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J. Z. Kelley's Blog Posts

Ranking Stephenie Meyer’s Edward Apologetics: Tier List, Part I

Content note: This blog post discusses domestic violence and abuse, child abuse, grooming, the sexualization of minors, and hetero-allonormativity in the context of the Twilight series.

I finished the Midnight Sun audiobook a little after midnight last Saturday, and a little after midnight-thirty wrote a quickie Goodreads review that was basically:

Liked the narrator, hated the second half. Meyer’s defenses of Edward have gotten more sophisticated since Life and Death. Mostly.

But I’ve slept since then, and I’m not so sure anymore.

About the defenses, I mean. The narrator really committed to growling Edward’s lines. 10/10, I want him to star in the remake.

So I’m doing the YouTuber thing and making a tier list for the ways in which Stephenie Meyer has attempted to justify, excuse, and minimize Edward’s–well, really just his entire character. I’ll be ranking defenses from 3 different sources:

  • Life and Death
  • Midnight Sun (specifically the published version, not the leaked version)
  • Q&As on Meyer’s website and the Twilight Lexicon

I won’t be considering fanworks, film adaptations, or interviews. There’s too much Twilight content to examine it all.

In evaluating the defenses, I’ll only be considering 2 factors: Does it actually justify, excuse, or mitigate Edward’s actions? And if so, how well does it align with book canon?

I’ll describe the different tiers (S through F) in more detail in a second. First …

A gif of Edward carrying Bella on his back captioned, “You better hold on tight, spider monkey.”

Why does Edward need defending?

I could touch on the fraught issues of fandom and author-reader relationships here, but this isn’t a three-hour long YouTube video and I don’t enjoy suffering.

Let’s just agree to accept that Stephenie Meyer is really attached to one particular interpretation of her characters. She wants the Twilight series to be read as an epic, overcoming-all-odds, star-crossed love story, and she’s been fighting (on and off, with varying degrees of intensity) against alternate interpretations for the past ten years.

Or, really just one alternate interpretation: that the Twilight series is about a young girl (Bella) with low self esteem and the old man (Edward) who gaslights and abuses her into believing they’re in love.

Some evidence in favor of this second interpretation:

  • Edward is 104 when he begins a romantic relationship with Bella, who is seventeen.
  • He stalks her, before and during their relationship, using his ability to mind read in order to observe her when he is not physically able to see her and sneaking into her bedroom to watch her sleep.
  • He warns her that he (at least partially) wants to kill her, and he regularly reminds her how easy that would be for him, as a vampire.
  • He consistently demeans her and insists she doesn’t know what she truly wants or what’s best for her.
  • Edward threatens to leave Bella at regular intervals, keeping her on edge.
  • He is terrifying and unpredictable.
  • When Edward does lose control, he blames Bella: for making him want her, for being so fragile, for not following his orders.
  • He isolates Bella from her human friends. She stops sitting with them at lunch and hanging out with them outside of school in order to spend all of her time with Edward.
  • He attempts to isolate Bella from her werewolf friend, Jacob, going so far as to disable her truck so that she cannot visit Jacob without Edward’s permission.
  • Edward uses information and affection as “rewards” for Bella’s “good” behavior.
  • At other times, he withholds information in order to control Bella’s behavior.
  • In addition to the above, Edward attempts to control every aspect of Bella’s existence, from the vehicle she drives to her short- and long-term plans for the future.
  • He even attempts to force Bella to have an abortion against her will.

Interestingly, that last item on the list is the only one Meyer never attempts to defend. (She’s Mormon, and pro-life rhetoric permeates the books.)

A horrible Blingee disaster. The background is trees. In the middle left, there’s a gif of Edward and Bella climbing a tree. In the bottom right, there’s a still image of Edward and Bella kissing. There are hearts and roses and glitter. It’s captioned, “and so the lion fell in love with the lamb. what a stupid lamb/ what a sick masochistic lion / I <3 YOU.”

The Tiers

S Tier: “Do I dazzle you?”

I don't think I'm going to find anything in this tier, but if we come across any defenses that fully line up with the text and make me think Edward's actions were actually justified, they'll go here.

A Tier: “Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”

For defenses that are textually supported and make me think yeah, what Edward did wasn't great, but it was necessary. 

B Tier: “I am not really breaking any rules.”

You know how sometimes people say things that are technically true but not at all true in spirit? Those kinds of defenses.

C Tier: “… love gave someone the power to break you.”

For defenses that only sort of do what they're supposed to. I'd guess 90% of these will not really match up with what's on the page.

D Tier: “What if I’m not a superhero. What if I’m the bad guy?”

