Thursday, July 1, 2010

A "Twilight" Alternative Reading List

I am not a fan of the Twilight series. Yes, when I read the first book, I was captivated. I devoured that book in a day and rushed out to buy the next two in the series, which I read just as quickly. By the second book, I was disappointed and still thoroughly annoyed by Bella and Edward, but I kept thinking, "This has to get better!" I thought eventually Bella would stop whining and become a real person, stand up for herself, and do something about her ridiculously codependent relationship with Edward that borderlined on domestic abuse. I thought Edward might realize how creepy he is and quit it. I thought people would stop trying to commit suicide over each other. I thought someone in this book might go to college! I was wrong, of course, and I found out just how wrong I was when the fourth installment, "Breaking Dawn," was released.

I literally threw that book down when I finished it. What a piece of crap.

When I finished sulking about how poorly written it was (My friends Jennifer and BJ have some sort of app that searches to see how many times words are used in it. I think "tremble" was toward the most frequent.) and how terrible the plot was (I mean, let's face it. That last book is a giant piece of fan fiction.), I considered the more serious side of the popularity of that series. Would I want my pre-teen daughter to read this? Absolutely not. I shudder to think at all the millions of young girls (and adult women and men) who have read those books and see Bella and Edward's relationship as some sort of ideal model.

According to this series, the weaker you are, the more boys will like you. The best way to get the attention of the boy you like is to constantly put yourself in grave danger. Hell, just jump off a cliff and try to drown yourself! It worked for Bella. She almost died, but she got Edward back. (It's really sickening how romanticized that scene is online. See image on left.) Getting married right out of high school? According to this book, that's the way to deal with your hormones. While the marriage part isn't horrendous, it's not what I want for my daughter (or son!). Then it got worse. Spoiler alert here, but Bella being beat nearly to death during sex, then begging for more was enough to make me sick. And that was in the first part of the book. By the time Edward had ripped their child from Bella's womb with his teeth, I was beyond horrified. Then there's Bella's former love interest "imprinting" on her infant daughter. A 19 year old man in love with an infant? Why am I the only one who seems to see how disgusting this is? I worked with a woman who used the series as a model for abusive relationships in the college sociology course she taught. She said it worked really well as a model, but the students were too in love with Edward to see it clearly. Anyone seeing my issue now?

That being said, I want to clarify that I have no problem with people waiting until they're married to have sex.  I don't have a problem with vampires having sex with humans, so long as no one is bruised and broken afterward. I don't even have a problem with Meyer pushing her pro-life agenda during the part about Bella's pregnancy. (I'm definitely pro-choice, but Choice is the key word there and, in a rare moment, Edward actually sort of allowed Bella to make one.) I do have a problem with a huge group of impressionable teenagers, particularly the girls, thinking that Bella + Edward = what love should be and that jumping off a cliff is an effective way to deal with a break-up.

Needless to say, I hate the influence of the Twilight series. It is one of the most anti-feminist things I have ever read, not to mention from a book critic view that the series leads to a giant battle. . . that never happens. My ideas about society aside, what a crappy ending! In the words of a piece of facebook flair I saw after the release of the last book, "WTF, Stephenie Meyer?"

The idea of this series is great. It's fascinating and romantic and thrilling. I was actually pleased to hear the books were being adapted to films because I thought it was a chance for a director to take a great idea that was a terrible series and make it back into a great idea on screen. Of course, that didn't happen. I watched the first movie, full of hope, until my dreams were crushed. The movies are just as bad! But this post is about books, so I'll save my film woes (and suggestions!) for another day.

I worked at the public library last summer, and after I witnessed the public's obsession with this series firsthand, I sought alternatives. And I found some great ones! I found vampire love stories written for young adults (which adults will love, too!) that have strong, awesome female characters. There are books that have diversity (several of them have gay characters, as well as ethnic diversity), they have interesting folklore, and they have great storylines. These books are all written for a young adult audience, so they're super fun and easy to read. I've read a lot of books in this genre over the past year or two, so I have a good idea of what's out there and what's good and what's not worth your time. I've read tons, but what I'm listing here are my favorites.

