Dawn breaks at midnight Friday.

The signs are everywhere, announcing events commemorating the occasion: Midnight parties. Costumes. Trivia contests. Giveaways. Oh, and by the way, the release of a long-awaited book.

The second coming of Harry Potter? No. This time, the fuss is for Stephenie Meyer, the Mormon wife and stay-at-home mom who struck the literary jackpot in 2005 when her first book, Twilight, became a worldwide phenomenon.

As the signs remind us, Saturday is the fateful day when Meyer will release Breaking Dawn, the fourth and last book in the hugely popular Twilight series. (The release parties will actually begin before midnight Friday.)

Meyer's publisher, Little Brown, has announced an initial printing of 3.2 million copies for Breaking Dawn, according to the trade journal Publishers Weekly. Her first three books have sold 5.3 million copies in the United States, PW reports. In addition, Summit Entertainment will release a film version of Twilight in December.

Haven't heard of the books? Then you've been missing out.

Teenage girls make up the majority of Meyer's fan base, but her appeal crosses age lines. It's not just the supernatural that attracts her readers, but also the romance, the emotional connections, the suspense. She's a little bit Anne Rice, a little bit Danielle Steel, a little bit J. K. Rowling.

"I love her," gushes Elyse Haas, 22, of Lansdale, whose Facebook lists Twilight as a favorite.

"She's a really amazing writer," agrees 15-year-old Leah Turner, of Erdenheim, another fan of the series. "Her books are really personal, and you can connect with her characters in a way that with most books you can't."

The irony, of course, is that most of Meyer's easy-to-connect-with characters aren't exactly normal. In fact, many of the figures in her epic saga of romance and suspense, made up so far of the best sellers Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse, aren't exactly human. They're vampires.

We see them through the eyes of 17-year-old high school student Bella Swan, who moves to Forks, Wash., and meets her blood-sucking boyfriend, the impossibly handsome and charming Edward Cullen.

Edward, too, is 17, but he's been that age for about a century now. He's also super strong, super fast, doesn't sleep, and glitters in the sun instead of turning to dust. You can't stake him either - the only way to get rid of Meyer's vampires is to cut them up and burn the remains (which would have made Buffy's job a lot harder).

Unlike most vamps, Edward's got a conscience. He's part of a small group that refrains from drinking human blood. This doesn't mean that he isn't tempted, though. As both Bella and Meyer's audience know, Edward may be head-over-heels in love with our heroine, but there's also a part of him that wants to suck her dry.

And if that isn't bad enough, Bella discovers that dating the undead brings a host of other dangers, including vengeful enemy vampires and attacking vampire armies. On top of all that, her best friend, Jacob, happens to be a werewolf, part of a group with a duty to - you guessed it - fight and kill vampires.

And through it all, Bella and Edward do little more than kiss and hold hands. Though the vampire genre in which Meyer writes often skews toward soft-core porn, Meyer chooses to keep her books strictly PG, focusing instead on the eroticism of chastity. The most sexually charged moment in Twilight involves Edward sniffing Bella's neck, but the sexual tension could wallop a year's worth of Cosmo.

Now, as the end approaches, Meyer is tantalizing fans with the possibility of a trifecta of love story biggies: a potential wedding, a potential sex scene, and - if the quote that opens the recently released sneak-peek first chapter is any indication - a potential death scene (eat your heart out, Romeo and Juliet).

Though her heroine may be a magnet for the supernatural, drawing every monster, beast, or freak of nature within a 50-mile radius, Meyer's fans are more often drawn to the human element in her work.

"These books have a way of hitting home," explains Aidan DeMeis, 21, of South Philadelphia, who plans to attend the Borders release party. "Stephenie Meyer's writing is very good at looking into the mind of any teenager or adolescent, especially those in love."

This, however, doesn't mean that only adolescents can appreciate Meyer's work. Meyer also has a significant adult following. Just ask Lisa Hansen, the 35-year-old creator of Twilight Moms (www.twilightmoms.com), a Web site geared toward those who love the books but are too old to discuss them in the hallway between classes.

"First and foremost they're good stories," the Utah resident says. "A good story, no matter what age bracket it's marketed toward, is going to cross boundaries. It just brings you back to that feeling of excitement and enthusiasm and those emotions of your first love." If the estimated 8,000 members of Twilight Moms - whose locations range from the United States to the Middle East to Asia - are any indication, she's absolutely right.

It's this kind of adulation that has made Meyer a rock star among authors. In addition to selling millions of books, she has inspired hundreds of fan sites (her own Web site links to more than 250 of them), along with rock bands and fan costumes. The new special edition of Eclipse offers iron-on "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob" decals, though some fans, like Turner, have already achieved similar creations using plain T-shirts and spray paint.

"We've had over a thousand customers coming to her appearances," says Maddie Hjulstrom, who worked on organizing Barnes & Noble's release parties. Meyer's Breaking Dawn concert series, in which she will be collaborating with Justin Furstenfeld, the lead singer of the band Blue October, sold out three of its four locations on the same day tickets went on sale. (The tour is not coming to Philadelphia). The slow-selling location, Seattle, took just four additional days before it, too, was booked.

Given all this, it's no surprise that Meyer has often been pegged as the successor to J. K. Rowling. "She does have similar qualities," admits Deborah Frank, 14, of Mount Airy. "There really isn't any way to compare to Harry Potter, but there's something that is special about her release of secrets in the story."

"The Twilight series is more geared toward girls and teens than Harry Potter, because it deals with romance and high school life and first love," Hansen says. "But there is definitely a comparison between the amount of hype and the obsessive fans and all the craze that there is around the books."

Still, she has to admit, the ultimate parallel is much simpler: "Both have got people reading and reading and reading. Stephenie Meyer got my sister and me to read, and we rarely read any books at all."

And for that, even though Hansen is 35, "my mother is just so grateful."