Bad job, insufficient effort, are you referring to a different book?

F Tier: “… as long as I’m going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.”

If any of Meyer's defenses actually make me think less of Edward, I'll put them here.
2 panel cartoon. In the first panel, a man in a tie crosses his arm, frowning. In the second panel, he throws up his arms and says, “I GUESS.”

Defense 1: Edward is actually 17.

Source: Midnight Sun, Twilight Lexicon. It’s actually in Twilight as well, which should tell you something about its effectiveness.

Effective?: Sure. If Edward had been cryo-frozen for 87 years, learning and experiencing nothing, his actual date of birth wouldn’t matter. But …

Canon?: This is super weird, because even though Edward claims to be seventeen “in every way that matters,” Meyer says herself:

 Edward is emotionally and intellectually more adult than a modern seventeen-year-old, due to the times in which he lived. In his world, he was old enough to be considered a man. People his age were getting married and beginning their lives. He was about to join the military and go fight in the Great War. Developmentally, he was an adult. So he is able to understand and absorb this century he’s lived through, to gain perspective from it.

This perspective is what makes him think of his classmates as children, coupled with the fact that they are so helpless in comparison with himself.

Personal Correspondence 9, Twilight Lexicon

Edward:

✔ Thinks of his classmates as children.
✔ Remembers at least 87 years of un-life, with some hazy memories of his life before he became a vampire.
✔ Has 2 medical degrees.
✔ Can read the minds of everyone around him, witnessing and learning from their thoughts and experiences.
✔ Has outlived all his human family and friends.
✔ Has a completely different physiology than when he was a human seventeen-year-old.
✔ Is generally very emotionally even keeled (except when it comes to Bella).

In what way, aside from his appearance, is he “really” seventeen, Stephenie?

However, Edward still is a teenage boy in many ways. This is his first experience with romantic love, his first kiss, just as it is for Bella.

Personal Correspondence 9, Twilight Lexicon

Cool, cool, cool. That’s not a fucked up or harmful thing to say at all.

I’m not going to dig into the implications of that statement because this was supposed to be a fun project, and I’m worried that explicitly saying that your maturity is commiserate with your sexual and romantic experience is both -phobic in like 87 ways and also exactly the kind of thing someone grooming a child would say will ruin it for everyone.

Verdict: Tier C

Gif of Rosalie (Edward’s vampire “sister”) shattering a glass salad bowl.

Defense 2: Bella’s really mature for her age.

Source: Twilight Lexicon. It’s part of the answer quoted above, and oh boy, you are not ready for it:

[Edward] thinks of Bella as just one of the “children” until he becomes interested in her. Then he begins to learn how mature she is for her age, just like him …

Personal Correspondence 9, Twilight Lexicon

Effective?: NOPE. This is what literally every predator tells the child he’s grooming.

Canon?: I mean, I don’t want to call a teenager immature for meeting a cute boy and instantly deciding she wants to literally give up her life to be with him forever, but I wouldn’t call that the height of emotional maturity either.

Bella does take on an unusual amount of responsibility at home – cooking, cleaning, protecting, and otherwise caring for her parents – but that isn’t maturity either. It’s parentification.

Verdict: Tier F

Gif of Robert Pattinson in a Breaking Dawn interview saying, “I would like to break the hands and mouth of the person who came up with it.”

Defense 3: Bella’s human friends suck (figuratively).

Source: Midnight Sun, Twilight Lexicon. It’s the part of the answer quoted above, and oh boy, you are not ready for it:

The other girls at school are fairly immature and petty. Their minds are a turn off … 🙂

Personal Correspondence 9, Twilight Lexicon

Effective?: I guess!

Canon?: Technically, almost. Edward can hear the thoughts of all his classmates, and the only person in the entire school who’s ever had a single kind, unselfish thought about Bella is Angela. Which is gross, Meyer’s misogyny is definitely showing, but I’m not ranking these based on if they’re effective and canon but I hate them.

Verdict: Tier B

Gif of Regina George from Mean Girls saying, “We want to invite you to have lunch with us.”

It’s once again midnight thirty, and this post is getting long, so in the tradition of Breaking Dawn, check back for an unnecessary but commercially lucrative part two.

I’ll go over the five blanket excuses Meyer tries to toss over all of Edward’s garbage fire decisions. If you’re good and don’t go anywhere or do anything without me, maybe I’ll also share my absolute favorite apologetic, for which Twilight fans had to wait fifteen years.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: Run With the Hunted 3: Standard Operating Procedure by Jennifer R. Donohue

Cover image for Run With the Hunted 3: Standard Operating Procedure by Jennifer R. Donohue

Dolly’s book is not at all what I expected. It’s … nice? Which feels weird for the traumatized ex-supersoldier-turned-criminal-weapons-and-vehicles-expert who spent most of the precious books salivating over the prospect of facing off against multiple black ops organizations, but I’m here for it.

