Monday, February 19, 2007

review: New Moon

(As you can see, I got over it...)

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer. Little, Brown, 2006 (978-0-316-16019-3) $17.99

The end of Twilight left readers with many questions. Could love survive between ordinary teen Bella and vampire Edward, who thirsts for her blood? For that matter, could Bella survive? Would Edward ever agree to change her into a vampire? And if not, would they ever be able to get it on? (Admit it--you wondered.) Are these questions answered in the sequel? Only sort of... and only after a major detour in Edward and Bella's relationship.

Bella was too busy being in love and in danger in Twilight to spend much time worrying about the complications inherent in being with Edward, but as New Moon opens, they are becoming impossible to ignore. For Bella, the worst thing is turning eighteen, officially one year older than the eternally seventeen Edward. Edward is far more concerned that a simple paper cut almost turned her into the main course for his vampire "family" at her birthday party.

In a scene of unmitigated agony, Edward breaks up with Bella, leaving town for what he promises will be forever: "I won't put you through anything like this again. You can go on with your life without any more interference with me. It will be as if I'd never existed." He even convinces her, in classic romance hero fashion, that he no longer loves her. (Her willingness to believe this is seriously implausible, and will only become more so.) Bella descends into a months-long daze, her life literally a series of empty pages, finally coming out of it to discover a strange rebelliousness: "I wanted to be stupid and reckless, and I wanted to break promises." Her dangerous mood leads her to an old friend, Jacob, and a brand new series of issues involving dangerous creatures of the night.

As Twilight so exquisitely showed the overpowering intensity of first love, New Moon achingly reveals the shattering anguish of love's loss. Perhaps inevitably, it's less mesmerizing than the first book, making structural flaws harder to ignore. The middle section of New Moon feels a lot like a rerun of Twilight--and a rerun lacking Edward is just not worth it, though Jacob is an appealing character. The premise that Bella is so insecure, she doesn't realize Edward is only trying to protect her, fails to convince. A whole new scary batch of undead characters are introduced almost at the end of the story. And I feel increasingly frustrated that no one in the books--not even Edward, who is sensible enough to fear for Bella's soul--brings up any of the other big issues you'd think someone should consider before choosing immortality at age eighteen. (Never having children? Never having any kind of settled life? Boredom?)

None of that makes New Moon a bad story--and inasmuch as I'm still dying to find out what happens next, it's a very successful one. But Meyer has almost painted herself into a corner by the end of the book; without some kind of definitive conclusion to Bella and Edward's "impasse" regarding her mortality, the series could easily slide into tiresomely sustained melodrama. Which would be tragic, because it's a deeply affecting romance. (13 & up)