Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Twilight / by Stephenie Meyer

The only child of divorced parents, Isabella Swan knows about preoccupations. It's nothing to do with her so much as it is her mom wanting her own life more than to be a mother, her dad having his hands full as sheriff of a small town and the general disinclination of her peers towards any mutual interest. So it's strange that her new situation in tiny Forks, WA, attending a new school with new people engages as much attention as it does, especially from boys. Mostly it's the less-desirable kind; the nice but edge-less overeager types who ambitiously open doors and offer friendly advice on various nonsense. But then--contrary to all previous feedback--its the boy who suddenly singles out Bella, entangling her into not only a singular relationship, but an entirely new sphere of existence.

Edward Cullen's definitely not 'like all the others'. Likewise for his "family" as their reclusive habits (even by Forks standards) extend far beyond the bounds of normalcy. Appearing deathly pale with penetrating--if bloodshot--eyes and alarmingly acute senses, Edward and his four siblings don't quite 'fit' with the whole high school thing, a fact not unnoticed by Bella who gradually familiarizes herself to their reality. The Cullens prefer their own 'type' of vitality; a livelihood, as Bella soon discovers, which thrives on a far more 'sanguine' diet. It's not long before Edward and Bella are caught up in a swirl of conflicting emotions as amidst the intensifying romance, they're confronted with a decision which could alter their very lives . . . and beyond.

Currently maintaining its Harry Potter-esque reputation, Twilight was initially released to mixed reviews, often cited for its less than tight storyline and an overemphasis on supernatural elements fueling Edward and Bella's relationship. There's other problems too. Situations in the book often hint more towards contrived circumstances rather than happenstance or initiative; events unravel more because they have to happen rather than as if they could or would happen. While Bella would probably fall for Edward regardless, their relationship mightn't evolve so quickly (or dramatically) were it not for various 'conveniences'--every other student/classmate a generic dud, seated next to each other in class, Bella's accidents, Edward's "heroism", etc.--all seemingly input as abbreviated plot devices. The plodding nature of Meyer's extraneous details and segmented filler material doesn't help much either. Still there's sort of a Wuthering Heights thing going on giving the story its decidedly gothic ambience, a motif evidently reinforced in Meyer's accompanying sequels.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Serious Kiss by Mary Hogan

This was Mary Hogan’s first book, and in the three years since then she has written others, including the Susannah series, one of which won the 2008 NAPPA gold award. Some critics called this book uneven, and I did find the heroine Libby’s voice a little too insistent at times, as she moans and bewails her horrible life. Libby is fourteen and has made a pledge with her best friend to experience a “serious kiss” before turning fifteen. Her horrible life includes a fat mom committed to fast food and a brother who steals cigarettes since he’s too young to buy them, and an alcoholic father. Libby’s dramatic take on life serves to insulate the reader from the very real dilemma of her father’s drinking, and how it has affected them all. It’s true that teenagers tend to criticize and find things to dislike in their home, so Libby’s intense commentary may actually be helping her stay functional. Not that she doesn’t break down at times. When her dad loses his job and the family moves from the Los Angeles area to a desert town, Libby hates the trailer park they live in and the school kids and the desert itself. But slowly things change. Her new-found grandmother (who has provided the trailer they live in) shares how being old makes her feel isolated too, and her reaching out helps Libby start to see the positive that’s around her. This book does start slowly and takes awhile to gain your interest, but by the ending you are charged up and energized along with Libby about her life!