Thursday, July 3, 2008

As a longtime Harry Potter fan, I'm used to seeing books and essay collections analyzing my favorite teen books. While Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books are far from being my favorites, I was intrigued to see an essay collection about it, published by Teen Libris. A New Dawn is part of a collection of books analyzing popular teen series, including one the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books called Demigods and Monsters (which I am absolutely dying to read, as I love and adore the Percy Jackson books) and the Inheritance trilogy cycle.

What's in A New Dawn: Thirteen essays by YA authors of varying popularity tackle themes of romance, vampires and werewolves in literary tradition, morality, the neverending question of whether Edward Cullen is the greatest boyfriend in literature or an out-and-out sociopath (my vote is firmly with sociopath!), and self-sacrifice. I think the essays are aimed at teen readers, but the formality and academic voice of each essay varies greatly. The essays all have inviting titles like "My Boyfriend Sparkles," showing that even though these are analytical essays, they're meant to be conversational as well. The strongest essay in the book is Ellen Steiber's "Tall, Dark, and... Thirsty?" which discusses the history of vampire legends and how they cross into romance, even citing other YA vampire books when talking about the vampire as loner. It also brings to the forefront the thing I have always found the most unsettling about the Twilight series, that being Bella's complete lack of a sense of self. Robin Brande's essay, "Edward, Heathcliff, and Our Other Secret Boyfriends," is written with her signature sense of breezy fun and although I didn't agree with a single word in it, I enjoyed reading it. Cassandra Clare and Rachel Caine use alternate formats, letters and scripts, respectively, to convey their ideas. Janette Rallison gets extra points for briefly discussing Carlisle Cullen, who I think is probably the most interesting character in the books (and not just because his name, like mine, is Carlisle).

Who will read this book?: YA lit nerds. No, seriously. I am one of them, and I fully embrace it. Twilight fandomers will probably be drawn to this as well, but you'll note I said fandomers, which not all readers are. I just can't see the average teen Twilight fan wanting to read past the first two, maybe three essays, but it's entirely possible that I'm underestimating the average Twilight fan, especially considering that when I finished New Moon I said, "I am neither Team Edward nor Team Jacob; I am team 'Edward and Jacob should run off with each other and leave that simpering nobody Bella alone for the rest of her life.'" I do see where the book's popularity comes from, and I think that using more colloquial and less academic language, plus the draw of the names of the YA authors, will make A New Dawn appealing to the die-hard fans who want to show that their obsession with Meyer's books goes further than just "this is a really good book." The only drawback to this book is that it's written on an open canon and doesn't do much for covering what might happen in the books. Speculation was always the best part of being in the Harry Potter fandom, and reading academic works on Potter speculation always taught me much about plotting. I'd almost like to see this collection revisited once the canon is closed, just to see how much of it holds up (though I believe much of it will, because it focuses more on literary tradition than book events).

Would I buy it for my library? Yes, if I had a nest of die-hard Twilight fans, or perhaps local teachers who wanted more reasons to incorporate modern YA lit into their curricula. It's one of those books I'd give a 2P in VOYA, "for the reader with a special interest in the subject," which to be fair holds true for a lot of nonfiction.

So, in short? This essay collection doesn't suck.


Janette Rallison said...

Yeah, I liked Carlisle too. Glad you enjoyed the book.

Carlie said...

Janette, I'd read a book solely about Carlisle! Although I do have to say this: It's taken me years to not do a double-take at his name. I go by Carlie, of course, but the name on my birth certificate is Carlisle (Carlisle Elizabeth, to be exact), and I have never in my life met another Carlisle in person or in print. Name weirdness aside, I do like him.