Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I reread Harry Potter book 5 over the weekend in preparation for the movie, which opens tomorrow (yea!) The thing I loved the most about book 5 was how well Rowling captured adolescent angst. All those kids lurking around, ultra-sensitive, getting upset with each other over every little thing - THAT'S what childhood's all about. As a kid, I don't really remember reading any books that came close to the reality of tortured adolescence. Uhm, maybe Blubber (Judy Bloom, 1974) came close. A few years ago a friend told me about a book called A Separate Peace (John Knowles, 1959) about the cruelty of boys toward each other at a boarding school that really touched a nerve with her. Things get tied up a little too neatly in Blubber and are surprisingly violent in A Separate Peace, but Harry Potter finds a happier medium. In the Potter-verse, most characters aren't clearly "good" or "evil" (ok, ok, maybe Voldomort) and the young wizards face conflicts both magical and mundane. When Harry has his first kiss and tries to explain it to his friends, Hermione explains how Cho must be feeling:
"Well, obviously, she's feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying. Then I expect she's feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can't work out who she likes best. Then she'll be feeling guilty, thinking it's an insult to Cedric's memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she'll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry. And she probably can't work out what her feelings towards Harry are anyway, because he was the one who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that's all very mixed up and painful. Oh, and she's afraid she's going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quidditch team because she's been flying so badly."

A slightly stunned silence greeted the end of this speech, then Ron said, "One person can't feel all that at once, they'd explode."

With Hermione in a preternaturally mature role, young readers have a guide to reason and old readers like me sit back and espouse Girl Power. These type of books have a big impact on readers young and old because they address highly emotional situations that affect us all (I mean, do you know anyone whose tween years didn't suck a golden snitch?)

I'm also quite fond of Rowling's set-up for each book - Harry at the Dursley's. I find the Dursley's hilarious, and added benefit of book 5 is that we learn a little bit more about Harry's relatives. Wanna hear something sad? It's my hope that in the final book (coming out the day before my birthday!) the Dursley's tell Harry how much they really love him. But, just like in real life, I might have to acknowledge that things might not work out perfectly for Harry, but I think it's pretty amazing that Rowling's fantastical series is the closest thing to reality I've seen in a long time.


Kathy said...

The Dursley's couldn't be a bit funnier and Ron is just a lovely kid.

Potter-mania has remained high throughout and that's very impressive. Personally, I gave them up at 5 because I was feeling like the books were just too formulaic. But with all the hubub surrounding 7's release, I'm feeling like I ought to fall back in...its very likely I'll do just that while away the next several weeks.

As for the difficulty of the tweens and reading that provides perspective, I've found the most amazing series of books put out by, of all people, The American Girl Dolls people. The first one was about physical body changes and the second one, which we've really found invaluable, is nominally about "Feelings" but it really goes a long way toward addressing the complication of social interactions as children grow. I've been so thankful for them as Haley seems to be about four years early in turning 13...

Special K said...

I think I know about the American Girl Doll books you're talking about - I went to the shop a few years ago to marvel at the sheer... outrageousness, I guess, but was very surprised to find the book section was full of little paperbacks that would have vastly improved my teenage years if I'd had access. I was really impressed.