Love makes everything real. Love also requires sacrifice and pain. Such a profound message for a children's story, but that's what's so beautiful abou...moreLove makes everything real. Love also requires sacrifice and pain. Such a profound message for a children's story, but that's what's so beautiful about it.(less)
I was late to the Potter party. I'd read so many book reports on these books that I already knew the story. I've also seen all five films. However, la...moreI was late to the Potter party. I'd read so many book reports on these books that I already knew the story. I've also seen all five films. However, last spring and summer, while I was being treated for cancer, I found myself with spare time and little energy, so I began raiding my kids' bookshelves. I decided it was time to take the plunge and read them. I make no comparisons as to genre, as such comparisons are in the apples-to-oranges category, but I will say that these books are far more deserving of their success than Stephenie Meyer's shallow, sloppy teen vampire romance series. Read on. . .
Negatives first: In the first book, Rowling falls into the new writer's trap of using too many modifiers, especially adverbs. How dirty is a "very dirty" handkerchief, anyway? How much dirtier is it than a plain old "dirty" handkerchief? And what kind of dirty? Was it "greasy," "food-stained," "sweat-stained?" Her prose is precious and cutesy in places, and sometimes she gets bogged down in descriptions (more about that in my reviews of the other books). I know she was creating a new world and some description was necessary, but there's a way to do that so there's just enough to allow the reader's imagination to fill in the rest.
And what is it with English children's writers and silly character names? Dumbledore? Honestly.
Rowling meticulously created an alternate reality and blended it with the known world.
She did copious research into mythology and magic, then seamlessly grafted her own creations onto existing lore.
Sorry, I'm a geek. You can do whatever you want with the science and magic in the world you create for your readers, but it still has to be logical and consistent and work on some level. This is where Meyer fails so spectacularly.
Rowling had the courage to create strong, multidimensional characters that aren't always perfect and likeable. Harry the hero has a savior complex and did his share of wangsting, especially in the fifth book. But her characters grow and mature and evolve. And she had to courage to hurt some of them deeply and even kill a few, which is what happens in the real world.
Rowling is good at dialogue. I don't remember any cringeworthy lines from any of the characters; few authors achieve that.
I cared about the characters and wanted to take the journey with them.
Rowling's prose improved so much over the seven novels. Seeing her evolve as a writer was almost as pleasurable as seeing the evolution of her characters and story. Not only do her characters earn their happy endings, but they bring it about themselves. I despise shiny happy forced Disney-style endings. Give me flawed characters and fights anytime.
Many narrow escapes (too many?) and a few plotholes (wasn't the elder wand surrendered by whatshisname the wizard Dumbledore had a crush on, so how wa...moreMany narrow escapes (too many?) and a few plotholes (wasn't the elder wand surrendered by whatshisname the wizard Dumbledore had a crush on, so how was anyone able to use it after that? Didn't it have to be sort of "conquered" by its new owner, its former owner killed or something? I really need to reread these). Too much detail while the trio were camping and on the run. I'd like to have seen a little more development of Ron; instead he runs off when Hermione and Harry need him.
I'm wondering if JKR read some of the speculation on how things would end and abandoned her original outline, as the crispness of prose and tautness of plotting and pacing seems to have suffered in this book. Maybe she was afraid of disappointing her fans and tried to include too much. I mean, if Stephen King were offering me suggestions on how I can keep my protagonist hero alive, I'd feel pretty intimidated by my success at that point. I'd like to know more about how James Potter finally became someone Lily could love, as he was kind of a jerk in the flashbacks.
So if this wasn't her original vision, she shouldn't have listened to the fans.
But. . .
The burial scene with Dobby, where Harry digs the grave without magic, is heartbreaking and such a lovely tribute.
The ultimate triumph over evil. So what if I'd figured out all the horcruxes.
Molly Weasley gets to show what a kickass witch she really is.
Cousin Dudley has grown up. So have his parents, finally.
People in the book work for and earn their happy ending.
