Twilight was un-recommended to me in 2006 when a library user returned it to the circulation desk I worked at, saying, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read.” Of course, I needed to pick it up.
I read it quickly. The writing is easy to read, and the book is a very compulsive page-turner. It reads like a diary from inside the head of a 14-year-old girl. I don’t mean that in the dismissive way that many adults talk about the interests of 14-year-old girls. I was a 14-year-old girl once too. And that’s a fine thing to be. But, I’m also fine with never having to return my consciousness to that tiny, rigid, obsessive world again. I agreed with the library patron, it was not a great book. After I finished it I moved onto The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It was October 2006, alright? Vampires were everywhere.
I kind of forgot about Twilight until the furor built. The backlash against Twilight was huge and the series became the butt of many jokes, especially among readers who were not. As a voracious reader my whole life, I’ve read plenty of un-enthralling books and, to me, this one was pretty unremarkable for either love or hate. It has some really terrible ideas about what a heterosexual teenage relationship should look like, but well, there are lots of bad relationships in teenage books. And in adult books. I’m not trying to excuse any of the troubling parts of the Twilight series, but to say that it seems to get an unjustified amount of hate.
One of the things that Twilight did do was get a lot of kids to enjoy reading, just like Harry Potter. Yet, we laud Harry Potter, but deride Twilight? Because it’s aimed at girls? Both books are full of problematic representation, but I can’t decide for everyone what kinds of books should move them. I wonder, would we hate on Harry Potter like Twilight, if Hermione were the hero?
We all have beloved media that we adore, even if we recognize that it’s also kind of just bad on some, or even multiple, levels. Give kids the respect enough to allow them to love their own bad media. Twilight isn’t going to become quality literature with time. But, it has connected with kids and encouraged them to pick up other books.
Maybe it won’t even be Twilight when my daughter is older. My plan is to talk with her, so that she knows exactly why a dude climbing in your window to watch you sleep is extremely fucking creepy, and how unhealthy it is to base your entire self-identity around your romantic partner. Or whatever it is that’s problematic in books the kids are reading these days. But preventing her from reading it will only mean that I’ve lost my chance to be involved in the conversation with my daughter about what makes a good relationship and why it’s good to read books that make you feel seen as a 14-year-old girl, even if you don’t like some parts of the story. Losing out on that conversation would be inexcusable.