I have a vivid memory from 2009 of being in sixth grade, walking to recess, and hearing about Twilight for the first time from my friend. She showed me her tattered copy of the first book, of which she had the movie cover edition. She told me it was about vampires, that it was a romance, and that it was the best thing she'd ever read and insisted I read it immediately.
I'm not very quick to take people's suggestions, especially when it comes to books and movies. It took me several months to get past the initial "Everybody likes this so it must be bad" phase, but after I read through the first book in only a day I was hooked. I still don't know what it was that entertained me so much. At the time I didn't have an unhealthy fascination with vampires (I most certainly have one now), and the idea of finding my own Edward didn't appeal to me. What I've come to suspect is that for me, the draw was in the character of Bella.
Both then and today, I loved that the protagonist in Twilight is clumsy, self-conscious, and introverted. She is this way without being overly quirky and without devolving into the obnoxious Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Bella didn't fit in and felt separate from others, but not in the way many female characters claim to not fit in: with a unique style, loyal best friend, and a history of attractive boyfriends to boot. Bella was in all reality an outcast until she arrived in Forks, and it really shows. As a kid, I could relate more to Bella than I could to other portrayals of loners.
When I first read the books as an eleven-year-old, being Bella's age seemed forever away. In sixth grade, I couldn't imagine being the ripe old age of seventeen. Though she was meant to be mature for her age, Bella's character to me felt like the epitome of a grown-up, not the high school student she actually was. Bella as a character has been condemned of being passive, dumb, or immature, and I agreed with those criticisms for a long time. Now, having gone through all of four years of high school and now almost all of college, I no longer see Bella as stupid or unassertive. She was simply a product of her age. Any seventeen-year-old would probably act the same way she did when negotiating a romantic relationship with a vampire. When I read the books today, instead of seeing fully-grown adults make life-altering choices, I see a bunch of high school kids stumbling through life the way we all do.
Reading the books now, I also notice a difference in the way I perceive the character of Edward. I went through the same thought process most everyone did, of "Wow, isn't Edward romantic?" to "Wow, isn't Edward a stalker?" But now, after reading the books so many times and having become more familiar with his character, I've realized his actions aren't too surprising when you consider that Edward stopped maturing at seventeen, lived for a hundred or so years without a romantic relationship, all the while watching his family meet and fall in love with their soulmates. In Bella, he unexpectedly finds a person he can have that relationship with. His actions, though still creepy, are not out of line with things ordinary seventeen-year-olds do every day to preserve a romantic relationship.
Now that I've completely moved past the stage of life the characters in Twilight were in, I can look back on the books and movies with enough amusement to enjoy the more cringy parts, like Bella's depression after Edward leaves, all the sparkly complexions, or Jacob's out-of-nowhere imprinting on a baby. I seem to have come full circle in my relationship to the Twilight saga, going from loving it to hating it to loving it again. I would now describe my love for Twilight as an educated enjoyment.
Most of us went through a period in high school of hating Twilight. I went through it too, and I remember feeling like I needed to outwardly hate Twilight to separate myself from the eleven-year-old I'd been when I enjoyed it. Similarly to many people, I endlessly yelled about how "Those movies are so bad!" and "Edward is a creep!" But now that I've gotten a little older, I've realized that while these complaints are mostly valid, it's still possible to enjoy Twilight for what it is: a coming-of-age story about a girl finding her place in the world. And also vampires.