9 YA Authors On Why "Twilight" Is So Important
It got a lot of hate, but there's no doubt Twilight changed YA forever.
1. A celebration of firsts
Not to sound dramatic, but Twilight changed my existence. It was passed back and forth between classmates in my freshman year of high school, each of us awed by how a story articulated what we desperately wanted: to be seen and deemed exceptional despite all evidence to the contrary.
Twilight is a celebration of firsts – that first glance of infatuation that tilts your horizon and makes you think about emotions so powerful they span eternity; first touch, and its dangers, not the least of which is THIS DUDE MIGHT KILL YOU, IDK, BUT LOOK HOW HE SPARKLES! As a teenager, all my emotions were extremes. Everything was life or death.
Twilight made sense to me. As I’ve grown older and changed, Twilight has become a read evocative of its own name: a soft, nostalgic glow in the half-dark of growing up.
2. An empowered heroine (yes, really)
This might be an unpopular opinion, but one of the things that's always stuck with me about Twilight is its heroine. Bella Swan has been heavily criticised over her lifespan: as a damsel in distress, as always needing to be saved, and as passive. And it's true that Bella is definitely in a position of little power in the series: not only is she a human in a cast of vampires and werewolves, she's also a girl in a circle populated by magical patriarchal boys.
However, what Bella does – and this is what really struck me when I first encountered the series, and something I thought about a lot when I was writing Pearl, the heroine of my Valentine series – is negotiate her way to a position of power. Realistically, she has no power, but she knows what she wants; for instance, she wants to be a vampire, and she wants to have sex with Edward. Having identified these goals (and we can criticise these goals all we like, but the fact is this: the girl knows what she wants), Bella doesn't ever stop pursuing them, despite the protestations of Edward, Jacob and assorted others. And she gets them, too – even if we probably all could have done without that horrifying childbirth/vamp transformation scene. In short, I don't think she's passive at all. Despite having no power, Bella negotiates her way to what she wants (which includes, as it turns out, power of her own).
3. The vampire thing
I wasn't really bitten by the vampire bug until long after Twilight was released. There was something about the hype that turned me off. In my mind, vampires were a cliché that just wouldn't die. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I broke down and watched it with a group of Twi-hard friends. Laughing and gasping with them, I let my guard down and allowed myself to get wrapped up in the drama. Credits rolled and I felt guilty for shaming vampires and their fans for so long. What did vampires ever do to me? What made me so cynical? It was then I knew I had to give vamps a chance. I had to write my own little vampire story. After a deep dive into all the vampire culture I stubbornly ignored for so long, I was completely infatuated. I couldn't stop thinking about fangs and blood and a crush that could last through the ages. If only vampires were, you know, real.
–Whitney Gardner, author of Fake Blood
4. An inspiring publication journey
Twilight is, in many ways, a wish-fulfilment fantasy, but if I had an unconscious wish when I first read the book, it wasn’t to be like Bella – it was to be like Stephenie Meyer.
Meyer came out of nowhere, a stay-at-home mom with an English degree who had a dream about a vampire and a teen girl in a meadow. I was a lawyer who practiced civil anti-terrorism litigation who had an idea for a novel based on an inside family joke. Like me, Meyer had no background in publishing, no MFA. Like her, I’d also written a book based on an instinct and an impulse. I didn’t even know Twilight existed when I wrote it, not until I told one of my friends that I’d finished my very first, very bad draft but despaired of ever fixing or finishing it. She told me to send it to her, and I did.
“IT REMINDS ME OF TWILIGHT!!!!!” she wrote the next day.
“What’s Twilight?” I wrote back.
That was in August 2009. That same week, I read the book, watched the movie, became obsessed, and did a deep dive into the Twilight universe and backstory. Twilight initially faced rejection from agents and publishers. It wasn’t an obvious hit—stories that appeal to girls and women tend not to be. But Meyer kept at it until it was published, and because of her conviction that her book belonged on shelves, her dream ended up changing the entire publishing landscape, paving the way for books like mine which featured an unlikely pairing of teenagers at its heart. Meyer’s origin story inspired me to keep working on Mara’s, and for that, I’ll always owe her.
–Michelle Hodkin, author of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and The Reckoning of Noah Shaw
5. The YA revolution
Before YA became the juggernaut of publishing that it is now, I struggled to find my place as a reader when I was a teenager. I had progressed beyond the children’s section of my bookstore, but wasn’t ready to pick between the genres of horror, romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery or crime. Then, in 2005, Twilight entered my life.
I’d never felt so akin to a protagonist as I did with Bella. She didn’t have any super powers, she wasn’t great with boys or the popular kid, and she didn’t have her life together. She was, however, a great student, nice to her parents, a loyal friend, and, most importantly, bookish. She was me. And yet someone as gorgeously handsome and remarkable as Edward Cullen fell in love with her. As a young adult who often felt unlovable, shy and incredibly self-conscious, reading Twilight reassured me that someone, someday, would love me – and even my flaws. You see, I was also clumsy like Bella!
