Stephenie Meyer
2005, Young Adult
Little, Brown and Company, $17.99, 498 pages, Amazon ASIN 0316160172

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Kisses

I’d heard a little buzz online about how good the new YA vampire novel, Twilight, was. Since I love vampire stories and I love YA lit, I put a library hold on a copy pronto. Young adult authors are allowed to break the rules a bit more than romance authors, so I hoped for good things. I was not disappointed. Twilight delivered a good – though not entirely original – suspenseful read that kept me turning the pages for two days straight.

Isabella Swan is the new girl in Forks, Washington. Moving from Phoenix, Arizona to the rainy Olympic Peninsula is a big adjustment, as is going from a single mother household to that of a single father. But Bella, as she prefers to be called, takes it pretty much in stride. Starting a new school is intimidating, but most of the kids seem normal and average. Except for a certain set of beautiful kids who keep entirely to themselves, that is.

Edward Cullen is one of five adopted children of Dr. Carlisle Cullen. They’ve all been in Forks for several years now, but no one knows much about them. They don’t socialize. Bella is struck by how beautiful and graceful they all are, and then finds herself seated next to one of them – Edward – in Biology II. Only Edward has a horribly adverse reaction to her. He looks at her as if she was diseased and stays as far away from her as he can in his seat. Bella can’t imagine what she could have done to offend him. She’s never even spoken to him before, and yet clearly he’s avoiding her. And then, in a sudden and complete reversal, Edward turns on the charm and even saves her from being crushed by a van in the parking lot. What’s astonishing to Bella is not just that he saved her, but how he did it. No human being could take an impact like that or move so quickly. She is intrigued by Edward’s mysteriousness and his obvious physical advantages. What exactly is he?

This is Meyer’s first novel, and at almost 500 pages it is a little bloated. It is easy to read, however, and goes very quickly. The first half is also quite engrossing. Vampire novels have built-in intrigue. The reader always wonders what these particular vampires will be like. What are their special characteristics? Their limitations? How do they seduce? What do they prey on? In the first half of Twilight these questions go unanswered and so Edward seems quite intriguing and seductive. Unfortunately, Meyer spills the secrets of her world almost all at once, and some of the mystery drains out mid-book.

The love story between Bella and Edward is fast and intense. Bella is too quick to discount the obstacles in the path of their love, and she accepts his nature and what it could mean for their future too quickly as well. Perhaps this is because she is so young. While her quick dismissal of the real problems inherent in having a relationship with Edward is in character for a teen, it doesn’t exactly make Bella seem mature or ready to make any such commitment.

Edward is an appealing character, at times too appealing. He is good at everything as well as being amazingly handsome. His soft laugh and smoldering golden eyes are repeatedly mentioned. He also has a number of talents besides the normal vampire upgrades. Incongruously he has little idea of his own appeal. It seems likely that someone so perfect and possessed of his particular gifts would have figured out how to milk his assets better long ago.

The story is told in the first person from Bella’s point of view, so their relationship seems more unequal perhaps than if it had been told differently. Bella, in her own eyes, is far too average for Edward to fall for, even though she clearly has a strong effect on the male population. In some ways Meyer's book reads a bit like a G-rated version of a Christine Feehan Carpathian romance. Readers who like stories about soul mates who find each other and are sure of that connection will probably find the love story more convincing than I did.

Fortunately, when the love story reached its narrative climax a little prematurely, the romantic suspense sub-plot kicked in, providing some very needed final momentum. Unfortunately, in the final act Bella pulls a stunt worthy of the stupidest TSTL heroine in Romanceland. Still, credit must be given to Meyer. This book is compulsively readable.

Ultimately that’s what saves Twilight – its readability. The story moves along very quickly and contains a good deal of suspense. Edward and Bella are interesting characters, and there is some good chemistry between them. This is not the perfect vampire novel, but Meyer has some talent. Many readers will find something to like here.

-- Rachel Potter

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