The Mission Statement (or why Twilight could be bad for your health)

4 Aug

This is the Pickychick Book Blog, run by older sisters who love to read but don’t want their younger sisters reading trash. There are a lot of books out there for girls and young women, and it’s hard to tell where the good stuff is. That’s where we come in!

This all started when my younger sister B, like every other girl in her seventh grade class, decided she wanted to read Twilight.  This posed a problem, because I didn’t want her to read that book, while still wanting to encourage her to actually read.

The Culprit

It’s not that I don’t like Twilight – I have read and enjoyed all four of them. Stephanie Meyer is a master plotter, and I blew through those 400 page books in a day. Even more importantly in my eyes, she has gotten more teenagers reading than ever before, and that deserves a Nobel Prize!

However, I personally don’t find that the Twilight series offers up a positive role model for the millions of girls reading it – girls primarily spanning the 12-18 age range, when positive role models are most needed. Here’s my main problem: Bella Swan is one of the weakest and least-self-confident narrators I’ve read. She spends 3.5 lengthy books doubting that Edward could ever actually love lil old human her, no matter how many times he assures her that he does. She never sees herself as deserving – at least not until [SPOILER] she turns into a vampire halfway through Breaking Dawn. Suddenly, she’s magically strong and confident, that is to say, interesting.

But uh-oh, she’s not human anymore, she’s a vampire. She no longer shares the species connection with her readers, and thus her ability to serve as a role model for them is severed. Stephanie Meyer is unable to imagine a strong female protagonist who is both human AND interesting. So just what is the message here kids? If you’re just a normal girl, you can never be worthy of your paramour, ever – and you should not believe anyone who says otherwise, not even the paramour. In the bigger picture, this implies that you need to change yourself to fit in with your boyfriend, despite the fact that your family and friends think that’s a bad idea.

The moral of my story: I don’t want my sister reading a story with a message like that. Thus this project. Over the course of all future posts, the pickychicks will wade through the YA universe and provide you with reviews and recommendations for books for young adult readers that have strong, interesting, intelligent, and independent female protagonists, as well as redeeming literary content (ie. they’re good books). The readership in question is girls from the vicinity of 12-18, and anyone buying for them.

So chuck your Twilight copies in the trash, and get ready for some great books with great girls I wish I knew!

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4 Responses to “The Mission Statement (or why Twilight could be bad for your health)”

  1. Hallie August 27, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    I had a similar problem: I was very uncomfortable reading about a relationship where I perceived the guy as having all the power in a stalker-like way, and where the girl never seemed to be bothered by his actions. I do appreciate how the series has been a shared reading experience for a lot of teens who don’t read (or don’t read much) otherwise, and how it opens doors to talk about relationships, and even how it is enjoyed by many generations (I read it because my 90-odd-year-old grandma got a copy)…I just wish that I didn’t have so many barriers to recommending it.

    (Hi! I love your focus.)

    • pickychick books August 31, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

      Hey Hallie! I totally agree – you love Edward and Bella, but then when you think about it, you kind of go “…uh?” haha. I actually stopped reading the fourth book (something I have NEVER done with such an anticipated sequel) about a third of the way into it, because I couldn’t take anymore of Bella making everyone (including herself) so miserable. Luckily, one of my friends assured me that things got better, so I did eventually finish it, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. And now seeing how many girls are reading it, I’m a little worried… Also, my grandma read it too! Though I’m not sure what I think about that, haha.

  2. Kayla September 5, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    I definitely understand your concern with Bella’s continual lack of self-confidence. I mean, we’ve all been there and can identify with her anxiety, but I’m also uncomfortable with the way becoming a vampire seems to solve that self-confidence problem.

    Another significant and related discomfort I had with Twilight was how Bella seems to get exactly what she wants even though she doesn’t really do anything herself to get what she wants. Despite her clumsiness and lack of self-confidence, she’s really popular at school. She dates the cutest, most mysterious boy in school. She leads Jacob on, and he still forgives her. She kisses Jacob, and Edward still forgives her. Both boys are constantly protecting her from the big bad world of monsters. Almost every exquisitely, yet romantically tortured scenario a teenage girl could dream up seem to happen to Bella.

    This series became for me the ultimate definition of guilty pleasure reading. I blew threw them the first time and gave over completely to enjoying each of Bella’s predicaments the way only a girl could understand. But when I finally put down Breaking Dawn, I couldn’t help shaking my head and asking, “really? this is what we want?” As enticing as Twilight’s love triangle is, and as neat as Meyer’s solution to the Jacob problem works out, I wholeheartedly agree that this series makes me uncomfortable. Its not what girls should want, what we should be striving for. Any reader, I feel, should understand this upfront.

    • pickychick books September 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

      Your post made me realize that I think at the root of the problem is that Meyer takes too much agency in her own story. All Bella’s problems are fixed FOR her, not BY her. IE: the love triangle is explained away before Bella actually has to do something about it, her self-confidence issues fixed by a magical transformation, and whenever she’s in danger Bella always ends up having to hide while the big boys fight it out. Meyer doesn’t allow Bella to do anything herself, and that is a huge character flaw that pretty much ruined the series for me.

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