Saturday, March 20, 2010

Breaking Dawn

This is the fourth in a series of posts Christian Children's Book Review is offering, examining the wildly popular and controversial Twilight series of books.

Breaking Dawn, the last book of the Twilight series, begins with Edward and Bella's wedding. After a few weeks of marriage, they realize Bella is pregnant. The conception and birth of this baby sets in motion several dramatic confrontations. First, Bella will not give in to anyone's arguments to terminate the pregnancy, despite the enormous risk to her life. The baby grows at an accelerated speed, and is much stronger than Bella. Bella suffers many physical symptoms, and only "survives" childbirth when Edward changes her into a vampire.

The other confrontations occur when Sam (the leader of the werewolves), and then the Volturi, learn the baby is on the way. Legends say vampire toddlers are extremely dangerous and can have a temper tantrum and kill an entire town in an afternoon. When Sam decides Bella and the baby must be destroyed to protect human life, Jacob and Seth refuse to help. Since Jacob is the rightful heir, he is the only werewolf who can challenge Sam. Rather than fight Sam, he and Seth start a new wolf pack and warn Edward of Sam's plan. After the baby is born, Jacob imprints on her, and the wolves realize she is not like children who are changed into vampires. Rather, as half human and half vampire, she does not have any trouble resisting human blood. Sam's wolves also agree to protect the Cullens, and an uneasy peace is created.

Peace doesn't last long, however. The Volturi learn of the child's existence and also decide to attack the Cullens and destroy the baby. Their ulterior motive in seeking a confrontation is to force Edward, Alice and Bella to abandon their family and join the Volturi. The Cullens convince witnesses to testify the baby is growing much faster than normal, and will soon become a "normal" vampire. The presence of the witnesses and Bella's unique ability to "shield" the minds of her family and friends from the Volturi's evil attacks make the Volturi reconsider their actions and depart in peace.

Issue: After graduation, but before Bella's 19th birthday, Edward and Bella get married.

Pro: They love each other and take their relationship seriously, so they get married in order to express their commitment to be with each other forever.

Con: Bella chooses to get married instead of attend college at Dartmouth. Because she ends up pregnant on her honeymoon, she is unable to attend.

Issue: Edward and Bella have sex on their wedding night (and throughout the book, as newlyweds).

Pro: Meyer places sex in its proper context - within marriage. Edward remains true to his determination to marry Bella before sleeping with her. He takes great care to plan their wedding night to be a beautiful celebration, and not an afterthought. Meyer also shows the reality of a sexual encounter when Bella remarks, "This felt exactly like having to walk out in front of a theater full of thousands with no idea what my lines were. How did people do this - swallow all their fears and trust someone else so implicitly with every imperfection and fear they had - with less than the absolute commitment Edward had given me?" This provides a vivid contrast to Hollywood movies and typical romance novels, where people often meet, flirt, and fall into bed together.

Con: Although the sex scenes are not graphic, and leave much to the imagination, it still is probably not a good idea for teenage girls to imagine sex scenes at all. Again, since most girls won't get married until well after high school, or even after college, reading romance novels in high school may awaken desires before girls are ready to handle them.

Issue: Due to Edward's superhuman strength, Bella wakes up the morning after their first sexual encounter with bruises all over her body.

Pro: Unlike an abusive relationship where violence is excused and escalates, Edward is horrified, and makes sure he never harms Bella during sex again. Initially, he refuses to sleep with her, but then he learns to be more careful. (He destroys some pillows and a couple bed frames instead.)

Con: Some critics still feel Edward has abusive qualities and do not think his relationship with Bella is a healthy model for teens.

Issue: Bella becomes pregnant on her honeymoon.

Pro: First, Bella's unexpected pregnancy is a good wake-up call for readers. Sex, in or out of marriage, can lead to babies. Second, Bella absolutely refuses to consider aborting the baby, even though Carlisle (Edward's father, who is a doctor) is almost sure she will die trying to deliver the baby. Bella is willing to endure broken ribs, malnourishment, IV feeding tubes, and drinking blood (bought from hospital supplies) in order to keep the baby alive.

Con: When Bella delivers the baby, she nearly dies, but Edward changes her into a vampire in order to save her life. Her death doesn't seem like a true sacrifice, as she has always wanted to be a vampire, anyhow.

Issue: For most of the book, Jacob is still madly in love with Bella, and decides to break apart his wolf pack in order to defend her and the vampires.

Pro: We see Jacob set aside his own feelings and stand up to his pack in order to protect Bella, even though she is married and will never return his love in a romantic way.

Many critics feel Jacob, Edward and Bella have unhealthy obsessions with each other, to the exclusion of "normal" relationships with friends and family.

Bella, as a vampire, is agile, beautiful, smart, and ends up saving the Cullens and their friends from being wiped out by the Volturi.

Pro: It is nice to see Bella finally realize she has amazing qualities and deserves Edward's love and admiration.

Con: I wish she would have learned to see herself as Edward saw her when she was still human. Becoming a vampire is a magical solution not available to readers, most of whom will only identify with the human Bella.

Issue: As a "newborn" vampire, Bella shows unprecedented self-control and is able to be around humans without drinking their blood.

Pro: Bella's self-control mirrors Edward's when he first fell in love with her. It also allows her to see Charlie (her dad) and remain an important part of his life. Again, readers see self-control is possible if you love someone enough. This goes against society's "if it feels good, do it," mentality.

Con: Being a vampire in the first place.

Issue: Bella and Edward live happily ever after, with their daughter, Renesmee, who has imprinted on Jacob. Jacob is no longer tortured by the thought of Bella being married, but has settled into a pleasant part of their family.

Pro: Who doesn't like a happy ending?

Con: Bella's wish to live with Edward forever is granted, but it could make readers feel living a mere lifetime is too short. Our hope should be in heaven, not in immortality.

Age Appeal: Publisher lists young adult (14-21), but I would say 18 and up. Again, however, I would rather talk to younger teens about the books than have them read the book without telling me.

Publisher Info: Little, Brown and Company, 2008; ISBN: 978-0-316-06792-8; Hardcover, $22.99

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