"Twilight" fans nearly rioted at San Diego's Comic-Con convention last week when the stars of Stephenie Meyer's Young Adult book series showed up. And Bella, Edward and the lushly romantic vampire saga that shoved Harry Potter from the top of the best-seller list last summer has millions of fans at fever pitch once more.
The fourth — and final — book hits bookstores this weekend. Shopkeepers and devoted fans are pulling out all he stops, Harry Potter-style, with vampire proms and supernatural soirees to count down the release of "Breaking Dawn" at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
So why all the fuss over a book that doesn't even take place at Hogwarts?
"I think Stephenie's books resonate with readers because they are utterly, unapologetically, lushly romantic," said Books Inc.'s Jennifer Laughran, who is hosting two vampire masquerade balls Friday with the Not Your Mother's Book Club. "Bella is a girl that pretty much any girl can imagine herself being, and Edward is hot."
She concedes, however, that "the extraordinary, rabid popularity is unusual," and she attributes it to a combination of "right place at the right time" and the fact that the author is very plugged in to her fan base.
The books come at a time when teens are still coming to grips with the idea that there will be no new Harry Potter books, and that they may never again experience that sense of a massive shared literary community, with everyone reading the same book at the same time.
Meanwhile, publishers "all want a piece of that Harry Potter action," said Linda Higham, owner of Lafayette's Storyteller, where four teens are helping her plan the Friday night festivities.
That's not to diminish the "Twilight" saga as publishing phenomenon in its own right. The books, a heady mix of romance and adrenaline-churning adventure, trace the story of Bella Swan, a teen uprooted to a misty Northwest town after her parents' divorce, and Edward Cullen, a gorgeous, centuries-old vampire.
The saga sprang from the imagination of first-time writer and then-29-year-old Mormon mom Stephenie Meyer. Five years later, Meyer is a multimillionaire thanks to her series that was originally aimed at young adults, but unexpectedly seized the imagination of not just teens, but women and men of all ages.
"There's significant crossover appeal," says Rakestraw Books' Michael Barnard, who is hosting a Vampire Prom with games, contests and dancing to a Coldplay-heavy playlist supplied by Meyer.
In addition to anticipation for the upcoming book, which is already perched soundly on top of Amazon's best-seller lists, fan fever is building for the movie version of "Twilight," which opens Dec. 12. and stars Kristen Stewart of "Jumper" fame and Robert Pattinson, who played hunky heartthrob Cedric Diggory in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."
An MTV reporter described the Comic-Con crowd's frenzied reaction to the stars' arrival as "Elvis-like." Fremont teen Georgina Tena agreed. She drove down that morning, just to catch a glimpse of the film's preview footage.
"When the 'Twilight' panel went on," she said, "it was just crazy."
It was actually Tena's cousin, 17-year-old Christopher McElvogue of Newark, who discovered the books and insisted she start reading.
"It's a good book, so I fell in love with it instantly," said Tena, an incoming freshman at San Francisco's Academy of Art University. "It's so easy to relate to. The main character has to go through her parents' divorce, moving, first love — real events that happen to teenagers."
The cousins launched their own fan site, Twilighters.org, in December. These days the site, a repository for news on the movie, the books and all-things-Edward, averages 4,000 hits a day. The self-styled "obsessed 'Twilight' Saga fans" plan to camp out at the Fremont Hub's Borders bookstore all day Friday, hosting games and activities, and streaming live video to their fan site.
Until then, countdown clocks are ticking down the hours, minutes and milliseconds until eager readers can finally crack the cover on "Breaking Dawn" and answer those burning questions — Who will Bella choose? Will she become a vampire? And if so, who will perform that transformation?
Contact Jackie Burrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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