Bella is dreading her eighteenth birthday - her vampire soul mate Edward is seventeen and this is the first official marker of her aging while he remains timeless, and though he says he'll stay with her forever, Bella has dreams where she's old and wrinkled, though not abandoned by her ever-youthful love. Despite her requests, the Cullen's are determined to mark the occasion, but a small accident results in Bella being significantly hurt and a hairs' breadth away from attack.
Certain that his presence is harmful, Edward breaks up with Bella and the whole family leave Forks, hoping her life will achieve some semblance of normality.
Instead Bella falls into a near-catatonic depression. Eventually able to go through the motions, she feels as though her centre is missing, and is unable to engage with life. Her friends fall away, and her father despairs, until a chance brush with danger brings Edward back to her. Well, not Edward but an aural hallucination of him cautioning her to be careful.
Filled with renewed hope, Bella begins to court danger in the hopes of hearing his voice again, eventually buying a couple of broken down motorcycles. She takes them to Jacob Black, a Quileute Native American she knew as a child. Though a couple of years younger than her, Jacob is attractive and interesting, and he knows what not to say. As they work on the bikes she finds the time she spends with him easing her aching emptiness, and though she's careful not to encourage the interest she senses, Bella relaxes in his company in a way she hasn't since Edward left her. When she discovers he's a werewolf, and then that there's bone-deep enmity between his kind and the cold ones, her trust in him is undiminished.
It's quite difficult summarising New Moon without including significant spoilers. The second half of the book is less interesting to me than the first half at any rate. I found Bella a little unnecessarily dramatic in Twilight, but that's nothing to her moping about here. While I quite liked the way her depression is portrayed early on (with a sequences of diary pages blank except for the month), she really needed a combination of a slap and medication, plus or minus therapy and electro-convulsion.
The Romeo and Juliet theme is significantly more overt in this installment - Bella and Edward are clearly Juliet and Romeo, with Jacob standing in for the unfortunate Paris. Not only are the characters and play frequently referenced but the suicidality that serves as the plot's dénouement is explicitly mentioned and echoed in Bella's risk taking and depression. Meyers does do a great job conveying the dizzying heights and the depths of adolescent despair that haunt one's teen years, but her relationship with Jacob is far more interesting, and I found his a far more engaging character than Edward.
Once again I'm concerned about the misplaced focus on age. The Cullen's make a big deal of Bella's birthday in part because they no longer celebrate birthdays, and the notion that one's biological age is the only one that counts persists. At no point does anyone observe that, while Edward may look like he's seventeen, the age at which he turned or died, he has existed for the better part of a century since then. Surely experience counts for something.
This is particularly interesting when contrasted with the way Bella and Jacob overcome the age gap between them - adding and subtracting years based on skills, experiences and biology, so that at one point they agree he's effectively thirty not sixteen and she's twenty-seven instead of eighteen. Of course, if Bella and Edward did that then the unpalatable truth of his inappropriate interest in someone more than a fifth his age would have to be acknowledged...
Something about New Moon made me quite uncomfortable, on an I-wouldn't-want-my-daughter-reading-it level. I can't quite put my finger on precisely what it is, but it includes normalising extreme behaviour, elevating obsessive romance, and romanticising suicidal depression and risk taking to an audience already sufficiently prone to those directions.
I didn't hate it, and I'll probably read the next in the series, but this is far from the best genre novel I've read, and I still wholly fail to see the magnetic allure this series has. For some idea of the absorption some fans have, take a look at this YouTube clip of a fan's reaction to the trailer for New Moon - I just don't get it. - Alex