I entered the book determined to give it a fair chance. The problem with stuff that is near-globally disliked is that it's very easy to pick out flaws in anything if you're looking for them. The same problems might get a pass in something you actually like. So I decided to go in reading it on its own merits.
The first thing I noticed was the first-person narration. When the default norm in current fiction is tight third person, this is a bit of a daring choice, but it can work, and some stories and characters seem to require it. It can be exhausting to keep up sometimes, though. We are thus introduced to the world of one (Isa)Bella Swan, reluctant ex-Phoenician, and (very) teenage girl.
If you are looking for a book that does not feature the outlook and word choice of a teenage girl, do not, repeat, do not, read Twilight. End of story. This book is not just about people who happen to be teenage, it is about teenagers, in all their contradictory, shallow, and illogical glory. Since it is being told first-person, you don't get any respite from the sheer teenage when Bella happens to be not talking. You're in her head. This means that you have to see the world through her eyes, with her choice of descriptions. Bella is a heterosexual teenage girl whose hormones are starting to kick in. Hi. I remember that. I wrote a novel like that when I was fourteen. That novel has since passed through the cringeworthily embarrassing light of retrospection, and has come out the other side as unintentionally hilarious.
I found that the same was true for Twilight, and started reading selections out loud to my cousin. This is a book about a teenager in the grips of an angstful situation taking herself seriously. Pass the popcorn.
Edward (the vampire) is about a hundred and four years old, going on eighteen. As we learn more about his view of the world, this becomes painfully obvious. His vampire family had been worried about him, because he hadn't shown any signs of Interest in Girls. Now that Bella is on the scene, this has changed, and he sets about simultaneously trying to woo and avoid her. Woo her, because she's pretty and smells nice. Avoid her, because he likes her too much to want to accidentally kill her. Kill her, because that's what all of his biological imperatives are telling him to do. Edward has the finesse of any teenage boy when it comes to matters of the heart, and proceeds to act like a complete jackass, further confusing Bella, who is nonetheless willing to forgive him because he is hot.
Edward is a vampire. Let me make this clear: Edward, the topaz-eyed, pale-skinned hunk of strong, gorgeous, sparkling man-flesh, is a vampire, evolutionarily (or creationarily, which Edward believes but he doesn't get preachy about) suited to hunting and devouring human beings until the blood is drained from them, and they are dead, dead, dead. Edward's teenage male lust for Bella as a teenage girl is fairly well dwarfed by Edward's lust for Bella as the tastiest little morsel he's ever inhaled the bouquet of. Any horror movie fans, this is when you'd yell at the screen for Bella to GTFO, away from the creepy stalker vampire who wants, as near as I can figure, to lick her all over, possibly in preparation to take a big, juicy bite. Bella, however, is a teenage girl ♥♥in love♥♥. She ignores the obvious signs that no, seriously, this guy could kill her if he has a moment of weakness (he even says so), and insists that he is her One True Love, Forever.
This is when we get to take a tour through the inside of the mind of a teenage girl who is not only ♥♥in love♥♥, but ♥♥in a relationship♥♥. It is very faithfully reproduced. At this point, I must confess that I was addressing Ms. Meyer out loud, but as one writer to another, in sympathy. It's not her fault that her characters are teenage nutbags. It was, however, her choice to use the first person, and if only we hadn't, we might have been spared the sickening details of Bella's complete lapse of sanity. Oh, Bella. You poor, stupid lamb.
Most of the plottiness in this book is reserved for Bella figuring out that Edward is an OMGVAMPIRE. Once she's finally figured this out, the book is nearly over. This makes the final bang-up confrontation with another little clan of vampires seem a bit tacked-on and rushed, since the vampires seem to come out of literally nowhere. (Side note: if you're prone to motion sickness, don't let a vampire offer you a lift. Just don't.) Bella does get to go back to Phoenix, which she has been whining about the whole book, despite the fact that moving away from Phoenix was her idea in the first place. (Like I said: a bang-up job of portraying The Teenage, which is pretty much incompatible with The Rational in some cases, this one included.) Stuff happens, people nearly die, some people do die, but in the end our little vampire/human couple is left to gaze adoringly into each other's eyes.
Even though Jacob is evidently going to be notable in later books, there's very little of him here, even though Bella has clearly taken a bit of an interest in him. More attention is paid to Bella's classmates, who are around every day, and I hope they'll continue to be important throughout the series. Bella is not exactly an unreliable narrator, as she relates everything that she is thinking and feeling accurately, but she is capable of avoiding thinking about things if the author's intended them to be plot points (the reason Bella is not in Phoenix anymore comes as a let-down after she's danced around the subject so much), she has Teenage Girl Mild Body Dysphoria when she is clearly kind of hot, and she way overshares when it comes to her feelings. Her character trait of clumsiness did amuse me, and it helped keep her grounded in general humanity.
Overall, Bella would be better off with a human boyfriend, but we wouldn't have a real story if she decided to give this all up as a bad job and only date humans from this point forward. If you are willing to forgive the tacked-on ending and a few writing weaknesses, as well as put up with the unrelenting onslaught of teenage, give this book a try. If you can't take the teenage, don't bother.