So I give you my list of Twilight alternatives. Some of these are about vampires, some about other supernatural stuff, and a few are about futuristic dystopian societies, which is probably my favorite YA genre. Keep this is mind when you need a blooksucking thrill/romance fix and you've run out of Buffy episodes.

These are in no particular order.

**The House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast**

Written by a mother and daughter duo, the House of Night Series stars Zoe, a new teenage vampire being trained in a bording school for vampires. The series has great characters and a great plot, and there are 7 of these books out now and the series still isn't complete. There's love, sex, magic, blood (of course), and humor. Zoe is a strong female character who makes mistakes and learns along the way. These books are full of strong women! A big highlight is Zoe's grandmother, a Native American with amazing courage and wisdom.

**The Vampire Diaries by L. J. Smith**

I read the first of these when I was in high school or middle school; I can't remember. Since the resurgance of vampire teen fiction, Smith has written two new installments. This series was also turned into a TV show for the WB. While the relationship between the main character and her vampire love is a bit cheesy (and a little codependent - lots of "soul mate" stuff), she's a strong character with power of her own. Worth reading.

**The Secret Circle series by L. J. Smith**

In my opinion, these are far superior to the Vampire Diaries. I read these when they first came out, as well, and read them again a couple of years ago. I still love them! This one isn't about vampires, but witches, and the girls kick ass. It's excellent.

**Evernight series by Claudia Gray**

Another vampire boarding school novel, these focus on Bianca, a teenage girl whose parents make her attend the Evernight Academy, weird stuff happens, she starts figuring things out, you get the idea. 

**Blue Bloods series by Melissa De La Cruz**

This series focuses on Schuyler, a girl who is just finding out what her heritage is along with a bunch of other teenagers in NYC. This is one of my favorites because it's heavy in "Paradise Lost"-type lore.

**Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead**

Another vampire boarding school series. This one has lots of strong women, too! I love this one because merges vampire lore with new ideas about other mythological creatures.

**The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins**

SO "Lord of the Flies," this trilogy is probably my favorite of the dystopian society novels. It's about a society long after the fall of the USA, where once a year a lottery is held to put children in a contained environment where they have to kill each other. BRILLIANT series. Only the first two are out, so I'm anxiously awaiting the third and final one, which comes out in August.

**The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare**

This is a series about vampire hunters! The main character and her friends set out to hunt and kill demons, save the world, etc. And there's a great teenage love story with a twist. Again, lost of strong women and diversity in this one.

**Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr**
A series about faeries! These faeries are pretty creepy, though. These are page-turners.

**Uglies series by Scott Westerfield**

A dystopian society series about what happens when society makes everyone beautiful. GREAT stuff.

**The Maze Runner by James Dashner**

Another dystopian society book, this one is about boys trapped in a maze. It's also very "Lord of the Flies." It's a series, but only the first one is out so far. I'm looking forward to the next ones.

**The Iron King by Julie Kagawa**

A totally fun fantasty novel about faeries. This one gets extra points for including several characters from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and, I would guess, helping lots of teenagers digest Shakespeare a little easier. I loved this one.

**The Forest of Hands and Teeth
and The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan**

These two are pretty creepy. The second one takes place a long time after the first. It's a future in which most people are undead and they're infectious. Excellent.

**The Giver by Lois Lowry**

A classic, and required reading in some schools, this is a novel about another dystopian society where everyone is the same, except our main character and his mentor, the Giver. I read this book in about two hours. Well worth my time.

So enjoy these! Anything here would make great summer reading. They're easy to read, but a lot of them are hard to put down. And I would love to hear anyone's comments about these or suggestions for a series I may not have discovered yet!

I also want to say that, if you are an adult and you enjoy Twilight just because you enjoy it, I think that's awesome. There's nothing wrong with that. And certainly not every young person who reads the books will see this as a model for anything. I am against censorship of any kind, so I would never say Twilight should not be read. I just think there are better things out there.

To end, just for fun, here's something I found that cracked me up. Don't take offense, people; it's all in good fun.

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