Twilight Recap: Bella has arrived at her new high school in the small town of Forks, and is already overwhelmed by the differences between this school and her old Phoenix school. The Forks campus is a collection of small buildings, surrounded by dense foliage, and Bella's fears about being able to navigate her high school and fit in with her peers have increased.
Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight
I looked at the map in the truck, trying to memorize it now; hopefully I wouldn’t have to walk around with it stuck in front of my nose all day.
Bella has arrived at her new high school, which - if you'll recall - is best described as "a collection of matching houses", populated by "three hundred and fifty-seven" other students. A polite woman in the administration office has helpfully provided Bella with a map, "highlighting the best route to each [class] on the map" for Bella.
Once again, it's frustrating that we don't have a clear sense of the setting. The school is apparently big enough to warrant a rather complex map with the "best routes" between the buildings highlighted - which implies that there are other, non-optimized routes that could be taken. In my own past, I've attended small private schools that also looked very much like collections of matching houses - but the routes between the buildings were usually pretty obvious and straightforward in the same way that the "best route" between your house and your neighbor's house is usually pretty obvious and straightforward, so I'm really struggling to understand this "highlight the best routes" and "memorize the map" malarkey.
Later in this same chapter, we learn that the buildings are labeled with large numbers painted on the brick, and the numbers go up to at least '6' (a bigger number than I would have expected for such a small school), so maybe the campus grew haphazardly over time and a complex map really is warranted. However, given a labyrinthine campus and Bella's realistic concerns about how she can integrate herself in the middle of the school year into a group where everyone literally knows each other, I'm rather surprised that the school hasn't chosen to employ a "buddy system" instead of just shoving a map at the new girl.
If we assume an even distribution of 357 students across four high school grades, there should be roughly 90 students in Bella's grade level. If we further assume that Forks doesn't have the budget or personnel of offer extra AP classes and can only provide the basic mandatory classes, then it seems very likely that at least one student at her school will have a schedule identical to Bella's. What's odd about this situation, at least to me, is that in the small schools I attended in high school, the "buddy system" was de rigueur; the concept of individual student maps (to be gotten in stacks from the administration office!) was something to be associated with those impersonal, soulless, big city schools that had things like heavy-duty office printers and budgets lavish enough to buy reams of paper and ink cartridges.
What's strange is that it feels like Stephenie Meyer is assigning "big city" behaviors to her "small town" characters, and it seems out of place - why would a small town school even have stacks of maps printed off for the students? Wouldn't the layout of the local high school - the obvious nexus for sports events, bake sales, and general shenanigans - be ingrained on the town consciousness?
I stuffed everything in my bag, slung the strap over my shoulder, and sucked in a huge breath. I can do this, I lied to myself feebly. No one was going to bite me. I finally exhaled and stepped out of the truck.
I felt my breathing gradually creeping toward hyperventilation as I approached the door. I tried holding my breath as I followed two unisex raincoats through the door.
Several things stand out here: firstly, we have our first vampire pun nestled in all this angst - Bella, unaware that her school houses a relatively large community of vampires, is reassuring herself that she's not going to be bitten. Haha, Stephenie Meyer what a joker.
I'm also left wondering how a "unisex" raincoat would differ from a non-"unisex" one.
What's frustrating about this scene is that Bella - who has already been characterized in passing as crippling clumsy - has now also suddenly developed an apparent tendency towards panic attacks. I'm personally sympathetic to heroines plagued with anxiety disorders, having struggled with anxiety attacks myself, but it's nevertheless disappointing to see yet another traditionally "weak" flaw tossed onto our poor girl's character sheet like this. I'm trying to be fair here, but I can't help but feel that a young woman who pretty much raised her own mother in the big frightening city of Phoenix (Motto: Where the schools look like prisons and the prisons look like schools!) would probably be a little less frightened and overwhelmed in this relatively low-drama situation. Don't get me wrong, I don't demand that all my heroines be Sarah Connor, but I don't feel like I'm being given much to look up to here.
