Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer | Rating: ★★★☆☆
“Try not to get caught up in antiquated gender roles.”
Has it been a decade since Twilight was first published? It’s weird. It feels like just yesterday. You must know that going into Life and Death I had no real expectations for this gender swapped retelling. Stephenie Meyer breathes new life into her bestselling romance with changes of pronouns and the ending, promising a new twist for readers new and old alike.
My first thought was ‘why’ followed by ‘well maybe it’s improved’ and finally to ‘okay, I’m sold’.
And because my fondness for the Twilight Saga is purely built on my nostalgic nature, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy as soon as possible! What can I say? Even if I grow to dislike a series, to even loath it somewhere down the line, I’m in it for the long haul.
In Life and Death we’re introduced to the familiar storyline. There are very few exceptions in the dialogue and characters, beyond their genders, and it can be a bit… well, dull. I was hoping that Meyer would have spiced things up a bit more by taking the plot we already know and twisting it around, changing the dialogue and such. All the angst and drama and romance is present, though, and this will be the ultimate selling point to longtime fans.
Although there are quite a few notable changes to the story, it echoes its counterpart so frequently that it felt almost entirely useless. It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy it at all, because I still do hold a fondness for it, but it was so repetitive about 75% of the time I often forgot I was reading a retelling of the series and kept getting myself mixed up.
We open with the same preface, different pronounce, and then skip on out to getting the plot rolling. In the small, rainy town of Forks, life takes an unexpected turn as the police chiefs child, Beau Swan, moves in to finish up his education so his mother can travel freely with her new husband.
And in small towns as such, his arrival sparks interest in an otherwise dreary chain of normal events. Suddenly, Beau finds himself the topic of the citizens of Forks and develops quite the fan club in only the way a new arrival to a small town can manage.
Instant friendships, if you can call them that, are formed and although he struggles with the change of scenery and weather and of course attention, Beau settles into a bit of a routine. His biggest form of frustration is the mysteriously glamorous and horribly rude Edythe Cullen, his lab partner, who treats him quite coldly in comparison to his other classmates.
It’s very much so the same plot: boy meets girl, avoidance, drama and angst. Everyone we know from the original series is there with a new name and gender, with the exception of Beau’s parents.
Billy becomes Bonnie, Jake becomes Jules, Mike becomes McKayla, Eric becomes Erica, Rosalie becomes Royal, Emmett becomes Eleanor, Alice becomes Archie and Jasper becomes Jessamine–you see my point. I can’t remember the names for all the characters.
See, I would have enjoyed it more if Stephenie had expanded on these changes more. I liked that the relationship between Beau and Edythe echoes Bella and Edwards, the twists apparent but satisfying all the same. I loved and hated the new ending that served something like “what COULD have happened…” but overall, I’ve mixed feelings on this one.
“But why are you giving it such a high rating?”
Well, truthfully, I’m skeptical of it. It wasn’t my favorite read this year, but it kept me captivated in the switch up for much of a day. I daresay I enjoyed myself in spite of its flaws, which obviously there were many.
But here's the tricky part and where things get confusing for me: I haven’t felt so strong, so excited, so intrigued by Twilight in many years that I felt as if I were reading it for the first time, all butterflies in stomach and excitement. There’s a lot of flaws with it, sure, but it did keep my attention for a long while and I appreciate the fresh look in the series. I genuinely felt like I was back in high school and it was... nice.
I do think that the way it progressed felt awkward at times and that Bella certainly got the better deal when it comes to the ending of both Twilight and Life and Death. I felt for Beau and the Cullens and his family with the twist our story took on. I did grow to care for them and love them and found myself chuckling over the humor in one of Beau's reactions, let's call it the gorilla comment.
I think that with Life and Death, many will find it lacks substance and is just a rehashing of a story we already know. And that’s okay–it doesn’t have to be your favorite. But reading it, reading this new take, I can’t help but to feel happy and confident that fans of the original novel will enjoy themselves.
Life and Death was a one-off retelling, and Stephenie has made that clear, a treat to her most loyal fans in celebration of a decade passed, but I wouldn’t oppose to seeing more on Beau and Edythe. I found the twist in plots and the gender politics alone worth a second glance and while it’s not the most thrilling and unique novel out there, it’s still quite a lot of fun to read.
The problem with people and Twilight is that they take it too seriously–it’s nothing more than it’s meant to be. Anyone who expects too much will be let down and annoyed.