Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writers Debate "The Twilight Effect" - Post #1 for the Advocates

The opening post for this series can be found here and includes the background and intent for this debate.  Feel free to check it out if this is your first visit.

Each contributor is introduced as either an “Opponent” (someone who doesn’t believe the Twilight books offer a healthy and / or harmless reading experience) or an “Advocate” (someone who does believe the Twilight books are healthy and / or harmless). Neither title is intended to offend or divide. Merely to categorize.

Your chance to jump into the fray is the comments below the post. But please keep in mind: While healthy debate is encouraged, trolling, swearing and personal insults are not.

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Disclaimer: In an effort to open honest dialogue, I’m allowing guest contributors to express their thoughts without interference or moderation. Therefore, the views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent my views and opinions. If you’re not sure, ask. I’ll tell you.

Joshua Weed writes:

I have had the opportunity to see young readers react to books from the perspective of being a middle school English teacher, as well as from the perspective of being a mental health therapist in a middle school. I feel that this has afforded me an unusual glimpse into the reactions teens have to young adult literature--most especially Twilight.

In my middle school English class about four years ago, a phenomenon took place. I kept seeing a huge tome brought in by my students during their Friday Free Read time wherein the kids were able to read whatever they wished. I had no idea what this book was at the time, but eventually I learned that it was Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. It was absolutely breathtaking.

I saw kids that had literally never read a book in their entire life have their "reader" eyes opened by the Twilight series. I'm talking about students, some of whom came from very troubled households--who had never read a Beverly Cleary novel, and who likely weren't read to as children--reading a book the size of a dictionary. It was remarkable.

While I can understand some of the objections people have to the themes explored in the series, and can in some ways sympathize with those who might claim that Bella Swan's perception of how a guy should treat her isn't the most responsible or "healthy" message from a mental health perspective (i.e. if I were her counselor, I would be focusing my therapeutic efforts on building Bella's self-esteem and trying to resolve the attachment issues she has with her father in order to broaden her perspective about relationships with the opposite sex) I would, nevertheless, tell any girl in the world to read the book anyway. Why? Because at least it opens the door for a girl to be part of the dialogue.

I saw students who had never cared about a fictional text within my class write gargantuan book reports on the Twilight series. And if I pressed them about some of the ideas I might have found mildly objectionable (really I find the books to be quite tame and innocuous for the most part) do you know what happened? Those girls--the ones who previously had never engaged with a text and who previously could not have cared less about the written word or a world created out of thin air by an author--fought back. With language. They constructed sentences, and they had opinions, and they argued points, and the wheels in their head were spinning. They engaged. They cared. They opined. They exposed and persuaded. They were literate.

As a former seventh grade middle school teacher, and as a member of a public ushering forth another generation of potentially technology-inundated, distracted, apathetic readers, I view this as a very, very good thing.

The Weed

Joshua raises some interesting points. What do you think? Comment here and come back tomorrow for the next contribution.


  1. I find this debate very interesting and I think I sit somewhere in the middle. I've read the Twilight series numerous times and find the story quite addictive, not able to put the books down once I've started. In saying that, I understand people's concerns about the characters being considered as role models, because Edward's possessive behaviour, Jacob's manipulative behaviour and Bella's severe self esteem issues are not something that teens should aspire towards. However, when I was a teenager, I read countless novels with far more damaged characters than those in Twilight. Did they affect who I was as a person? I’d like to think not! I too write for a Young Adult audience and cringe at the idea that every main character must be a role model - it is often worthwhile to have flawed characters. For a start this makes them more realistic and it also provides a talking point - is this someone I want to be like? If not, why not?

  2. "...I read countless novels with far more damaged characters..."

    The above statement is very true.

    I always try to see the other side of any discussion and give the opposition to the Twilight Saga some merit. *said with grit teeth and little conviction…lol*

    But in this case, the accusations against Twilight are strangely hysterical.

    No offense intended. Puleeeze don’t yell at me.

    As a kid, in the teen section of the library, I read novels that were far more destructive. I have examples but time and space prevent elaborating. A modern example is the House of Night books. Hey, I love them but for kids? The portrayal of a BJ in the first few pages isn’t exactly a redeeming quality for a kid.

  3. HUNTRESS: Who writes the House of Night books?

    I'm interested that so far this is the first time someone's raised other contemporary YA bestsellers.

