First, I write Young Adult Fiction. For a long time, I didn’t know that I did, but I do, and that means, as I writer, I have to read from the genre that I write. Why? Because it’s been over twenty years since I’ve been a teenager, and my memory of what teens like and what they think is based on liking 80’s hair band music, reading J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King books, and watching the Karate Kid and Top Gun.
Yes, I am old. Yet I write YA Fiction because I like characters who are inventive and optimistic and courageous and emotional. I find stories filled with older characters to be a little depressing and cynical.
Okay, so why Twilight? Simple. Because it’s popular. If Twilight is what is (or was) hot, I need to read it. Call it hazardous duty if you want, but as a writer, you need to realize that your target readers decide what is good, and if you can’t get in touch with them and see what they see, you’re going to miss the mark. When I was at the PNWA Conference last summer, Amber Kizer did a wonderful session on writing for YA, and insisted that all YA Authors read Twilight. Not because it’s good, but because our target readers think it is, so there must be something there.
Okay, enough justification. You either believe I read this book as research at this point or you believe I’m a closet fan of glittery vampires and need me some Bella and Edward and Jacob to fill some deep need in my life. I’m not going to spend any time on describing the plot. Okay, well a little. A deeply neurotic girl moves to Forks, WA, falls in love with a glittery vampire, and is chased across the country by another vampire. There. That’s the plot.
The common complaint that I’ve heard about the Twilight ‘Saga’ is that Bella never grows up. She’s always whiny and self centered and over the top from beginning to end. There is the opportunity for her to grow throughout the book, but she never really does, at least not in her tone. I suppose she thinks she is self-sacrificing in the end, but she does it in a whiny way, and that bothers a lot of folks.
The vampires are very pretty, and that bothers a lot of folks too. Vampires are supposed to be moody and dark and dangerous. But not glittery.
Okay, so the characters needs a little bit of work to move this book from where it currently resides in the young adult paranormal romance category to high literature.
There are some pretty big head shakers in the plot too. Things that are just a little bit over the top. The baseball game was it for me. Some people will say it’s the glittery vampires. I’m actually okay with that. I appreciate a fresh take on a very well-worn metaphor.
Yes, metaphors abound in the subtext, and they’re not well disguised. You don’t have to think very hard. Girl moves to small town and is the outsider. Doesn’t respect the kids who are already there, and sees herself as better. Falls in with a dangerous crowd. But one or two in the crowd are just misunderstood teenagers. They’re dangerous to others, but not to her.
It’s all about the angst that every high school kid faces. Everyone thinks they’re the outsider, even the beautiful ones. They’re not popular enough or smart enough, or they’re abused at home or have a past mistake they cannot take back. Bella is all of those teenagers reading these books who fantasize about being more grown up than they are, and making decisions that take them away from their own personal hell. That’s why teenagers read these books. It’s escapism, and it speaks right to them. They don’t have to look hard to figure it out. That’s the appeal. That’s what authors need to remember when they are writing for the YA audience. Teenagers want to believe that given the opportunity to take control, they could make it on their own. They want to see other teenagers do the same.
So is it a good book? Let me put it this way. I read 450 pages of it in a single day. But I probably won’t read book two. I didn’t get violently ill or cry out “OMG it’s horrible”, or break out laughing at the absurdities. It’s not the worst book I’ve read. It’s not even the worst book I’ve read this year. So hey, I’ll go as far to say, it’s not all bad. In the battle for best Saga of the last fifteen years, Harry Potter wins hands down, but Twilight hit a mark, so it shouldn’t be totally discounted.
The good news (for everyone) is that I won’t be writing paranormal romance any time soon, nor will I have vampires or werewolves in my stories. Wait… scratch the werewolf part. I actually have a short story I wrote in high school with a werewolf. Maybe I should dust that off and see if it’s got any legs…