Bella also has a tendency to think of everyone else first (except when she's being reckless), which can be a very good trait, but also left me thinking that it might be nice if she took care of herself once in a while too. While Bella is still an accident-prone magnet for danger, I missed her endearing awkward clumsiness. Instead she is now living on the edge and seeking out the danger. It was also very difficult to read about her severe depression without being dragged down a bit myself. Edward is still the same thoughtful and loving hero I adored in Twilight though his absence for much of the story, left a huge hole, which was a major point of the story that I thought the author conveyed magnificently. One of my favorite things about Edward is his wry, teasing sense of humor, but the tone of New Moon is so serious, it didn't allow for many of these moments to shine through. In Edward's absence, Bella develops a deep friendship with Jacob Black, who ends up being much more than she at first thought he was. Jacob also essentially becomes a second hero and the third point in a love triangle. While Bella never really feels more for Jacob than friendship or brotherly love, Jacob does fall for Bella. Jacob and Edward have very different personalities, but Jacob is such a wonderful character, I couldn't help but adore him too. While I don't think that his happily-ever-after does or should lie with Bella, I do hope he gets one eventually. These three characters have completely engrossed my attention, and I can't wait to see what develops next for them.
The secondary characters were wonderful as well. It was nice to see Charlie finally taking charge and acting more like a father. Most of the Cullens didn't play very big roles in this story, with the one exception being Alice. Because of her visions, she is an intriguing character who I hope will be front and center throughout the series, as I really like her breezy manner and no-nonsense attitude. New Moon also fills in a couple of the missing pieces of her human past. Although Carlisle only appears in a couple of scenes, he also fills in some missing pieces about himself and Edward. New Moon introduces Sam Uley and a "gang" of Native American teens who are far more than they seem to be on the surface and who play key roles in Jacob's life. Sam also has a fiance, Emily, and even though their relationship is a fairly minor part of the story, I found it to be very tender and romantic. Billy, Jacob's father, is also present, but doesn't take on a particularly strong role in this story. Readers are also introduced to the Volturi, a group of vampires who live in Italy and are basically vampire royalty. They are at once both fascinating and monstrous creatures, and unlike the Cullens are extremely dangerous, posing yet another threat to Bella's existence. Overall, I thought the story had an extensively varied and colorful character palette.
As with Twilight, New Moon did not contain any explicit elements - no sex, only a dozen or so mild profanities, and minimal violence. There is a scene though, in which a group of humans become unwitting prey for a group of blood-thirsty vampires. It takes place in the background and is not played out explicitly, so whether or not it is disturbing for readers, would depend more on the individual's imagination and sensitivity level. I happen to have a very vivid imagination, so it did make me a tad squeamish. The story also contains several mature thematic elements, such as severe depression, discussion of and a near attempt of suicide, deliberately reckless behavior, and stealing cars (though for a good reason). There are also racial tensions between two classes of supernatural beings, which includes some derogatory name-calling. In addition, depending on the reader's point of view, it may seem that Edward and Bella's love for one another borders on obsession. Even I admit, that if these characters were real and normal, I would have been telling them to go get therapy and quick.;-) I've read enough paranormal romances though, to know that the bond shared by supernatural creatures and their mates is stronger, deeper and more permanent than most human bonds. It's just that in this particular story that bond gets a rather heavy treatment owing, in my opinion, to it's highly character-driven nature and emotional intensity. I still think that most mature teens should be able to handle all the complex subject matter, but all these elements would make great points of discussion for parents and educators.
In spite of the serious and sometimes even depressing overtones of the narrative, I found New Moon to be yet another fascinating read. I really enjoy stories that include some sort of spiritual element, and New Moon has one in the form of an ongoing debate over whether there is an afterlife for vampires or whether they truly are the eternal damned. I love stories that make me think and there is so much more going on beneath the surface in this one (even outside the spiritual thread), that I can't seem to help pondering it even after turning the final page. New Moon has earned a place on my keeper shelf right next to it's predecessor, Twilight, and I'll be eagerly looking forward to reading Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, the final two installments in the Twilight series, as well. With two-for-two, Stephenie Meyer definitely deserves a place among my favorite authors. I will be very interested in reading The Host and seeing what other tales might be created from her fertile imagination.
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