Harry Potter


If you haven’t read Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling, you must. Go away. First of all, claiming that the millions of people who have loved this book are all wrong or misguided doesn’t speak very well of your opinion of humanity. Second of all, it’s possible that I’ll spoil some of the plot for you, and that would defeat the entire purpose of this blog.

On the other hand, I don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said already. For a brief overview of the plot, Harry Potter is a smallish 10-year-old who lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, the Dursleys, because his parents were killed in the same car crash that gave him a lightning-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead—or so he thinks. He seems to exist just to be his obese cousin Dudley’s punching bag; his aunt and uncle literally make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs and force him to do large amounts of housework. When he turns 11, he starts getting hundreds of letters he isn’t allowed to read—and soon gets whisked away to a world of magic and wonder, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A world where he isn’t the victim of a group of bullies, but a victim of the most evil wizard of all time, who viciously murdered his parents and left him with his scar. Harry defeated this villain, Lord Voldemort, when he was one year old, and he is famous—a symbol of hope for wizards everywhere.

Hogwarts becomes Harry’s home. He certainly feels more comfortable there than in a cupboard under the stairs. He becomes friends with a red-haired boy named Ron and a brilliant girl named Hermione, who accompany him on approximately one adventure each year, almost every single one involving a direct confrontation between Voldemort and Harry. As the series progresses, it gets gradually darker and darker, and more and more complex, mounting up to the ultimate climax: the final battle between Harry and the wizard who destroyed his life and so many others’.

Writing

Many people looking for something to complain about immediately pick at J.K. Rowling’s writing style. And it must be admitted that in the beginning, there isn’t much fluency of prose. The writing is a bit choppy, sometimes even distracting. As the series progresses, you can sort of feel the author developing as a writer.

But if you think about it, in the first book, Harry is 11 years old. Sure, most 11-year-olds think in fluent English, but not all 11-year-olds will have deep, existential monologues on every page. Yes, the writing is choppy, and that’s not a good thing, but the characters are young enough for this to almost be excusable.

Almost immediately, the writing starts getting better. More is happening at a time, and Harry becomes more aware of it and the path he’s being led along. He develops as a person, and the writing develops accordingly, and in the last book the scenes are quite vivid enough for me as she paints them in my mind. In fact, compared to much of what goes on in Young Adult literature today, it’s positively brilliant. And even if it wasn’t genius, this is the type of book where it wouldn’t really matter. In fact, getting poetic or getting much deeper into emotions would have ruined it a bit. There are times where I would begin to think, for example, Okay, you’ve been fully expecting to be expelled from school (about the worst thing that could happen to you), and when you’re told you aren’t, this is a good time to react, which you do not appear to be doingBut the plot is proceeding and the reaction is implied well enough that it isn’t entirely necessary.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

As I will be quoting directly from the books, if you have not read them, please skip down to “Plot”!!!

As I’m sure I’ve said, it’s hard to assign numbers to series, because writing changes over a series, and obviously the plot changes in each book, etc. Overall, though, these books can make you smile, laugh, and cry. They have funny lines (admittedly, most of which belong to Fred and George Weasley): “Can’t stay long, Mother,” he [Percy] said. “I’m up front, the prefects have got two compartments to themselves—”
“Oh, are you a prefect, Percy?” said one of the twins, with an air of great surprise. “You should have said something, we had no idea.”
“Hang on, I think I remember him saying something about it,” said the other twin. “Once—”
“Or twice—”
“A minute—”
“All summer—”
“Oh, shut up,” said Percy the Prefect.” —Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (/Philosopher’s) Stone

or,

“There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione’s arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Ron threw away the fangs and broomstick he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet.
“Is this the moment?” Harry asked weakly, and when nothing happened except that Ron and Hermione gripped each other still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice. “OI! There’s a war going on here!”
Ron and Hermione broke apart, their arms still around each other.
“I know, mate,” said Ron, who looked as though he had recently been hit on the back of the head with a Bludger, “so it’s now or never, isn’t it?”
“Never mind that, what about the Horcrux?” Harry shouted. “D’you think you could just—just hold it in, until we’ve got the diadem?”
“Yeah—right—sorry—” said Ron, and he and Hermione set about gathering up fangs, both pink in the face.” —Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

literally in the middle of war, you can be smiling, and then crying on the next page.

