Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Scholastic Books, 2003, 870 p.

Holy cow, what a big book! Rowling takes what is essentially a young adult book and turns it into a major novel. And to her credit, she almost pulls it off. Rowling has let Harry, Hermione, the Weasley's, Malfoy, and the other students grow up through the series and in the latest installment, Harry is a petulant 16 year old. His nearly incessant whining and self-pity can wear on the reader. Until, that is, he remembers what it was like to be 16 and that Rowling's Potter is a pretty fair depiction of the self-absorption and desire for independence, while simultaneously wanting to be spoiled like, that most teenagers to through in our modern society. Rowling is much less successful with the adults in her book. Sirius acts like an overgrown teenager most of the time, not at all like the caring god-father type we met in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." It is with Dumbledore though that Rowling stumbles the most. She appears to be trying to make him seem a tad more mortal, not the omniscient head-master we know from the first four books. But it doesn't quite come off. In the end, Rowling resurrects the headmaster, but not before he goes through a chapter long mea culpa scene with Potter. It just doesn't hang together.

The other big problem with this book is that the plot is becoming nearly formulaic. At the beginning Harry is looking forward to the beginning of school. There's some interaction with the Dursleys, Harry gets into some difficulty or has an encounter with the forces of darkness, then he goes to school. At school there is the usual conflict with Snape, Malfoy, Crabbe, and assorted others. Hermione and Ron stand by Harry. Hagrid has an adventure. Dumbledore gets into trouble with a ministry or other assorted government agency. There is a dramatic showdown with Voldemort and Harry learns a lesson or two.

All of that said, this is a very good read. The fact that Rowling can stretch these plot elements over 870 pages and keep the reader's interest is pretty astonishing. Lots of action. Lots of magic. Many plot twists. It's the perfect summer, beach novel. Which in fact is where I read it. It took me 3 long days at the beach in Virginia Beach to get through it, but I must say that escaping to Hogwarts is the perfect way to spend a vacation and take a break from reality.


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