This is the question that I keep asking myself as I read and watch the various people discuss Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Series this week as New Moon goes Hollywood. Why is something less significant because it is geared towards teens – or so it seems. Perhaps it is the shirtless wolfmen parading across the screen in ripped jean shorts. Perhaps it is the fact that you cannot walk past a convenience store, turn the TV on or open a newspaper without seeing the chiselled features of Robert Pattinson and the fairly stunning Kirstin Stewart.
Unfortunately, what happens is that the screams and over-sensory publicity takes away from what was actually a really fun series to read. I knew in the early days while reading the Twilight and New Moon that there was something there for teen readers. There was the ultimate love triangle with elements that anyone who has ever been in love could understand. And the angst when someone has broken your heart and you don’t know why. That is what makes New Moon my favourite of the four – Meyer’s ability to show Bella’s raw pain.
It would be amazing to say that as a liberated woman of the 21st century that I would hold myself to higher standards, that when a boy broke my heart I just called my girlfriend, talked about how men sucked and moved on. But, if anyone can attest, when your heart has been ripped out from your body by someone who claimed to love you – there is nothing else you want to do but crawl under the covers and not come out. I remember my first breakup as clearly now as if it were yesterday. (I won’t tell you how long ago, but it wasn’t yesterday.) But, I wasn’t sure how I was going to go on.
The dream was over. The illusion of first love was dead. And that my friends is what is so exciting about The Twilight Series and any other ideal that we see in literature. Crushes may come and go, but nothing is like your first love. It is the love that you believe with all of your heart that will last forever. It is only after that one ends that we become a little jaded. No matter how many times we fall in love, it will never have that idealism.
So, yes, I got it. When Bella disappears into herself for two months and is a former shell of herself, I identified – even at 30something. But I think the difference between her and me is that I am not sure that I would have forgiven the guy who left. But, that is the difference between jaded reality and idealism.
Another thing to consider, Bella doesn’t really relate to women ( except Alice Edward’s sister ) and chooses to spend time with boys. She seems to have more in common with boys on bikes then girls in malls. She hates shopping and pretty clothes. Most of my life, until boys found girlfriends and wives, I had a lot of guy friends –at one point more guy friends then girl friends. And, anyone who has had really close friendships with the opposite sex knows that there is always that one who we often wondered “what if”. Sometimes we explored it and it ended in disaster. Sometimes we never found out.
And this my friends is the great thing about teen lit and why it is so popular now with not just people between the ages of 13 and 17. There is such a breadth of wonderful books that are raw and powerful and provide an outlet for those emotions that we are too adult to express. I have long ago acknowledged my inner 14 year-old. In fact, I am pretty sure she is what helps me do my day job (and hopefully teen novel writing) so well.
What bugs me is the clear distinction between what is “good literature” and kids and teen books. Yes, we have accolades for Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games and let us not forget the various studies that have been done on Harry Potter. But, generally speaking, children’s lit is marginalized and teen lit even more so. Is it because it is popular? Is it because the demographic is 13 to 17 year-old girls and therefore there is something less significant attached to this body of literature. That is right, I am calling it literature. Pick up Paper Towns by John Green, Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, and Arthur Slade’s Tribes and you’ve got some really engaging compelling books – whose intended audience tends to be under the age of 20. (And this isn’t even hitting the Steampunk/Sci-fi intelligence of Scott Westerfeld or Sarah Dessen’s sometimes emotionally stark novels, or E. Lockheart’s hilarious insight to boy/girl/boy relationships in the Ruby Oliver books or, or, or….) I feel bad leaving out Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, Tamora Pierce, Carrie Jones or classic writers like Judy Blume and Cynthia Voight.
So, however over-publicized Twilight might be, if you try to separate the novels from the hype, you will find that for better or for worse, Meyer writes about love in its most romantic and idealist form – which when we are between the ages of 13 and 17 (and lets face it over 20) is what we crave.