Harry and Hermione have such a lovely chemistry and friendship. The bottomless bag was genius. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who went WTF when it was revealed that Hermione secretly had the hots for Ron all that time. We knew about Ginny's crush on Harry, and it is a credit to him that he sees her at last. Maybe Ron, once he's done with the battle of Hogwarts and works as an auror has become worthy of Hermione. It's a few years before any of these people get married, and a huge amount of growth happens between the ages of 17 and 22 or 23.
The happy ending that everybody worked so hard for was deserved. Harry, who'd never had a family, now had family out the wazoo, and he and his family get to enjoy the peace they'd helped bring about.
None of them get married in their teens. Ginny becomes a star seeker for the Holyhead Harpies quidditch team and plays profesionally for awhile before settling down. (less)
Things are getting serious at wizarding school and amongst our young protagonists, who are discovering they have hormones. Rowling has always been abl...moreThings are getting serious at wizarding school and amongst our young protagonists, who are discovering they have hormones. Rowling has always been able to balance the mundane and the fantastical, and as the kids grow up, we see more of that skill. A talented Hogwarts student is killed by Voldemort (and is resurrected as a sparkly vampire, dammit). Cedric is more developed in the book than in the movie, his ambitious father's shadow constantly hanging over him. By subterfuge, Harry is entered in a game he's three years too young to be playing--like putting a seven-year-old behind the wheel of a car.
Can I mention here how much I adore Hermione? Yes, she's a know-it-all, but she's got the smarts to make it stick; she's worked her butt off for everything she has. She spends two hours on her hair for the Yule Ball, but only because it's a special occasion. The rest of the time her hair's just itself. She also has her teeth fixed after Malfoy puts a curse on her that makes them grow several inches (oops that may have been in Prisoner of Azkaban--I've only read the books once) but she wouldn't be a normal teen if she weren't at least occasionally concerned about her appearance. Her "take-me-as-I-am or piss off" attitude is one all girls should adopt. Hell, if I had magical powers I'd give myself a metabolism like a blast furnace and a Bettie Page-like figure. Then I'd bring about world peace.(less)
More layers to Harry's backstory. We feel a stronger connection with his dead parents through the presence of Sirius Black and Professor Lupin. We lea...moreMore layers to Harry's backstory. We feel a stronger connection with his dead parents through the presence of Sirius Black and Professor Lupin. We learn about patroni (patronuses?) Pacing is good, prose still improving over the first two books. More foreshadowing. Ron Weasley is a loyal sidekick and friend and his family is cool. You have the impression there's more to Molly Weasley than the happy housewife with a large brood. And I could have totally dug having buddies like Fred and George Weasley.
Back to three stars for this one. And it may be a bit unfair. I know that a lot happens here. I know Rowling had to set up some plot points for her la...moreBack to three stars for this one. And it may be a bit unfair. I know that a lot happens here. I know Rowling had to set up some plot points for her last two books. I know she has to keep up with all the characters she's developing, and there are more of them than in the first couple of books. The story is getting more complex and more interesting.
Did it have to be 850 pages long? Did we really need to know what the password for Gryffindor was every night? Nobody started reading the series with this book; readers were already familiar with how that worked. Even if it was somebody's first Potter book, one mention of a password would have sufficed.
GEEK MOMENT: Ravenclaw has a cooler security system. You actually have to solve a riddle to get into your dorm.
Anyway, here was another example of how sometimes Rowling bogs her readers down in details that did not need to be expounded upon. Maybe we could have had a little more about Ginny, since she's going to be more important to Harry in the next two books. Or maybe the reader's not meant to notice her till Harry starts to.
Harry was at his most wangsty in this book. Perhaps if I'd been orphaned and abused and watched people I cared about die trying to save me I'd have issues too, but he's something of a douche to his friends, and they don't deserve that.
I loved how the Hogwarts students got involved in rebellion against Umbrage. Made my hippie nonconformist soul very happy.(less)
Okay, I'm going to be lazy (efficient?) and let this review stand for the entire series.