While Bella’s character (and the series as whole) has received a barrage of criticism over the past 10 years for being weak, what makes her so accessible is that she is the “every” girl. This is what makes Twilight so powerful. It allows the reader to project themselves, and their personality, into the role – the ultimate wish fulfilment.
Twilight also reignited my passion for writing, which I had put on hold while studying at university. It embodied the kind of book I wanted to write; something fun, escapist and absorbing. Something to lose sleep over. Something to dream about. I loved reading Twilight so much that I reread each chapter twice, hoping to draw out the experience for as long as possible. I also read countless amounts of fanfiction, wanting to remain in the world Meyer had built. That was the kind of book I wanted to write.
—Astrid Scholte, author of Four Dead Queens (February 2019)
6. A whole new world of fanfic
I hold a great deal of affection for Twilight, not only because it was the bandwagon I desperately needed during the drudgery of an unsatisfying uni degree, but also for the books, genres and communities it introduced me to.
I totally inhaled the series – the first book came out the year I graduated high school, and I started reading them in my first year of uni. I found it a fantastic reprieve from the school reading I was bogged down in, and it was the first time in a long time that I could remember reading something so fun.
Twilight was the adrenaline shot I needed, to kick-start a reading expedition into more paranormal stories and specifically, paranormal romance. I had such an appetite because of Stephenie Meyer; and thanks to algorithms, fellow book-bloggers and fansite chat-rooms, Twilight led me to some of my favourite authors who I still read religiously to this day. I read Charlaine Harris, Richelle Mead, Patricia Briggs, Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh and so many more because of Meyer. All those books and authors opened my eyes to genre in a way that I'd never embraced before. And even more importantly, reading them introduced me to blogs like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Book Thingo who totally celebrated romance as a feminist genre, and a matriarchal one at that – mostly women writing about women, for majority female audience, and actively highlighting female sexuality and pleasure.
More importantly though, my disgruntlement with Breaking Dawn led me to first writing fanfiction in response...and being embraced by the Twilight fanfic community gave me the confidence I needed to start writing my own stories.
Overwhelmingly, I owe Twilight a great deal of thanks for connecting me to books and writing communities, and teaching me a little something about the wider subversive and feminist nature of the romance genre – even if Twilight itself didn't necessarily excel at representing it.
–Danielle Binks, editor and contributor to Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYa Anthology
7. A passionate community
Twilight was a complete game-changer for me. People always scoff when I tell them it changed my life, but that’s the honest truth. I’m an author and a YouTuber: Twilight brought me to YouTube because I needed to watch all the parodies it had inspired; and Twilight is the story that made me believe in my own ability to finish a book. Without this enchanting, all-consuming saga, I would never have accidentally wandered onto the career path I’m on today. The joy and sense of community that the Twilight fandom brought me during my freshman year of college was priceless. These books were my happy place. It's the first – and to this day, only – series my mom actually picked up and read along with me. Twilight ignited a love for reading in myself and millions of other people around the world and I will be forever grateful for that.
—Christine Riccio, author of Again, But Better (May 2019)
8. A lesson on sexism
I was 19 when my first novel, Loathing Lola was released the same day as Breaking Dawn, so I was always destined to have complicated feelings about the Twilight series (read: I was bitter af). While Breaking Dawn was a runaway hit, my book languished, collecting dust. I avoided reading the series out of spite and some misplaced desire to present as super masculine, and I was first exposed to the story on the big screen. I giggled at it with friends and wrote sassy blog posts railing against it because it was 2009.
But then I began to tour Australian schools, and standing on the frontline, I saw the impact the books had on teenagers. The series lit a spark in readers that I recognised. They read well-worn copies by their lockers at lunch, just as I had read the books I'd treasured. I was the dickhead who "hated" something he'd never read, mostly because he was a guy, the books weren't for him, and the vampires were just so sparkly. I sought out copies, and years late, I read and enjoyed each.
And while I haven't revisited the series, I will always remember it fondly as the reason I no longer doubt or diminish stories for garbage sexist reasons. Life's too short. So what if vampires sparkle?
—Will Kostakis, author of The Sidekicks and Monuments (September 2019)
9. The power of the female gaze
I was instantly hooked on Twilight. A friend lent me her copy, and within two hours I was messaging her begging to borrow the sequel, New Moon, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop reading. When I realised I wouldn’t see her until the next day, I went out and bought my own copy anyway – I was that addicted.
Twilight is not without its problems. Even reading it that first time, I could see them. And yet there was something about it that pulled me in and kept me coming back for more. And I certainly wasn’t alone.
In hindsight, what strikes me about Twilight is how, for all of its regressive gender politics, the whole series is essentially about female sexuality and female lust. Even now, it’s rare to read or watch anything in mainstream media that is so explicitly about a young girl’s sexual desire. It really leans into the female gaze and normalises teen girl horniness. As much as we joke about Edward being a 108-year-old virgin and Stephanie Meyer’s mormon values affecting the plot, it’s kind of amazing to have a story based entirely around a teen girl wanting sex – and a teen boy rejecting it. It totally flips the usual narrative and it’s one of the things I unashamedly love about Twilight to this day.
—Jenna Guillaume, BuzzFeed editor-at-large and author of What I Like About Me