Well, it’s been a week and some change since Midnight Sun hit our shelves in all its 658-page tome glory, and it only took half that long for the think pieces and reviews to pop up, rehashing the same, tired critiques that fell on millions of deaf ears in the late 2000s. We, as fans, don’t need your Twilight criticism. It exists in a realm that isn’t for you, that isn’t a part of you, that we don’t need you to approve of in order for us to enjoy it.
But hey, I am not above criticizing art that I also enjoy. If you’ve spent any time watching Hangoutlander, you’d know that I love Outlander, but I also hate Outlander. Nothing is above criticism. Even a giant fantasy novel that a reader knows is a scene for scene rehash of a young adult novel that they didn’t like in the first place. Why did your editor tap you to review Midnight Sun again?
Oh but I’m back on my bullshit again, claiming that anyone who doesn’t enjoy Midnight Sun isn’t a Twilight fan. That’s untrue and unfair. Sure, there are folks out there who ATE UP The Twilight Saga, who picked this up with fear and trembling, and may have come away scathed. Maybe they don’t like being in Edward’s head as much as they thought they might. Maybe they don’t think Stephenie Meyer’s writing skills have advanced all that much since 2005. They can critique in good faith. They can even not enjoy the book just for its own sake. Like purple, that’s cool.
What I can’t abide is the very hollow, very trite and very condescending critique that this fantasy, paranormal, young adult romance is unbelievable. Set aside the fantasy element. Set aside Edward’s immortality and supernatural abilities. Set aside that this is teen love. Some of you out there think that Edward falls in love with Bella … over nothing? That his love isn’t real or based in anything about Bella specifically? That their romance is … corny?
I’m sorry. Do you need a reading comprehension webinar?
Two former Twilight fans reviewed Midnight Sun for Slate, and Rebecca Onion opined that, “I also felt like this POV on the reasons they “fell in love” is maybe even more upsetting. He loves her mostly because she’s self-sacrificing, which isn’t really something I remember from “her” books or the movies. He sees her as a complete Angel in the House type, Victorian shy lady who will do anything for her family and friends.”
First of all, of course you don’t remember the reasons Edward loves Bella from the book, Twilight. Bella is self-deprecating to a fault and doesn’t think he should love her, so she’s unaware of her myriad charms and attractions for him. But the self-sacrificing thing is not the only thing he loves, it’s just the first thing he notices once he starts digging deeper.
At first glance and first read, it looks like Edward is fascinated with Bella because she doesn’t do what he expects, he can’t read her mind, he loves her scent and she seems selfless. And he IS enamored with her self-sacrifice; he says so. He’s also a supernatural mindreader and is aware just how RARE that type of woman, especially a self-conscious teenager, is.
But of course, that’s not the ONLY reason Edward falls in love with Bella. A better understanding of them both gives them more agency and awareness than these simple reviews like to point out. Bella is self-sacrificing? The same Bella who’s ready to adios her entire family and friends in order to live forever in total hotness? THAT BELLA is a paragon of selflessness? And it’s not like she’s hiding that desire from Edward so that he’s unaware of it. It’s her number one request from like, the baseball game on. He knows it. She knows it. They fight about it. They still love each other.
Elle Hunt for The Guardian said: “It would be hard for any reader to find Bella as fascinating as Edward does, with her character, never very distinctive, now smothered by his adoring gaze.”
Oh Bella is devoid of personality and just a blank mind for Edward to imprint his own motivations onto? You may not think Bella is interesting, but Edward, like most teenagers finding themselves into someone for the first time, is fascinated beyond her peach skin and tasty platelets. They talk about music and literature and share values about family. Yes, Bella’s taste in books is 10th grade syllabi level, but she’s 17! And Melina Marchetta wasn’t big in the US in 2005. When I was 17 my favorite books were … you guessed it … Jane Eyre and Persuasion. I also really liked Lord of the Rings and Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Agatha Christie. Wow, so niche. The silliness here is not that Edward falls in love with her while she reads her Jane Austen Complete Novels in the sun (that’s cute as hell), it’s that he doesn’t have more books himself to talk about. And let’s not forget, Bella tells him her favorite novel for the moment is Tooth and Claw, which is nothing like the preening regency novels everyone thinks makes for no personality. According to the author, “It’s a sentimental Victorian novel about dragons who eat each other.” Go, Bella.
There’s more of course. Remember the book is a fantasy, and Edward’s favorite sibling, with whom he shares an incredibly close bond because of their mental connection, tells him that she will love Bella one day. Imagine the weight, the gravity of that knowledge. Alice knows and feels how she will one day be intimate with Bella, like a sister (something she probably doesn’t have with Rosalie, her current sister, who is also a bit of a piece of shit). Edward can hear Alice’s love for Bella in her mind. He wants that for her. But also, it must inform how he then looks at Bella. A woman who would be the close, intimate friend to the person he is closest to and knows the best. That’s a woman worth knowing, worth falling for.
Bella is also smart and capable. Yes, she’s constantly stumbling, and it’s annoying. Hi, I’m smart and capable but I twist my hair into weird knots when I am bored or anxious. None of us is perfect. But Bella is the one who insists on their current course to deflect James from Forks and her father. She’s correct. Bella, who knows nothing really of how Alice and Jasper’s powers work, is somehow able to evade them in Phoenix. And if you know how this story goes, Bella is able to save Edward’s life as well AND get him to make her a vampire eventually. Bella gets shit done.
Compare to the other hot couples of young adult fiction over the past decade or so. Harry Potter falls in love with Ginny Weasley … why? Because he desperately wants to be part of a loving, supportive family, and Ginny comes part and parcel with the one he loves best. Sure, she’s mildly humorous and several years after they meet he starts to get pants feelings for her shiny red hair, but there’s not much else there other than Ginny’s bravery (which most characters in the series have, and her wit, which we don’t see a lot of). But no one says the reasons that they love are thin.
Peeta Mellark falls in love with Katniss Everdeen because she sings prettily once and because she’s a needy urchin he can give bread to. Then he watches her silently for a couple of years until they are destined to kill one another. So he tries to silently protect her. Wow. What a unique love story. Of course, I love Peeta and his love for Katniss, but it’s not the all encompassing romance of Edward and Bella’s. The reasons Peeta loves Katniss in the beginning are slim, almost imagined, and even a bit condescending. It’s nothing to the raw infatuation, desire and intimacy that Edward feels for Bella, despite his original wanting to murder her.
I’ve read young adult novels with complicated, twisty, full-throated love between the main characters. Love that rips your heart out and surprises you. I think about why Jonah Griggs loves Taylor Markam and weep. But they are no less in love than Edward and Bella. It is simply that Midnight Sun and Twilight are the expressions of that inescapable love and desire. That IS the plot of those books. You either love falling into that hole of obsession and fawning, tension and release, or you don’t. I’d read 300 more pages of the ways in which Edward wishes he could be enough for Bella.
There are so many reasons outlined in Midnight Sun for why Edward falls in love with Bella that it is the laziest of critiques to see his desire as unsettling, or heaven forbid, boring. It’s teen love and obsession on steroids. You can go to town on the novel for all kinds of things, if you are so inclined (I’m not; I thought it was genius). But this is not one of them. It’s love. And it’s lovely.
If you missed it, we had an incredibly fun Book Club at The Cool Table last week, all about Midnight Sun and the Twilight fandom. Watch it here!
What do you LOVE about the love story of Midnight Sun?
Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).