I've been on a young-adult kick lately. As a teacher, I'm hop...moreOkay, I'm going to be lazy (efficient?) and let this review stand for the entire series.
I've been on a young-adult kick lately. As a teacher, I'm hoping to steer some of my non-reading students who've only read Stephenie Meyer's horrible Twitlight series in the past five years to some other fantasy that actually has a plot and characters who are not Mary Sues.
As usual, I'm going to get nitpicky about the author's prose for a moment: too many "be" verbs, too much passive voice, too many sentence fragments, especially earlier in the series. Notice I said "too many." An occasional fragment is a stylistic choice and can lend punch to the prose, so I'm not by any means a purist.
I tell my students over and over, "let your words carry your emphasis, not your punctuation," and "you're allowed only three exclamation points in your lifetime. Use them judiciously." In other words, exclamation points should only be used in dialogue, and even then, only sparingly. Yet they see published authors get away with this all the time.
I was able to get past the prose, however, because Collins tells such a great story, and she creates such interesting characters who grow and change and evolve. Her pacing is superb. Fantasy writers, in creating alternate realities, often get bogged down in exposition. Collins gives us just enough, just at the right times, so the reader never feels compelled to peek ahead to find the next scene with action.
Recommended for middle-schoolers, who are often a tough audience. The protagonist, Gregor, is only twelve, so not many high-schoolers will be able to relate to him, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the story.
The "date I read the book" is the date I'd finished the series.(less)
3.5 stars 5 stars for the concept, 3 for not fulfilling expectations.
Levine would have had to make this book at least 50-100 pages longer if she wanted...more3.5 stars 5 stars for the concept, 3 for not fulfilling expectations.
Levine would have had to make this book at least 50-100 pages longer if she wanted to include more about the Harlem Renaissance, which would have put the book out of the range of her usual audience in regards to length. But I wish she had anyway.
Dave's parents are both dead. His perfect brother has gone to live with an uncle, but no family members want him. He is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys. There he finds cruelty and kindness, ostracism and friendship. And after sneaking out one night, he also finds jazz music and black friends, most notably a young girl about his age named Irma Lee. The HHB sits at the border of NYC's Harlem neighborhood. It is the 1920's, during the Harlem Renaissance, and Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and W. E. B. Du Bois are hanging out at the home of his new friend (into whose salon he more or less stumbles one night), whose mother is one of the grandes dames of Harlem society.
My problem with the book is that it was pitched as "orphaned Jewish boy meets the Harlem Renaissance and that makes his incarceration at the orphanage almost bearable," suggesting there would be emphasis on the art and culture of Harlem in the 1920's. But most of the action takes place inside the orphanage--only two forays into Irma Lee's neighborhood are portrayed in the book. That was disappointing. Dave's world is transformed by art in other ways, but to return to my original gripe, that's not how the book is pitched.
There are some lovely moments. After Dave gets a beating from the headmaster Irma Lee fixes up the basement of her home, unbeknownst to her mother, so Dave can come live there. The art teacher who comes to the orphanage tells Dave he has a gift. After one of the boys' arm is broken by the headmaster, Dave decides the friendships and alliances formed in the orphanage will have to take priority over his new friendships formed among Harlem's elite. His new friends from outside the orphanage rally around him and the other boys and get the director fired.
At its center, the book is about how Dave overcomes the pain of rejection by his family and is transformed by art and friendship.
Great idea, lovely theme, not enough jazz. Will still recommend it to my students because Levine is a careful writer and her characters and plots really do come alive. My 11-year-old self would have loved it.(less)
Is it about encouraging children to try new things, or are the darker forces at work? Is it in fact a warning about propaganda, sort of a 1984 for chi...moreIs it about encouraging children to try new things, or are the darker forces at work? Is it in fact a warning about propaganda, sort of a 1984 for children?
How cool is it that a children's book even raises such questions? (less)