Potential spoiler alert: If you haven't read all of the Divergent series and think you might like to, proceed with caution. I don't give away much plot, but I do quote the ending.
I read Twilight in college and felt disgusted with myself. I swore I wouldn't waste any more of my time or brainpower on the rest of the darn books, but I just had to know how it ended. I committed an act of biblio-heresy: I skipped the middle two books in favor of reading the last one, to know the conclusion.
Sure, I was a little confused, but my friends (befuddled by my choice) graciously filled in some holes for me.
And yet, when senior-year boredom hit, I succumbed to the inevitable and went back to read New Moon and Eclipse.
A few years later a friend recommended The Host to me, Stephanie Meyer's non-Twilight book. Having caved to the Twilight craze, I read it and was astonished to find that maybe Meyer wasn't such a horrible writer after all. While it didn't change my opinion of the actual writing in Twilight (which is rather low, in case you couldn't tell), it helped to change my opinion of the author.
Given the wave of dystopian young adult fiction that has taken over the psyches of people aged 12-112, I think it's worth examining, rather than scorning out of hand.
Maybe I am biased and I only say that because I rather enjoy it.
But I went to a play the other night, and one of the characters, a professor of comparative literature, promoted reading Twilight with his book club. Sure, he was doing it because his fiancee had jilted him at the altar because he wasn't Edward Cullen, but his larger point was this: we literary snobs may not acknowledge its worth, but if millions of people the world over have devoured it, in tens of languages no less, then there's something to it. And we owe it to ourselves as cultural participants in the literary landscape to give it a shot and see what it's all about.
I, who unironically love Nicholas Sparks, can hardly protest.
I am late to most trends, and young adult fiction was no different. I avoided Harry Potter until the second book was already out because I thought I didn't like fantasy. But I was gifted the first (in paperback!) for Christmas one year, devoured it, and immediately cajoled my grandmother into taking me to buy the second because I NEEDED it. After that I pre-ordered every single one. When the last book came out I was in Boston with my parents and knew that my hardcover copy was waiting for me at the bookstore at home but I just. Couldn't. Wait. My mom told me if I could find a local bookstore in Boston that would make for a fun outing to visit, we could buy it there instead. I found one, that also had a cafe, and we had a lovely breakfast there. I lugged that darn book around Boston with me ALL DAY and stayed up late in the bathroom of our shared hotel room devouring it.
I guess I might like fantasy after all.
I love immersing myself in this world that is entirely "other" from mine. I love the page-turning plots, the character twists, the utter escapism. And I have to say, I think there is a lot we can learn from this fiction.
I recently took the plunge into the Divergent series expecting to enjoy it with Twilight level angst and slight self-loathing. And while the writing and characters were firmly "of a type," I was pleasantly surprised by the series' portrayal of love and loss.
I was firmly Team Jacob in the Twilight world. I hated Edward and Bella. I think they made each other less, and the book where Edward was gone and the pages were blank for months and months of Bella's life made me sick. Letting yourself be subsumed like that is not love. Needing someone so much that you can't exist without them is extremely unhealthy. Jacob made Bella come alive. They had fun together. They had real conversations. So I could never give myself over to the whole Edward thing.
Tobias and Tris in Divergent offered a refreshingly real example of a relationship (if you can look past the fact that they're 16). They were okay giving each other space. They had angry conversations to work through their disappointments in one another. And man, did they handle loss.
This is love:
I fell in love with him. But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.
Hello! This is Marriage 101. Focus on the Family stuff. And here it is in black and white on the pages of a novel for young adults. (Okay, sure, she's 16 when she says this, which I find hard to believe. So we'll put that aside in favor of the truth of it.)
She tells him, "I think you're still the only person sharp enough to sharpen someone like me." Exactly the sentiment I missed from Bella toward Edward.
And at the end of the book, Tobias concludes,
Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can't escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.
Damn! When I read that line I felt like a weight had settled onto my chest. The weight of a deep truth. And if we avoided dystopian young adult fiction because it's, well, dystopian young adult fiction, we might miss that truth, and the simple way it's written so that teenagers can understand.
I'm all for parents playing an active role in what their kids read. If you're nervous about something, by all means, read it first, and shield them from it if you choose. But when a pop fiction book allows for this much analysis, if it encourages self-proclaimed non-readers to stay up late with a flashlight (or, who am I kidding, a backlit tablet) reading under the covers, if it encourages us to talk about life and love and truth and beauty...then shoot, I am all for it.