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'Breaking Dawn': Crossover appeal with a happy ending

If you are the parent, grandparent, babysitter or friend of a 12-year-old girl, chances are you know all about "Breaking Dawn" (Little, Brown Young Readers, 2008), the final installment in Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series. And if you are the young person in question, this review will be preaching to the choir. But for the uninitiated: although Meyer's series targets young adults, it has found fervent fans in nearly every age demographic.

This may seem strange for a 750-page teenage vampire romance novel, especially one that follows three other equally long novels in a series, but Meyer's descriptions and characterizations are surprisingly compelling.

The Twilight series follows the human Bella Swan and her vampire fiance Edward Cullen, as well as Bella's best friend and Edward's occasional rival, Jacob Black (who, it turns out, is a werewolf). Cue the campy theme music, right? Actually, no – somehow Meyer manages to make the whole mythical love triangle work, and even seem perfectly realistic.

Bella is more terrified of marriage than being turned into a vampire by Edward (after the honeymoon, of course). Her involvement with Edward risks igniting a full-scale war between her new vampire family and Jacob's werewolf pack, even inciting the Volturi, an extremely powerful vampire mafia.

Naturally, Bella's wedding and honeymoon in this fourth installment of the saga bring unexpected plot twists, joyful and otherwise, and Meyer's readers are kept in suspense despite the fact that the other three books in the series portend a happy resolution to the epic.

Of course, that's not to say that "Breaking Dawn" is a flawless work of literature. Meyer's style is breathy and superficial rather than beautiful, and the plotting, while suspenseful in some places, is often predictable. However, once you get into the book, you won't care one bit – like everyone else, you'll be rooting for Bella and Edward's happily ever after.

The "Twilight" series has been touted as the next "Harry Potter" franchise, and in some ways the comparison is legitimate. Both series feature long books that are nevertheless engrossing to children and teens. Both feature as main characters young adults who can move effortlessly between the normal world and a more magical one.

These and other similarities have been debated in media from Time magazine to thousands of Web sites and blogs dedicated to one or both series. Local bookstores like Borders in Palo Alto and Kepler's in Menlo Park hosted "Breaking Dawn" release parties last summer that mirrored the "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" bashes of a year ago.

Like the "Harry Potter" franchise, "Twilight" has received big-budget treatment. "Twilight," the movie based on Meyer's first book, is scheduled to premiere in theaters Nov. 21, starring Kristen Stewart as Bella and Robert Pattinson, known for his portrayal of Cedric Diggory in the fourth "Harry Potter" movie, as Edward.

The two most notable similarities between "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" are their suitability for young audiences and their crossover appeal for older ones. While there is plenty of romantic tension in the "Twilight" novels, Edward and Bella do nothing but kiss, cuddle and hold hands until they are properly married in "Breaking Dawn." While Meyer is more willing to approach sexuality (and its quirky supernatural hangups) in the final book, she does so obliquely, giving her readers hints of what is going on without any torrid details.

The young and adult readers who want to see things turn out well for the characters they've followed through more than 2,000 pages of adventures will find an ally in the author – Meyer appears, throughout her novels, to have a soft spot for the happy ending so rare in fiction these days.

If you happen to know a teenage girl who hasn't read "Breaking Dawn," buy her a copy – and consider picking up one for yourself while you're at it.

"Breaking Dawn" is available at the Los Altos libraries.

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