Impressed by the overwhelming success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, my critique group (led by Deborah Da Costa) decided to shift into book group mode this month. We are discussing the YA vampire series and what makes it such a hit with teens (and adults). I’ll miss the meeting, but I visited my writing buddy and fellow critique group-member Cyndee Kalodner and we talked about the book. Cyndee happens to be Professor of Psychology at Towson University, and a fabulous MG/YA author. Cyndee, I haven’t read a page-turner like this in a long time. I couldn’t put the book down. What about you? CK: Here is a story about that… I was reading the book on the couch in the living room, and Elena (my 12 year old daughter) asked, “Didn’t you say you were going to the gym… like 10 minutes ago?” Which was exactly what happened. I read and read and read…but I did go to the gym. In musing about why the book is so popular with ‘tween and teen girls, I thought back to my own early love-interests. Teenage boys vacillate. First, they flirt with a girl. The girl flirts back. But if she starts acting too interested, the boy becomes standoffish, even cruel. (I’m not naming names, people, but he was a sophomore and I was a freshman. If a guy played with your earring at a Halloween party, what would you think?) A girl with little romantic experience is left wondering, “What’s with that guy? I thought he liked me. He acted like he liked me. What did I do wrong?”
Stephanie Meyer offers girls a simple answer: He is a VAMPIRE. Really, he wants to like you. He’s totally attracted to you. He’s just worried that he’ll be so overwhelmed by his feelings for you that he’d do you harm. Sigh. I’m swept away by Edward’s shades of Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff. So, what do you think of my theory? CK: Here is what I think. Bella is new so she attracts attention from lots of the guys, but the one she wants is the one she can’t have. I can relate to that. It’s like Edward was too perfect and he wouldn’t be interested in her. The part where he moves away from her in science class is the beginning of knowing that there is something unusual about him (compared to how the other guys treat her). But isn’t that perpetuating an unhealthy fantasy? “That beautiful, unavailable guy really does want me. He’s just acting aloof because he’s undead.” CK: Which also reminds me of a story about a very attractive guy who was standoffish. He was a friend of a guy I dated. Turned out he was painfully shy (not a vampire) and he didn’t approach girls because he really couldn’t. People thought he was a snob. He wasn’t. That’s interesting. If he hadn’t been good looking, I bet people would have assumed he was shy. More of our conversation about Twilight later.