Friday, February 25, 2011

The "Twilight" Effect, Part 1

I hope to not make enemies with this post, but I'm trying to make sense of the Young Adult literature world right now. Having been a high school English teacher, I've been surrounded by YA books for so long and that's why it's very natural for me to write in the YA world.

But in a very short amount of time in the last several years, the genre has done a whole lotta changing.

Going back to Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling was sheer genius. She took many fantasy elements that have grown to become cliche and put a whole spin on it. After the success of her books, we saw a slew of books with a young outsider boy learning of his magical lineage, then going off to a school and becoming the badass that the "prophecy" said he would be. Rick Riordan anybody??? (I really do like Riordan, and my oldest son does too. I grew up reading Greek mythology, so I can't help but love Riordan's books).

I won't say Riordan is a copy-cat. Let's be honest here, though. The popularity of his Percy Jackson books rode the Harry Potter coattails for sure. The whole special school for special kids has been done before (i.e. 1985's Ender's Game), but Rowling made that setting a had-to-have for a ton of books that followd.

Which brings me to Twilight. I tried to read the first book, but I just couldn't get through it all. I understood immediately why so many young women (and even many women my age) love the books. It captures female teenage angst extremely well. The adolescent longing, and maybe the reader's secret desire, for a tremendously hot dude that not only saves your life, but also makes you tingle in all your nooks and crannies.

Let me preface this before I continue. This post is NOT intended to be Twilight bashing. I give Stephanie Meyer proper credit, but the fact that her saga has catipulted the genre, I cannot ignore the influence she has had on the YA publishing world.

Personally, I just couldn't get through this book. So many things really just bothered the hell out of me. Meyer is no dummy, however. Her story plays on many of the themes that resonnate with adolescent female desires and challenges. The way Meyer left Bella's physical characteristics undefined was also genius, as it sort of becomes a 1st person sort of deal where the reader can enter the character of Bella.

And having dealt with so many of my teenage female students' dramas (I was also a high school girls tennis coach), I can identify an abusive relationship when I see one. And Bella is pretty much abused by Edward (who is technically a pedophile). But hey, the guy is hot. That's all that matters, right?

Bella is a whiny little shit that really needs to be bitch-slapped. She's a horrible example for young women, in my opinion. I know that Meyer never intended Bella to be such a model example for teen girls to follow, but at the same time it is entirely naive to think the character's influence will not affect the young readers. The books glorify a weak pathetic girl in a relationshp with an abusive, stalking vampire. But the fact that he's amazinginly good looking makes it all OK. The movies help with the glorifying, maybe even magnifies it. So I do acknowledge that.

It's disturbing now to see all the novels coming out riding the Twilight coattails now, redifining love in their storylines. Adolescence really is such a dramatic time in one's life, where everything is felt 100 times deeper once the rational mind catches up. But these books glorify such a warped idea of love, which really isn't love. It's lust. Looks are the most important thing. And guys can treat you like shit as long as they're hot.

Is this the current state of YA literature these days? 

Part 2 will be my attempt to answer that.

Have a fantastic weekend!


G.P. Ching said...

Interesting post. I've read all four books and I have to say I agree with you on two accounts. First, Bella is always exasperated and makes dumb choices. Second, Edward is a stalker and it is super creepy that he sneaks into her room to watch her sleep. However, I was able to put myself into the teenage girl mindset and did enjoy the read. And the forbidden fruit allegory, I think was brilliant. It is because he is dangerous, creepy, and attractive that he is desirable. I think the lesson to be learned from Twilight is that it's not necessarily great writing that sells books. People want to connect on an emotional level that doesn't always make sense.

J. Noel said...

Great points Genevieve. Connection with her audience is what made the books (and movies) so popular. That's what it boils down to.

Her success has had a tremendous impact on YA books recently, so I hope to continue to explore that in Part 2.

Tiyana, aka "Yoyo" said...

On account of successful authors like Rowling and Myer, I suppose you know you've made it big when people talk about other works and say stuff like, "That actually reminds me a lot of Harry Potter" or "Twilight..."

I wonder what that feels like, being the author of some kind of archetypal literary standard. Pretty surreal, I'm guessing. I am also amazed by the cult-like followings that emerge after the release of certain works, literary or otherwise. It really is a fascinating phenomenon.

J. Noel said...

That's really the purpose of writing this post. I'm focusing on the phenomenon, and how it affects the publishing world.

I took it a step further as far as taking about the potential damage Twilight could have on a young teen or tween's psyche. But that's just from my own background working with that age group.

Laura Eno said...

I haven't read Twilight for the reasons you mentioned - my own personal little boycott. :) The implications as to the future for YA writing are astounding. I figure I'll just keep writing what I want...that's all I can do anyway. The voices in my head don't follow trends.

J. Noel said...

I gave it a try. But it just made me angry.

One series doesn't define an entire genre...and if it does, it's only temporary. (Hopefully).

Maybe you should seek some help about those voices in your head, Laura ;)

Mark Andrew Edwards said...

Well, you're seeing the series clearly. I couldn't get through the first book either. But, yeah, Stephanie Meyer 'gets' a certain type of girl...and that type buys a whole lot of copies of her books.

The good thing is a big 'tentpole' book like Twilight may lead kids to reading other, better books.

P.S. I think you're giving her too much credit for her failure to describe Bella. I think that was just an oversight, rather than a choice.

J. Noel said...

What's scary is how many 30-something mothers are reading these books, and it's a very different phenomena. I think the adult women who read Twilight are those that really are just nostalgic about their high school days.

I have to give Meyer credit, though. Even if it was serendipitous. If it was an oversight, it was a $100 million mistake!

Anonymous said...

A little self-worth would go a long way to making me like the Character Bella. I do not like her sacrifice everything including herself for love mentality and it pains me that girls see that as something to look up to.

Imagine what the story could've been with a stronger less whiny, less sacrificing heroine. I'm not saying she had to kick ass or anything, but none of this sitting in her room for months because her boyfriend dumped her. God, girl, grow a pair of womanly breasts.

As for the future of YA genres - there are way more options now for teens to read. I don't remember such an extensive section in the bookstore and that alone is seriously cool. Be it Rowling, Meyer or whomever - kids are reading.

And was what I read at 17 really any better? Can anyone say incestuous Flowers in the Attic series?

the weirdgirl said...

I had a 40+ woman with a PhD recommend the Twilight series to me and I thought it was just awful! I managed to get through the first book but found it slow and, frankly, boring. If I'm going to read about vampires there better be some action. And I definitely had some issues with Bella's character. I tried watching the second movie, thinking that would speed up all the plot points... and I couldn't get through that either.

Anonymous said...

I've not read them, but from articles at Professor Beej's place and bits my wife has talked about, they seem like YA Harlequin gateway drugs. That bothers me. Literature needs less trash, not more.

archphoenix said...

Ugh. Agreed. I read all 4 Twilight books because I was trying to understand why women MY AGE love these books. And I don't get it. I really don't. Like you said, Bella is a whiny needy girl defined by her man and I wanted to slap the crap out of her. I literally laughed out loud in the first book when she gets dumped and then there are something like 5 blank pages. UGH UGH UGH.

And, let's be honest, Stephenie didn't invent all that much - vampires have long been the symbol of sexy forbidden fruit and a loss of innocence and all that jazz.

Also? The sparkling. *shudder* I'm surprised the Cullens don't also ride unicorns.

Try reading The Hunger Games.

J. Noel said...

Just finished the first book in The Hunger Games. Awesome! I heard the second book is pretty lame, and many have skipped it to go on to the 3rd which is really good too.

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