#BookTok, Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

What is the problem with Edward Cullen?

My heavily annotated copy of Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Oh, Midnight Sun. You are the addition to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga that middle school Julia desperately wanted but certainly didn’t need. You’re a seven hundred page monster of teenage brooding that draws me in. Really, I envy Edward’s ability to be that miserable for so long. There were a few moments where I had to put the book down and laugh and the depth and length of his miserable angst. Edward really just hates everyone and everything.

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with Twilight. I’ve read all of the books and seen the films more times than I can count, as well as studied them in academia as part of vampiric literary tradition. They’re a guilty pleasure for me, but I also have come to recognize the inherently problematic narratives woven into the storyline. There is a lot to be said about Midnight Sun and the Twilight saga as a whole, but today I’m going to focus on our brooding and possessive protagonist: Edward Cullen.

Fair warning, there are mild Midnight Sun spoilers from this point on. (Although, if you’ve read Twilight, there really aren’t many new surprises)

To discuss Midnight Sun, I need to think about why it exists. Outside of the capital gain of extending a YA staple franchise by another book, what is Stephenie Meyer trying to say?

I went into this book thinking it might try and help redeem Edward. Let’s face it—he’s not the most morally justified character. His repeated violations of Bella’s privacy in Twilight are a fundamental piece of the story, but they’re wrong. A notable example of this is how he enters her room and watches her without her permission. I was hoping for Midnight Sun to provide a little bit of clarity and justification for Edward’s behavior.

The general plot of the story is the same, with the main addition being that we are hearing it through Edward’s perspective. I will say that Edward as a narrator is an interesting choice. His mind-reading abilities make him a semi-omniscient narrator because he can pick up on the thoughts of other characters. This means we’re able to hear occasionally from the minds of Alice, Rosalie, Jessica, Mike, and many others.

The most obvious gain of Twilight from Edward’s perspective is that we are offered insight into Edward’s internal monologue and daily activities. What is he thinking in biology lab? Are the Cullens having any fun conversations at lunch? It turns out that the answer to both of these questions surrounds murder. Edward’s thinking about killing his biology class. The Cullens are talking about actively not killing their classmates at lunch. You know, classic teenage vampire chats.

Perhaps Stephenie Meyer is giving us Midnight Sun to help justify Edward’s creepy stalker behavior. But Midnight Sun doesn’t paint Edward in a commendable light. His actions— which are protective at best, obsessive and controlling at worst—are paired with his toxic thoughts.

He’s just so bad, and not in a bad boy sort of way. Edward spends his time disgusted over and belittling the thoughts of female characters. He complains constantly about how terrible he is. He follows Bella around and continuously insinuates that she cannot take care of herself.

In Twilight, I think I could shield myself a little bit from the real Edward. Bella is definitely a much more likable protagonist than him, mostly because she seems to possess a shred of empathy and kindness. Edward isn’t just miserable—he’s mean and possessive and living in a state of eternal toxicity.

I think the curtain being pulled back on Edward’s internal monologue really upset the version of him that I’d created when I read Twilight in eighth grade. Suddenly, his appearance in Port Angeles isn’t cute and protective but incredibly overbearing. And the way he discusses leaving Bella at the end of the book knowing it will send her into a depression is just… infuriating.

Meyer makes no move to morally warrant watching Bella sleep or any other behaviors. Rather, she writes pages of Edward lamenting how monstrous he is. Not long into reading Midnight Sun I decided redeeming Edward was not on the table, nor was Meyer attempting to build a case in his favor.

So what is Meyer trying to tell her audience? If the point is to expose Edward’s behaviors as toxic, it makes no sense. We’ve heard this story before. We Twilight fans know how it ends. Edward will eventually overcome his reservations about jeopardizing Bella’s safety and basically get his own happy ending with a vampire wife and child. He will not face true consequences for violations of her privacy and controlling aspects of her life.

Why give us a book that darkens our perspective of him when we know he benefits from the bad behavior?

It seems as if Meyer’s leaning into the possessiveness of Edward is not to condone him but actually to romanticize his behavior. As a reader, this is disappointing. Midnight Sun in concept is a novel full of opportunity for character exploration. Why does Edward stalk Bella beyond thinking “I am a monster”? What sort of conversations is he having with other characters about his behavior? The problem is, Midnight Sun does not fully deliver on the opportunities. I spent the book waiting for Edward to take a journey of real accountability instead of blaming his behavior on vampirism and to showcase genuine bonds with other characters. Really, he does neither of these things.

He continuously returns to a few similar thoughts, which boil down to “I am bad”. And yet, I don’t think Stephenie Meyer really wants the audience to see Edward as bad in full. He’s still the romantic love interest. He still gets everything he wants at the end of the series. There is never any deeper analysis of Edward’s morality, he just never goes on examining his behaviors past saying that he is a monster.

Of course, my disappointment with Midnight Sun can surely be attributed to the fact that I am no longer a middle school girl and do not think his behavior is ‘cute’ anymore. This does raise the question, however, of what sort of messages we send to young readers in romanticizing figures like Edward. For a long time I thought his behavior was much more endearing than controlling, and now I look back and think perhaps I wish such a hyped up toxic relationship hadn’t been portrayed to me in such an acceptable light.

In a progressing literary industry, Midnight Sun felt like a step back in time. At some points I enjoyed this. Meyer’s specific writing of vampires drew me in at fourteen and I can see why. At the same time, it’s really obvious that Edward is not living in our modern social and cultural landscape. Meyer digs a deeper and deeper hole for her brooding love interest by making him a stalker and extremely possessive and then makes no move to try and redeem him.

I decided to give this book three stars on my Goodreads. I’ve got lots more to say about the characterizations in Midnight Sun and Twilight in general, but overall this book felt like a fairly enjoyable, absurd, and problematic trip down memory lane. Midnight Sun did feel like a genuine introspective look at Edward’s inner life as designed by the author. That is, I did not feel like I was reading seven hundred pages worth of empty words just to make money. Although I am disappointed with Meyer’s take on Edward, it was fascinating to dive into the perspective of a vampiric character. Honestly, I really do think Stephenie Meyer conceptually writes vampires well and Midnight Sun was a unique look at how she views the vampires we have come to obsess over.

Perhaps Midnight Sun wasn’t my favorite progressive read of 2020, but I do know that it has me itching to rewatch the Twilight saga this fall.

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