twilight.jpgTeenage novels usually lack any sense of drama that is grounded in real world physics. A note left in a locker doesn’t cause the girl’s knees to buckle, a dropped tray in the cafeteria doesn’t cause the world to spin off its axis, and a first kiss doesn’t cause the participants to spontaneously combust. It’s hard to find an exception to this rule within adolescent literature, and oftentimes most authors decide to embrace the melodrama and exploit it, and its readers, for all its worth. A select few among these have decided to breathe life into the overtired cliches and paper-thin characters. This is where Stephenie Meyer slips into the running.

Twilight, Meyer’s first novel, focuses on Bella, a 17-year-old girl moving from Phoenix to Forks, a tiny town in northeast Washington. From desert to temperate rain forest, Bella’s hopes and fears reflect the climate change. As she’s trying to adjust, she catches the eyes of the gorgeous-yet-unattainable Edward Cullen. She can’t get over his ethereal beauty and his arrogant indifference, even though his interest in her seems to be objective at best. Finally a nearly-fatal accident (with an impossible rescue by Edward) becomes the catalyst for their relationship.

The evidence stacks up that Edward’s more than just a member of a strange family: he disappears on the occasional sunny days, has extremely quick reflexes, and even admits a supernatural ability. With a little prodding, Bella finds out of a legendary treaty between the werewolves and the “cold ones” and finally makes the connection that Edward and the Cullens are indeed vampires. From there Bella and Edward’s feelings for each other spiral into a degree of romantic love usually only available in paperback.

Meyer introduces some novelties to the genre that really haven’t been seen yet (like so many other supernatural creatures, vampires usually have a cookie-cutter presence). Her characters are somewhat believable, even in their dutiful (read: obligatory) romantic chastity. However, the real pull of the story is Edward. He waits by or in Bella’s bed while she sleeps, hangs on every word she says, and finds creative and endearing ways to show his love. It’s no wonder that Bella and Edward’s relationship have set fire to so many young girls’ hearts.

But this is where the book begins to raise concerns. Meyer downplays her heroine (who speaks in the first person – important to note considering the audience), giving her an inescapable inferiority complex. It’s unclear if Meyer is trying to show us Edward’s perfection or Bella’s self-awareness. “He was too perfect, I realized with a piercing stab of despair,” she says at one point. “There was no way this godlike creature could be meant for me.” The constant struggle within Bella between wanting to be with Edward and thinking that she is not worthy of him not only wears a little thin, but goes so far to be a bit destructive in the example it sets. Instead of a strong female lead, Meyer creates someone who is willing to throw away her entire life on a whim and is only stopped from doing so by her strong-willed boyfriend.

While Twilight often gives a step-up in writing to similar adolescent books and gives energy to a tired subject, it handicaps itself by its damsel-in-distress-meets-prince-charming fairy-tale fantasy. Indeed if Bella had more to offer in the way of a commanding presence and feminine dignity, it would have turned the tale into an altogether refreshing experience. As it is it does little more than a flirt with its own potential – and the dreams of impressionable teenage girls.