Synopsis: Bella Swan is moving from her beloved Phoenix to wet, dreary Forks, Washington. Bella figures she can spend time with her dad instead of making her mom Renee miserable by being away from Phil, her baseball player stepdad. So, off to Charlie she goes.
Charlie is the Police Chief in Forks. Everyone knows Bella when she gets there. She’s shy, so her instant popularity throws her off balance (which, admittedly, isn’t hard to do since she’s clumsy also). The only people that don’t talk to her on day 1 are the Cullen family, a beautiful pale group of teenagers. Edward Cullen, the most beautiful of the group in Bella’s humble opinion, is her lab partner in Biology. But, unlike the other boys who’ve been throwing themselves at her, he leans away from her and holds his nose in her presence. His black eyes glare at her. She later goes to the office to find him attempting to switch science classes.
Edward is gone for a week or so, and comes back friendlier and with gold-colored eyes. Bella and Edward easily do a lab that Bella had already done in Phoenix. This leaves them some time to chat about why she moved to Forks. It rained and snowed that day, and the next morning was icy. In the parking lot, Bella is holding on to her truck for dear life to walk to school and someone loses control of their van. Edward is a couple cars down, and sees this event play out when he speeds over and protects Bella from certain doom. She tells him she knows he wasn’t standing there but he insists on this story. They go to the hospital and they get into another argument about where he was at the time of the accident. She does meet Dr. Carlisle Cullen, who’s quite dreamy. Edward asks Bella not to say anything, which she doesn’t. More boys fawn over her and ask her to a dance that’s supposed to be a Sadie Hawkins (ha!). She suggests alternative dates for these boys, and they get off her back with the condition she goes to the beach with a big group of them. There, she runs into her childhood buddy Jacob Black. Someone made a smart alec comment about the Cullens to Bella, to which Jacob’s friend replies they don’t come here. Jacob tells Bella a Quileute legend about the “Cold Ones,” or vampires, the werewolves only enemies (which according to legend, the Quileute people are shape-shifters). The Cullens were Cold Ones who claimed to not hunt people, and so they made a treaty not to enter the reservation lands and the Quileutes would not kill them in return.
Jessica and Angela invite Bella to go to Port Angeles to do some dress shopping. Bella approves of their choices and asks if it’s okay for her to head to a bookstore alone, since they need shoes and such. There’s a gang of men who chase Bella, but who should suddenly be there but Edward Cullen to save her? He takes her out to eat after they find Jess and Angela to let them know what’s happening. She has a lot of questions, not least of which: how did you find me? He admits he feels protective about her, and he can kind of read minds– except hers– and followed Jessica because she was with her. Then he followed her scent, and could read the minds of the potential attackers. She hints that she knows what he is. They decide that they can’t stay away from each other, despite that he’s dangerous and he hungers for her like no other human. He tells her more about the life as a vegetarian vampire, and shows her he sparkles in the sunlight. He also reveals that he’s been watching her sleep for a couple weeks.
Edward decides to meet Charlie as Bella’s boyfriend, and he’s taking Bella to play baseball with his family. They have to play in thunderstorms because they’re so loud when they play baseball (crashing into one another, etc).Just a run-down on his family since I hadn’t done that yet: Alice, perky, pixy-like, can see the future as long as people are on that path; Jasper, can affect moods; Emmett, who’s a bear; Rosalie, the beautiful snobby one; Carlisle the doctor and Esme the mother figure. They play a good game until three nomadic (regular) vampires hear them and come to play. James gets a whiff of Bella and decides he’s going to hunt her, with Victoria to help. Laurent warns the Cullens that these two are crazy and won’t stop until James gets what he wants. Bella goes to her house to announce to Charlie that she’s leaving to go to Phoenix so James and Vicky won’t bother him at home. She says the same things her mom did when she left Charlie so she can leave immediately. The Cullens have a plan to split the two vampires and give Bella a chance to escape. Esme and Rosalie go west in Bella’s truck, Vicky will follow them. Carlisle and Emmett are going north, and James will follow them. Alice and Jasper take Bella to Phoenix. Alice gets visions of what James will do next, and Jasper just keeps chilling Bella out. They keep telling her she’s worth this trouble, that Edward’s changed so much since he met her and they can’t have a heartbroken Edward.