    Is it's Twilights saturation that makes people so strongly for / against?

  4. PC Cast writes the series, House of Night, beginning with Marked.

    The way I see it, if I enjoy YA books, doesn't it follow the teen will read some so-called adult books? What's to stop them from reading JR Ward or the Succubus books by Richelle Mead?

    It goes back to personal responsibility. Bottom line, I never thought of Bella as weak or a bad role model but if parents think Stephenie Meyer's portrayal of teens is bad, then don't allow your kid to read them.

  5. I agree that flawed characters make for more interesting reading, but in terms of an author's responsibility to his/her YA audience, where do we draw the line between portraying faults as faults, and holding up the flawed individual as a role model? My tween daughter read the series, (I read only the first book) and I was thrilled that she saw through Bella's faults and actually came to dislike her immensely. Yet apparently many girls love Bella and think she's simply wonderful. Am I wrong about that?

    Yes, the parents are the bottom line, and should always know everything going on in every book their children read, but that just isn't possible. So my ultimate wish is for authors to take on a little responsibility for the content.

  6. Bella, as seen through the first book, does not make a great role model, it's true. She's insecure, self-conscious, self-sacrificing. *gasp* She sounds like a teenage girl who has a bit of maturity to not be completely selfish. How DARE Ms. Meyer write such a character for us to share with our young, impressionable children. I mean, honestly, the audacity of having a character who seems human, with emotions and flaws like those of us in the real world.

    Sarcasm aside, Bella's almost backward relationship with her mother was something I found myself, a man of almost 28 years, was able to relate to, which amazed me. I felt certain I was going to find myself unable to relate to any part of this series, but instead found myself sucked in and unable to set it down.

    It begins when she's so willing to give her life to protect, not only the life of her father, but the way of life her precious Cullen’s had. Yet we see the counterpoint every time she blames herself from Edward, telling her it isn't her fault. In the end, her mother even questions how healthy their relationship is, hinting at communication between parents and their children.

    Throughout the majority of the second book, we see Bella trying to piece her life back together, finding a deep, meaningful friendship with Jacob and almost a new relationship, showing the young, impressionable readers that the end of one relationship is not, in any way, the end of the world. She was able to come out of her depression and start over again. The reader is also shown that all actions, even the ones you think no one will ever find out about, have consequences, especially self-destructive actions (her hiking in the woods alone and almost being killed by Laurent, cliff diving and almost drowning, etc).

    In Eclipse we see Edward disable her truck, not out of jealousy, but out of concern. He feels Jacob is unstable and dangerous to her, so he protects her from him. I would most certainly hope that my future daughter has a love interest who is willing to protect her from danger. Are his actions a bit over the top? Possibly, yet we see conflict resolution through communication when she tells both her friend and future husband she wants no part of their feud. It is because she is able to stand up for herself that she is able to maintain her friendship with Jacob and her relationship with Edward. Without this pivotal experience none would have likely survived the coming assault from Victoria's army.

    Then, in the last book, we finally see Bella grow out of her awkward adolescence and into adulthood when she awakes for the final time as a vampire. This is what she's been fighting for throughout the entire series, and now that she has achieved it, she is confident. To me, this is the main message of the entire body of work: follow your dreams, never give up fighting for what you believe in and never give up hope.

    She believed the wolves and vampires could get along and work together, that there was no reason for them to be at war with one another. Not once, even after she became a vampire herself, did she stop fighting for that belief. If she had, would they have been able to have an almost completely non-violent end to what should have been a battle which decimated all of her loved ones and allies? Would she have been able to protect against the attacks of Jane, Alec, and Chelsea if she hadn't had the extra boost to her supernatural talent being a vampire allowed?

  7. BOOYAH! Uriah.

    Everything you said...ditto.

    If Bella had told Edward to get lost, he said he would. That does not equal a stalker's M.O.

    One last point, personal responsibility does not mean assuming an author will govern their words. It means the parent takes the responsibility of raising their own kid.

  8. This brings up the whole issue of what exactly the writer's responsibility is, and whether that should censor her writing. I think despite whatever my personal feelings may be for the book, that we have to give teens a little more credit. And agree w/Huntress above - this falls in the realm of parental responsibilities. For example my own children are not allowed to read what I write. They are simply not old enough for the subject matter.