For the uninitiated: Run With the Hunted is a cyperpunk novella series about a group of friends (“associates,” Bristol would say) who travel the world, bicker, take care of each other, and sometimes steal literally priceless objects. Each novella is narrated by one of the friends: book one is Bristol’s, book two is Bits’s, and book three is (finally!!!!!) Dolly’s. Also, Dolly is the best.

In Run With the Hunted 3: Standard Operating Procedure, Bristol is still coping with the events of book two, and the rest of her team decides to help her out with that by going along with her very good, very smart, very well considered plan to steal the world’s most expensive dog. Even though none of them know how to take care of a dog. Even though they don’t really know why this particular dog is so valuable or who’s going to be paying them to get her.

This is not important to the plot, but I feel like potential readers should be aware: There are actually two dogs in this book. One is a robot. Both are very good dogs. Neither dies. Like I said, this is a nice book.

In a lot of ways, Standard Operating Procedure feels a prequel. The stakes are lower, and as the most contemplative member of the team, Dolly’s narration is full of flashbacks and character details. We learn what Dolly thinks her life would have looked like if not for the super-solider program, and we learn more about what her life actually has looked like until this point.

The memories of her childhood in the rural south deliver a pitch-perfect blend of nostalgia and despair and yearning. Then someone from her childhood shows up in her present, and that’s perfect too, tense and hopeful and sometimes hilarious.

Other highlights include the incredible action sequence on a bridge that I will be writing fanfiction about until I die and the way Donohue always writes dogs as though she is the world’s foremost dog expert. (She is.)

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed the previous two, as well as to people who are on the fence. If you wanted book one to deliver more found family feelings and you wanted book two to explain things more clearly, you will love book three. Hell, I love this book and its big, tough, secretly soft narrator so much that I’d recommend reading the first two books just to get this one, and I loved the first two books. The only bad thing I can say about this one is that I’m going to have to wait through two more books to return to Dolly’s narration.

More Info

Publisher: Self-published
Paperback Page Count: 156

Follow Jen Donohue on Twitter or her blog for writing updates and pictures of her Doberman. Then you can get the book and support your local independent bookstore on Bookshop.org, or you can buy it on Amazon.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: Run With the Hunted 2: Ctrl Alt Delete by Jennifer R. Donohue

Cover image for Run With the Hunted 2: Ctrl Alt Delete by Jennifer R. Donohue

If Run with the Hunted was a lighthearted heist story in the vein of Ocean’s 8, Ctrl Alt Delete is a buddy road trip story similar to Thelma and Louise, minus the sexual assault. The second book in the series manages to raise the stakes not by adding a third or fourth shady government agency, but by making the danger more personal and the path forward even less clear. I was genuinely so worried about Bits (the narrator of this story) and a new side character that I had to put the book down and take a break a couple of times.

An uncertain number of months after the diamond heist, Dolly pulls Bits out of VR immersion—and out of hiding—for a much more personal job. They need to steal Bristol back from the black site where she’s being held before the government realizes exactly who she is. It’s too complicated and dangerous a job for Dolly to do alone, but Bits is suffering from unexplained migraines, lost time, nose bleeds, memory loss, and a strange inability to even hear what happened between the diamond heist and Bristol’s arrest.

Like the first book in the series, Ctrl Alt Delete is fast paced and short enough to read in an afternoon—assuming you don’t have to take breaks because of how worried you are about the characters. I liked getting to know Bits and Dolly (my love! who gets significantly more screen time in this book than the last) more intimately, and I loved the way that new knowledge fills in little gaps and recontextualizes information from the first book. Really, though, the strength of this series is in the relationships between its main cast, and watching Dolly take care of Bits while she recovered made me fall so hard for these women all over again. My only complaint is I wanted it to be at least 20% longer.

Fans of book one will not be disappointed, but I’d recommend book two particularly to fans of found family stories, VR hacking stories, conspiracy theories, and badass women who can easily carry you up and twelve tons of firearms up six flights of stairs while chain smoking and not break a sweat. Now, where is my Dolly book????

Click here to read my review of Run With the Hunted 3: Standard Operating Procedure.

More Info

Publisher: Self-published
Paperback Page Count: 156

Follow Jen Donohue on Twitter or her blog for writing updates and pictures of her Doberman. Then you can get the book and support your local independent bookstore on Bookshop.org, or you can buy it on Amazon.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: Run With the Hunted by Jennifer R. Donohue

Cover image for Run With the Hunted by Jennifer R. Donohue
Glitchy diamonds!

