Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone;
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets;
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkanban

Rating: +

J.K. Rowling

I can't say that I understand why these particular books have become so popular; they are fun and well written for children's books, with fairly well flushed-out characters, but they are not far away better than other books out there. I suspect the attraction is the combination of adventure, humor, and mystery in books that also manage to consider real feelings and worries that kids and people have. These aren't "issue books", but the characters' lives aren't perfect either. The books hit a nice middle ground, being slightly scary without being overwhelming for young kids, including magic while still having the characters find real solutions to problems as well, and being funny at times and serious at times. I think that that is probably the biggest strength of these books. It's also got all of the little details that will take it from being good to great; kids will love things like the dormitory door that requires a password-of-the-week to get in.

As the series starts, Harry Potter is living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, and it is an understatement to say that that's a lousy situation for him. He's living under the stairwell, forced to go second to his cousin in everything. Before long we see that his aunt and uncle are hiding a secret from him, and that someone is trying to let Harry know the truth - he is a wizard. When the truth comes out, Harry is taken off to wizard school, and the story explodes into full-fledged ridiculousness and adventures at that point. The students study magic spells and play a sport where players fly on broomsticks.

Throughout the series, we see Harry both living back with his aunt and uncle for the summers and at school. It's an interesting mix. At home, he is hated and feared for being different. At school, he is incredibly popular because he is such a special wizard (we learn in the first chapter of the first book that he was able, as an infant, to keep himself from being captured by the Evil Wizard). Much of the story is one of Harry finding his own place in the world, and the people who can accept who he is rather than force him to deny it.

In each book, a mystery surrounds the school, usually having to do with someone or something who is threatening the students. Harry and his two friends end up breaking the rules and investigating on their own and, of course, solving the mystery and saving the day. But the stories aren't overly predictable, and they are highly engaging. I think that the plots get better as the stories go on and characters have been already laid out so that Rowling can jump in and build off that basis without having to introduce them all from scratch.

Some readers were put off by the lack of good female roles in this book, but I found that that didn't really bother me. Sure, Harry's female friend, Hermione, starts out being the brown-nosing, perfect student that everyone hates and who won't let anyone break the rules. But Harry becomes friends with her anyway, and she is indisputably the best student in the school.

So, overall, all very solid and entertaining books, with plenty of fun for adults and kids alike.


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