The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

A New Dawn part 13: “The Great Debate” by Rachel Caine March 28, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

In “The Great Debate,” Rachel Caine imagines a fictional debate between two Twilight fan girls and two adult academics. The topic?

Resolved: Vampire-themed fiction represents thinly veiled sexuality and violence. Therefore, vampire fiction is not suitable for young adults, and in particular Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which has brought vampire-themed young adult fiction to the forefront is not appropriate for young adult readers.

When Caine gets over trying to be hilarious and actually talks about how the books are actually beneficial because they deal with difficult subject matter like sexuality, violence, etc she makes really good points. I’m sure a lot of people will think this is a riot, but some of the humor just didn’t do it for me. At one point the moderator says the debate is going to follow the rules for Lincoln-Douglas debate and a teen debater replies “I don’t know who Lincoln Douglas, but I’ll be he’s a hater.”… Cue laugh track?

Youth and knowledge of pop culture does not automatically make someone uneducated. Isn’t that, in fact, the point of this piece? That all the teenage girls the “experts” worry are going to go have babies with quasi-abusive seventeen year old boyfriends because “Bella did it” are actually savvy enough to understand that the book is a) fiction and b) full of consequences for all of these actions? I was also pretty irritated by the teen girls interrupting everyone and even each other with things like “TIME’S UP, BITCH. Also, you suck.” Because we all know teen girls are obnoxious and rude at all times. I’m sure adults ever misunderstand, interrupt, or cover ignorance on an issue with rudeness… I would say that the main crime here was not Caine’s use of teen girl stereotypes for laughs, but that it just wasn’t that funny.

Anyway, the point of the essay is that the Twilight books do cover sexuality and violence, but they do it in such a way that makes it very appropriate for young adult readers. Girls have a pretty difficult time finding a safe space to safely explore their developing sexual preferences – why not do it in the context of books and movies? Twilight actually seems to glamorize abstinence for teens, not the reverse. Plus, what girl is going to want to have a baby that murders her from the inside out? As Caine points out, Bella’s tale is actually full of consequences for romance, sex, and pregnancy. It’s a cautionary tale, not a how-to manual.

Caine also discusses how empowering the Twilight Saga has been not just for young women but for adults as well. We identify with Bella because she’s lonely and a bit of a misfit. She has trouble making connections with people and doesn’t feel like she’s good at anything in particular. Caine’s Twilight teens give us a pretty good list of uplifting messages. Things like don’t hate yourself, because even though you might not think so, you’re awesome. Don’t rush love, because it’s worth being patient and letting it all fall into place naturally. Caine also argues that Bella is a hero in her own right, even if she isn’t a supernatural being. She’s brave, strong, and helps others even when she’s afraid. So…how are these bad things for teen girls to read about?

In fact, they aren’t bad lessons for girls and grown ups, for that matter. Which is probably one of the reasons the Twilight Saga is so popular from tweens to Twimoms. It’s a story of a misfit finding her power and rightful place in the world. I would say that this is backed up by the fact as a human Bella kind of sucks at life, but she turns out to be a really good vampire with super blood lust control, super powers, and a super family. Gaining her rightful place in the world puts everyone around her in balance and results in the deliriously happy ending we get in Breaking Dawn.

[This was in Harper’s Bazaar, but I thought KStew looked pretty vampy. Maybe Bella’s look in Breaking Dawn will take some cues from the shoot?]

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A New Dawn part 10: “A Moon…A Girl…Romance!” by James A. Owen March 22, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

Eerily similar, no?

Although romances make up over half of all book sales, James Owen couldn’t find a single friend or colleague willing to admit that they read them. They actually became offended when he suggested that not only do they read romances, but they read them frequently.

How does he know this? Because they’re all Twilight fans. Owen’s main thesis is that Twilight, when boiled down to its essentials, is really an old-fashioned romance novel.

According to Owen, the only reason the Twilight Saga is considered a Young Adult book is because a Young Adult publisher was the first to like it and pick it up. He argues that due to the characters’ ages alone, Romeo and Juliet would probably be published under this banner today. The label doesn’t define the book – just the publisher.

Twilight actually bridges several worlds, including horror, fantasy, and, of course, romance. How well it performs each genre varies. Clearly Meyer’s monsters are not quite up to snuff for horror. “[T]he anomaly of Stephen King’s classic Carrie aside – I’m unable to think of a horror book deserving of the name in which the denouement takes place at the prom,” Owen remarks. Fantasy is, in his opinion, also not the essential point of the Twilight Saga. Sure vampires and werewolves are interesting literary devices, but they’re mostly window dressing. The real focus of the books is the characters and how they interact. The main action of the novel involves a girl meeting a boy and trying to make it work against all odds. It’s a romance.

Owen makes a great point about why we’re so resistant to admit that we’re reading romance novels. The term has become so narrowly defined that all we can think of is cheesy Fabio men named Dirk clutching some swooning ninny while her heaving bosom tumbles from her ripped bodice. It’s a pretty suffocating genre label.

In my personal experience, adult genre labels are getting narrower and narrower all the time. When you do find something that combines several different genres, it’s difficult to explain to someone else what kind of book it is that you’re reading. Is it a mystery if there’s romance? Is it a fantasy if it’s about catching a thief? Giving book recommendations labels is a loaded proposition.

Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling’s Harry potter series has transformed the Young Adult label into something much more flexible. Young Adult books are allowed to dabble in sci-fi, fantasy, horror, romance – whatever!

As readers, we’re looking for wonder and excitement – things Owen notes were part of the romance movement and its literature in the first place. The publishers in the adult section are taking themselves so seriously, their books have lost a lot of their hypnotic powers. It’s no wonder that some of the most wildly popular books among both teens and adults right now are Young Adult novels.

[Aside on the New Moon book cover: I recently heard someone call Bella’s pose (head and hand against man’s chest/shoulder/neck, depending on respective height) “dialing in Tokyo.” The phrase tickled me so much I just wanted to pass it along.]