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The Mania Over Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn: A Field Report

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Author Stephenie Meyer's Twilight tomes, which concern the gothic romance between average teen Bella Swan and impossibly gorgeous/secretly vampiric classmate Edward Cullen, represent the most popular book series since J.K. Rowling wrapped up Harry Potter's saga -- and retail outlets capitalized with midnight gatherings celebrating the August 2 release of Breaking Dawn, the tale's final segment. Adding to the sales avalanche of approximately 1.3 million units shifted in the first 24 hours were my fifteen-year-old twin daughters, Lora and Ellie, who adore the books and were frantic to find out how the story ended. As such, they eagerly hung out until the witching hour at a Barnes & Noble in Grand Junction (less than an hour from the Grand Mesa cabin where we spent that week) despite their certainty that the party would turn out to be a massive cheesefest.

Which they say it was.

Although the Potter audience aged along with the books' protagonist, the initial elements of the narrative -- school uniforms, capes, broomsticks, wizardly games -- lent themselves more naturally to kid-oriented events. In contrast, Twilight's characters look like typical high schoolers, only dressing up for specific occasions, just as other teens do. So the Barnes folks decided to stage a "Vampire Prom" costume contest, even though, as my daughters pointed out, a prom was part of the first volume, published way back in 2006. As for Breaking Dawn, it includes Bella and Edward's' marriage ceremony -- but apparently store employees were uncomfortable with the idea of dozens of teenage girls showing up in wedding gowns.

Nonetheless, when Lora and Ellie showed up with their infinitely patient big brother Nick at around 11 p.m., they found the store jammed with dozens of teenage girls clad in prom dresses -- many of them accompanied by boyfriends donning tuxes. In contrast, my girls wore their street clothes -- although Ellie chose a black dress that was close enough to some of the other outfits on parade that she feared she'd be mistaken for a participant. For that reason, they steered clear of the makeshift runway and took part in a trivia contest consisting of a page full of multiple choice questions. They say they fared poorly because of the large number of brain-ticklers derived from New Moon, the second book and their least favorite because of the huge amount of the text devoted to Jacob Black, a secondary character (and teen werewolf) that Meyers tries and fails to pump up into a major rival for Bella's affections. Indeed, Lora said early and often that she hoped Jacob's big scene in Breaking Dawn would be his own death. So when they re-read the series -- as they've done several times -- they always skip the Jacob stuff. But when it came to trivia success, this decision came back to bite them, in a manner of speaking.

By the time they finished filling out these sheets, it was only 11:30, leaving them another half an hour to kill -- and they were too alienated by the costume-clad superfans to strike up a conversation with any of them. As a result, they befriended two women -- they weren't sure if they were mothers of daughters elsewhere in the store or simply two of the growing number of adult Twilight aficionados. (I've read the first three books, too, and found them to be pretty entertaining despite too much padding -- especially in New Moon, but also to some degree in book three, Eclipse.) Whatever the case, they stuck close to this pair as clerks lined up customers in groups of twenty designated by letters that corresponded to when they'd reserved copies. The women were the last of the "C" mob, while Lora and Ellie were at the front of "D."

Finally, the big moment arrived, and the Barnes & Noble staff handled things efficiently. Some "E" readers tried to sneak in ahead of their slot and were sent to the back of the line as punishment, but they probably didn't have to wait for long. My daughters got their books by 12:15, at which point they reunited with their brother and hightailed it back to their grandmother's apartment to begin devouring every tantalizing word. By yesterday afternoon, they were only about 100 pages from the end of the 768-page monster, but they decided to spend the night with their friend Jessica, another Twilight obsessive, so that they could read the ending together. I haven't heard the final verdict yet, but Lora did say that a funny twist took place that made her actually kind of like Jacob -- or at least not wish that he'd wind up in a grave.

Guess subjecting themselves to a cheesefest was worth it after all. Everyone loves a happy ending. -- Michael Roberts

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