What's most interesting to me in this scene, however, is that Bella, the girl who wants you to believe she is a "bad liar", has taken a break from lying to her father and the administration lady about her feelings, and has graduated to lying to herself. Quite honestly, I'm a little perplexed at the choice of wording here: Bella doesn't "reassure" herself feebly or feebly "psych [herself] up" - she "lies" to herself. It's difficult for me to sometimes separate out S.Meyer-the-Narrator from Bella-the-narrator. If Bella believes that the sentiment I can do this is a lie, then it seems like she has a very low opinion of herself; if S.Meyer believe that the sentiment I can do this is a lie, then it seems that she has a very low opinion of her protagonist.
What's interesting to me is that the source of the opinion that I can do this = lie actually impacts the narrative in a rather complex way. If Bella believes her statement to be a lie, then she's either extremely cynical or extremely lacking in self-esteem, and yet she chooses to go through the motions of lying to herself anyway. The very act of telling herself this reassuring lie, even while she "knows" it to be a lie, points to the possibility that she doesn't fully believe it to be a lie after all. It puts me in mind of a pessimist insisting that it will rain while privately cherishing the believe that the act of saying so will make it untrue - that the universe will grant lovely weather instead in order to screw up the pessimist's "predictions". In essence, it's the equivalent of trying to use Reverse Psychology on the universe, as if it were a rather cranky and cantankerous toddler.
If this is the case, then we have a relatively complex character: A nervous Bella reassures herself that she can get through the day... then immediately worries that such reassurance might be "bad luck"... so she quickly labels the reassuring statement a "lie"... so that the malevolent universe around her will take note of her "lie" and will make her wrong by making the "lie" a reality... thereby allowing Bella to get through the day unscathed! It's two parts excessive worrying and two parts superstition, but it's a situation that I can at least visualize actually happening, especially if I replace Bella with Allie from Hyperbole-and-a-Half.
On the other hand, if S.Meyer is the source of the lying label, then she genuinely doesn't believe her character can make it through the day on her own. Of course, Bella does make it through the day with flying colors, but since this will be largely because all the boys and girls of her new school will take her in hand and fawn incessantly over her, I suspect that S.Meyer sees this as less of a point in favor of Bella's character and more of a point in favor of Bella's appearance. And speaking of appearance:
The classroom was small. The people in front of me stopped just inside the door to hang up their coats on a long row of hooks. I copied them. They were two girls, one a porcelain-colored blonde, the other also pale, with light brown hair. At least my skin wouldn’t be a standout here.
Bella is relieved that she generally resembles the other students; at least if she looks similar to everyone else, she should be able to blend in more easily with her classmates. This is notable partly because it's a complete departure from her attitude two pages ago, where she lamented that if only her skin was darker and more exotic then she'd obviously be more acceptable to her peers. More worryingly, however, this is notable because it's yet another strange and bizarre exercise in intense scrutiny of skin color - I think I can honestly say that I have never entered a room and started comparing how my "translucent white" skin compares to the "porcelain white" skin of the other people in the room, but Bella seems to be making these assessments with alarming frequency.
Inexperienced authors often struggle with character details and how to convey them to the reader - it's easy to fall into the "info-dump" trap of providing the reader with a wall-of-text to wade through about hair color, eye color, height, weight, whether they prefer boxers or briefs, etc. Savvy authors will find ways to let these characteristics "bleed out" into the story so that the details emerge naturally, and at this point I'm still wondering if this was what S.Meyer was attempting to do with all this i am worried about fitting in because i am white oh noes business. Maybe in a few pages Bella will be able to calm her hyperventilation further by noting that everyone else in her class also has brown eyes, brown hair, and brought the exact same Hello Kitty! notebook as she, and then - DING! - she'll be fully characterized and ready to roar into the plot.
Except that even if this is merely a ham-fisted attempt to jam Bella's character sheet into a few short pages, I don't think we can overlook the problems involved with the accidental-or-not constant reassurances that this is a white book about white people for white readers.
Maybe I'm creating a tempest in a porcelain-colored teapot, though - let's move on to the first recorded conversation between Bella and her new classmates:
“So, this is a lot different than Phoenix, huh?” he asked.
“It doesn’t rain much there, does it?”
“Three or four times a year.”
“Wow, what must that be like?” he wondered.
“Sunny,” I told him.
“You don’t look very tan.”
“My mother is part albino.”
Okay, now she's just doing it on purpose.