Run with the Hunted delivers the experience of watching a fast paced, twisty heist movie in a quick novella with characters you don’t want to say goodbye to at the end.

Narrated by Bristol, who studies pirated finishing school classes and hides weapons in her hair pins, it’s the story of a trio of women who accidentally take something more valuable (and more deadly) than just the diamonds they set out to steal. Their fence backs out, and they have to find a new buyer while evading shadowy organizations that want them dead.

I fell in love with the trio (especially weapons-and-guns expert Dolly, who is basically a bisexual Labrador in a bulletproof vest) and their world. As cold and polished as her stolen diamonds, Bristol has never truly gotten to know her associates before she’s forced to hide out with them. Watching a world-class manipulator awkwardly fumble her way towards genuine friendship is heart warming and adorable, even if she’d kill me for saying so.

The cyberpunk setting delivers ‘80s aesthetics—video games, VR goggles, Cold War paranoia—and leaves ‘80s social values in the past, where they belong. Bristol is a traumatized ice queen, but she isn’t waiting for a man to thaw her. Her best friend is a nonbinary gallery owner. There are no happy little suburban nuclear families, and no one gets punished for who they are.

This book is so quick and so much fun that I’d honestly recommend it for everybody, but especially fans of A Fish Called Wanda, Ocean’s 8, vending machines, good cop/femme fatale romances, playing spy at sleepover parties, and reading reviews of Michelin-starred restaurants online because you can’t afford to eat there.

Click here to read my review of Run With the Hunted 2: Ctrl Alt Delete.

More Info

Publisher: Self-published
Paperback Page Count: 136

Follow Jen Donohue on Twitter or her blog for writing updates and pictures of her Doberman. Then you can get the book and support your local independent bookstore on Bookshop.org, or you can buy it on Amazon.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed

Cover art for Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
Apparently, there is a spoiler hidden in this cover.

Beneath the Rising is a beautiful, exciting, hilarious, devastating, breathtaking, intimate adventure novel about power and privilege, and about friendships that smother and sustain us. There are a lot of books “about power and privilege” coming out right now, but Rising isn’t about rich white people behaving badly—not really. It’s about surviving and maybe even fighting back against them.

There are really three main characters here—Johnny, the genius: rich, white, and exceptional in every way; Nick, the narrator: poor, brown, “ordinary,” and nearly invisible in her shadow; and their friendship. They have been each other’s best and only friends for so long that the relationship between them has not only gravity but also personality and will of its own.

At seventeen, Johnny has already cured AIDS and dementia, made strides towards ending hunger and houselessness, and solved the plastics crisis. She’s already changed the world, but her newest invention, a clean energy device with limitless capacity, is going to
make it unrecognizable. Assuming the eldritch Ancient Ones the device awakened don’t destroy it first. Johnny embarks on a globe trotting quest to find a way to stop them, and their friendship drags Nick along with her, even though they both know he’s powerless to help her.

I said it already, but Beneath the Rising is just gorgeous. It’s a vivid sensory experience full of heart and humor and odors so meticulously detailed they could almost be indie perfume descriptions. It starts slow and builds momentum in a way that cleverly mirrors Nick and Johnny’s friendship, so that by the halfway point, even when I knew I should put it down and try to get some weekend chores done, I just couldn’t.

One thing I loved about this take on Lovecraft’s mythos is that it isn’t a Wicked-style “What if the monsters were good?” retelling. The monsters are still incomprehensibly evil, but like a chiropractor, Premee Mohamed has aligned them the way they always should have been, not with the marginalized but with the powerful. AND she manages to sidestep the way that powerful magical villains often come off as cool and aspirational. The Ancient Ones are too inhuman and too rarely seen to try to emulate, and their human allies are invariably greedy, selfish, shortsighted, and kind of pathetic.

But mostly I loved Nick—hardworking, responsible, loyal Nick, who is (with one exception) never recognized for the great kid he is but goes on trying his best anyway, even though he doesn’t believe it will make any difference. He broke my heart. I love him so much. I want to double knot his shoes and make sure he remembers his lunch. I hope good things happen for him in the sequel, because he deserves so many good things.

More Info

Publisher: Solaris
Paperback Page Count: 416 pages
Audiobook Listening Length: 11 hours 24 minutes

Premee Mohamed is delightful on Twitter and on her blog, so check those out. Then you can get the book and support your local independent bookstore on Bookshop.org, or you can buy it on Amazon.