One of my first experiences of profound disappointment in a book (that I didn’t read for class) that I can remember was with Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn. Yes, reader, I was a Twilight fan; you can laugh if you want. But the thought of 13-year-old me being obsessed with Twilight isn’t ridiculous to me at all. I was, after all, a lonely teenager who felt “different” from his peers for some reason (just like Bella, omg!) and had very idealistic ideas about what romance was, and I just happened to love vampires. Of course I liked it. Meyer, for all her faults as a writer, was incredibly good at weeding out specific little details about teenage loneliness and grabbing the reader with them. I felt understood and comforted by Bella’s wannabe Dorothy Parker observations, even if I didn’t always find them funny.
Like any fantasy, however, it wasn’t meant to last forever. Upon reading Breaking Dawn’s nightmarish Xenomorph baby-filled conclusion, I was made painfully aware of the series’ faults: the repetitious and clunky prose, the lack of true lasting conflict with real consequences, the racism, the bizarre and creepy ideas about what constitutes a healthy relationship, the racism, the glorification of women’s suffering, and did I mention the racism? I was horrified. I liked this? Why was I okay with this before? I had to figure out why I felt the way I felt. So I did something I thought I’d never do before: I started reading criticism of Twilight on the Internet. It’s not that I hadn’t been aware of the backlash to Twilight. I’m not sure how anyone could have been unaware: it was just as omnipresent as the fandom. The form the backlash often took, however, was what completely turned me off. Most of it amounted to little more than calling Edward a fag or saying that the series was gay and sucked because the vampires sparkled (which turned me off for…obvious reasons), or various flavors of misogyny ranging from calling Bella a bitch because she “friendzoned” Jacob to calling women in general bitches for liking things, because men have never enjoyed anything weird or gross or awful.
The whole thing was definitely a learning experience, kind of a Baby’s First Women’s & Gender Studies. I did manage to find some more intelligent and insightful critiques on the series (most written by women, imagine that) that actually talked about the issues I’d brought up before and a lot more that I hadn’t even thought of, but the bad or even thoughtless ones were so toxic that they complicated my feelings. I didn’t feel entirely ready to abandon Twilight just yet; after all, I did spend a lot of a formative period of my life reading it and identifying with it, or at least parts of it. Was it really so simple as just loving or hating something?
Turns out, it wasn’t.