Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Twilight" Comes Too Early

WARNING: This blog may include spoilers for the Twilight series.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my neighbor, a 10 year-old boy at PS 321 in Brooklyn, and found out that he had just started reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. Many of his friends and classmates were doing the same. This surprised me. I knew Twilight had engaged middle- and high-school readers, but I hadn’t realized it had reached a far as fifth-grade boys. And I was more than a little disturbed by this.

I’ve tried to find a non-biased summary of Twilight online, but it doesn’t seem to exist. So the following is my (very biased), but completely accurate, summary: The Twilight series is the story of Bella, a young girl who, in the first two books, falls in love with a vampire (Edward) and a werewolf (Jacob). She then spends the next two books pining over them, threatening to kill herself when one of them leaves her, distancing herself from her friends (so it’s not too hard to say goodbye when she finally becomes a vampire herself to join Edward), jumping off cliffs (to “hear Edward’s voice” getting mad at her), and purposely endangering herself so she will be rescued by these supernatural non-men.

"Despite all its modern accoutrements, the girls of Twilight are still girly girls, and the boys are traditional manly men. More specifically: The boys are muscular and unwaveringly brave, while the girls bake cookies, make supper for the men and hold all-female slumber parties. It gets worse for feminists: Bella is regularly threatened with violence in the first three books, and in every instance she is rescued by Edward or Jacob. In the third book she describes herself as ‘helpless and delicious.'"

Is that how we want young girls defining themselves? This is 2009: What about capable and strong? The Twilight books indicate that being “helpless and delicious” are attractive and desirable qualities. And are these hunky netherworld types the role models for young boys to follow? The young men in Twilight are all head over heels for Bella Swan.

Beth Handman, PS 321’s assistant principal, says, “It is a perennial problem in elementary schools that children who are sophisticated readers end up with books laden with concepts that are beyond their emotional development. Young children can be very vulnerable to messages in literature. It would be best if children could wait until they were older to read these kinds of books.”

If that means they’re reading books like Twilight, parents and teachers should be familiar with the content and engage them in conversations on the messages and morals. Better yet, read it yourself — and decide whether it’s right for your child.