When Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final book in Stephenie Meyer's vampire saga, came out in the summer of 2008, teens went wild, going to midnight costume parties at bookstores in a frenzy second only to the Harry Potter scenes of the past decade. Only one week after its release, readers had already logged in with more than 1,500 customer reviews on Amazon.com, half glowing, half glowering. What is this latest phenomenon, which has girls swooning, “We love you Edward Cullen” and toting the 500 page tome to the beach and beyond? First off, don't make the mistake of thinking that because it’s so popular, it's appropriate for able elementary school readers. The subject matter of the series is a bit too mature, like a modern-day bodice-ripper without the sex, but with plenty of sexual tension and some unsettling violence. True, there's nothing more than a few (smoldering) kisses in the first book, but it still feels pretty steamy.
Start with that striking Snow White-like cover—against the glossy black background, the vee of two pale white arms, the hands cradling a round red apple. Read the half-page preface foreshadowing the danger to come, ending with, “The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.” Then meet the narrator and heroine, 16-year-old Bella Swan, who has just left her mother in sun-drenched Phoenix to move in with her dad, Charlie, in the damp and dismal Olympic Peninsula town of Forks, where it rains more than anywhere in the U.S., a place Bella calls “literally my personal hell on Earth.”
Ivory-skinned Bella is, by her own description, ordinary and extraordinarily klutzy. She trips, she faints, she falls. Enrolled in eleventh grade at the high school in Forks, Bella is taken aback when her new biology lab partner, the gorgeous but glowering Edward Cullen, seems to detest her at first sight. Still, she is mesmerized by his pale skin, his bronze hair, his cold, cold hands, and his flashing eyes that change from dark gold to black when he is angry. Edward is one of five teenaged foster children of the town’s surgeon, Dr. Cullen, and none of them has ever mingled with the other students. When a van spins out across the icy school parking lot, Edward saves Bella’s life. She’s suspicious—how did he move so quickly and lift up the van to protect her?—but he refuses to explain, telling her, “It’s better if we’re not friends. Bella dreams about him at night, and readers sigh with anticipation, waiting for the two to declare undying love for each other, and wondering what it would be like to have an immortal vampire boyfriend. They will quickly segue to the sequels New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.
Fans will also certainly enjoy the detailed website http://www.stepheniemeyer.com which contains answers by the author to FAQ for all four books; a trailer for the movie, Twilight, coming out in November, 2008; a playlist of songs you can listen to while you read each of the books; and even color photos of the cool sports cars Edward and his family drive.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: VAMPIRES. LOVE.
Little, Brown Young Readers, 2006
Suggested Ages: 13 and Up