I live 3,000 miles away from most of my family, but we talk enough to get a good idea of who’s reading what. My sister Suzy can often be found with the latest Ann Patchett or Jodi Picoult. Her daughter Julia, 13, is a Philip Pullman fan, though known to indulge in Gossip Girls.
On a rare East Coast trip this past weekend, though, I realized they were reading the same books – Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Even my younger niece, Hannah, 11, was working her way through the quartet of bestselling vampire-thriller-romances.
Something sizzles when kids and parents share books. I remember how Suzy and I leapt on our first Nancy Drew mystery many years ago, not because the titian-haired detective sounded so thrilling to the 5- and 7-year-olds we were, but because our own mother had bought the book for us, telling us how she had loved Nancy as a child.
But the idea of parents and youngsters enjoying the same books at the same point in time, apparently on the same level, was something new in the house. I had to ask what about heroine Bella and her lover Edward and his rival Jacob was so special that it could bridge a generation.
On the face, I was surprised by how many of their reasons for reading the Twilight books were the same. “A lot of my friends liked them,” Julia said, describing how she came to pick up the first one. “I like the whole ‘good vampire’ thing.” Hannah nodded her assent. Suzy joined in after adult friends told her how much she would enjoy them, and was likewise hooked by the fast-moving plot and the novel idea of vampires navigating our society.
The books aren’t complex, they agreed. They’re fueled by simple dialogue, not elegant writing.
And then, the point of division. Hannah declares herself a staunch member of “Team Edward,” among the readers voting for Bella to live forever with her vampire love rather than in the arms of suitor Jacob. Julia professes the side of “Team Switzerland,” staying neutral, but admits she knew Edward would be together with Bella at the end, and thought that was only right.
“He seemed good for her. He took care of her. He was always nice to her – except when he left her.” And that’s where the adult, the mother, fell on the other side. At the end of the first book, Suzy said, she understood why everyone loved Edward. But then, in book two, he leaves Bella.
“I felt like, ‘What a jerk!’ And Jacob is there. He’s not a vampire – OK, he’s half-human, half-werewolf – he’s a sweet guy. He’s the best friend. He’s there to pick up the pieces, and he falls in love with her. Then Edward comes back, and poor Jacob gets shoved aside, and I’m like, “Edward, you don’t get to do this.”
No more Team Edward for her.
Julia and Hannah, so lovely and confident, never saw it that way. It’s Bella they had issues with, not Edward. She is so insecure, they say. And when Edward leaves – before he returns – Julia hates how Bella is devastated through so much of the book. She assumes the weak voice of a hapless damsel: ‘Ooooh, Edward left, I have a hole in me.’ ”
The adult reader thought she could see the teenaged character’s point of view more than the actual teenager in the room. “When someone you love so much leaves you, that’s how you feel. You don’t want to go on,” Suzy said. “But, she was very whiny,” Julia replied.
And the mother, bracing for all the non-vampire, non-werewolf, loves and leavings ahead, had to let them know: “I felt like that was very human.”
Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com