James calls Bella and says he has her mom, and she hears Renee going “Bella? Where are you?” He says to meet alone at the old ballet studio she used to take lessons and her mom will be safe. Bella somehow runs away from Jasper and Alice at the airport when they’re waiting to pick up Edward. James is at the studio, but her mom is not– he is playing an old video tape. He attacks her, tells her that he tried to track Alice in this way in the 1920’s but, hey, he gets another one that the Cullens love! He bites her and breaks her leg, and the Cullens come in to save the day. Ed has to suck some venom out of Bella, and it’s hard for him to stop but he does. The others kill James while Carlisle and Edward save Bella. She wakes up in the hospital, and she tells Renee she’s moving back to Forks and she has to apologize to Charlie. Ed and the gang take Bella to the prom. Jacob Black shows up to relay a message from his dad, to stay away from the Cullens. Bella says, yeah right. The end.
Disclaimer: I am by no means a Twilight hater. I was introduced to the Twilight Saga about one or two weeks before Breaking Dawn came out, and I read all of the books within that time WHEN I was in an intense summer class. It’s an absorbing book that you can’t put down. But I was inspired to re-read the series with a more critical eye when my husband brought home riff trax of the film Twilight. (Riff trax, a product of the same creators of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, is a audio track that you play in sync with the movie, and they snark on the movie.) I liked the movie okay, but the riff trax really “made it” for me, especially since I saw it twice in a short timespan with Pete and then again with the addition of two teenage boys. I am going into this commentary completely okay with snarking on the book, gushing on the book, and being utterly realistic about its highs and lows. It will hopefully be a fair review.
Even though I want to be fair, I was also really perturbed at a reader’s guide question. They had the nerve to compare Twilight to Pride and Prejudice. Now, it’s true, Edward didn’t really like Bella at the beginning, and to quote Darcy, he liked her against his will, but it mostly had to do with the poor boy being hungry and she smelled good enough to eat. (Yeah, I went there.) It’s also true that Edward gives a lot of girls the same reaction that Darcy has given generations of women: sulky demeanor, quiet, but with a lot of heart underneath the tough exterior. But Bella is no Lizzy Bennet. Bella handles situations with sarcasm, and she inexplicably draws people near because they don’t know her. Lizzy is clever and witty, which has its subtle differences from sarcasm (like, she uses her brain and doesn’t do knee-jerk snarky reactions), she draws people in with her social skills and undeniable energy (an energy that Bella lacks). Another huge difference: Liz’s feelings get hurt momentarily when Darcy doesn’t like her, but she laughs it off. Bella’s success on the first day of school completely hinges on one incident: a boy doesn’t like her. She spirals into a depression because of it, people! Lizzy is no damsel in distress, despite the fact that her social standing should make her so; Bella, despite the fact that she’s supposed to be a strong woman of the 2000’s, is a damsel in distress. So, sorry, but other than falling into the romance genre, the comparison doesn’t fit.
That being said, let me try for some positives:
- Don’t we all want to be that girl fawned over? I have issues with Bella’s character, but she’s written so that anyone can see herself in Bella’s place.
- It’s very engaging. I can never argue with books that get teens reading, and I quickly fell in love with the book when I first read it. WAY before the movies.
- It relies on sexual tension and doesn’t involve actual sex. So, teen tested, mother approved?
- Edward has been waiting a century to meet Bella. He can’t read her like the other girls, so she’s special. I think if I could read minds I’d have a hard time finding someone who wouldn’t annoy me. (This does come into play later in the saga.) But the waiting… that’s pretty romantic!
- I love the Cullen family. They’re so protective of one another. They have a lot of cool stories separately, which we eventually learn as time passes.
- There’s a lot of creepy “abusive boyfriend” traits Edward has that don’t phase Bella. He follows her? He sneaks in her room and watches her sleep? I know other people have commented on this, but it’s worth repeating.
- You see this mostly in the movie, but goodness, Bella is BLAND. Once you notice it in the film, you see it more in the book although it’s hard since we read it from Bella’s perspective. Her appeal is simply as the new mysterious girl. Her sarcasm isn’t even that funny, for example, she’s pale because her mom’s part albino. Really? If Edward could read Bella’s mind, I think he’d be waiting another century. Even if her blood IS his brand of heroin.
- The dialogue can be very cheesy, as demonstrated with the heroin brand.
The Class Part:
Grades: Middle school and up. Most of my kids during my student teaching had read this book if they were in eighth grade, and many were trying to read it if they were in fifth. There’s some blood, sexual tension, but no sex.
Grade: B+. I can’t forget how engaged I was when I first read the series. Although I can see many flaws in the book now, I may not have noticed if I didn’t have discussions with people about the book or if I had skipped seeing the movie.