And a major point that must be made is that J.K. Rowling told a better love story in 5 words than SOME other books *cough*withsparklingvampires*cough* did in thousands of pages:

“But this is touching, Severus,” said Dumbledore seriously. “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”
“For him?” shouted Snape. “Expecto Patronum!”
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe. She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.” —Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Then there are the times she does go inside her characters’ heads:

[Harry at his parents’ grave] “But they were not living, thought Harry: They were gone. The empty words could not disguise the fact that his parents’ moldering remains lay beneath snow and stone, indifferent, unknowing. And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off or pretending? He let them fall, his lips pressed hard together, looking down at the thick snow hiding from his eyes the place where the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust, not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them.” —Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

And the times when the words hit me just right and need to be read more than once:

“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.” —Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

It must be said that the one time there’s an actual swear in this series is Molly Weasley’s memorable line when confronting arguably the most directly evil character in the series, Bellatrix Lestrange. (Voldemort has more of a dismissive attitude towards pain and death; he’ll cause pain or kill if someone’s in his way, but he won’t go far out of his way to do so for no reason. Bellatrix, however, actually enjoys causing pain.) Molly gets to kill Bellatrix to defend her children to demonstrate the contrast between motherly love and obsessive love, and despite what others say, I think that this is better than Neville having done it; he shouldn’t have to be tainted by killing, and Molly Weasley killing to defend her children isn’t something that can leave a taint on her.

And to allow people to jump to “Plot” without seeing spoilers on their screen at the same time, I will conclude with some quotes:

“What would your head have been doing in Hogsmeade, Potter?” said Snape softly. “Your head is not allowed in Hogsmeade. No part of your body has permission to be in Hogsmeade.” —Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“You seem to be drowning twice,” said Hermione.
“Oh am I?” said Ron, peering down at his predictions. “I’d better change one of them to getting trampled by a rampaging hippogriff.” —Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Is it true that you shouted at Professor Umbridge?”
“Yes.”
“You called her a liar?”
“Yes.”
“You told her He Who Must Not Be Named is back?”
“Yes.”
“Have a biscuit, Potter.” —Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“One person couldn’t feel all that, they’d explode!” said Ron.
“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have,” said Hermione.” —Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

“No!” he [Harry] said loudly, his voice ringing through the kitchen. “No way!”
“I told them you’d take it like this,” said Hermione with a hint of complacency.
“If you think I’m going to let six people risk their lives—!”
“—because it’s the first time for all of us,” said Ron.
“This is different, pretending to be me—”
“Well, none of us really fancy it, Harry,” said Fred earnestly. “Imagine if something went wrong and we were stuck as specky, scrawny gits forever.”
Harry did not smile.
“You can’t do it if I don’t cooperate, you need me to give you some hair.”
“Well, that’s the plan scuppered,” said George. “Obviously there’s no chance at all of us getting a bit of your hair unless you cooperate.”
“Yeah, thirteen of us against one bloke who’s not allowed to use magic; we’ve got no chance,” said Fred.” —Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean it isn’t real?” —Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Oh yes, and I’m going to say 5/5.

Plot

The plot basically worked by picking a couple of “bad” characters and switching off which one to blame. So a large part of any given book would be spent discussing how the current bad event was the doing of one of two or so people (with a new character occasionally thrown in). Then it would turn out to be someone else after all. This surprisingly doesn’t get old at all, at least for me. I just had to accept that there would be prejudices and look for other clues. For example, Harry has a blind hatred of all Slytherins. Let me put it out there: nowhere does it ever say Slytherins have to be bad. The fact that (I think) every single Death Eater was Slytherin showed one of the primary weaknesses I saw in the writing of the series. All that’s ever really said about Slytherin is that they are ambitious, cunning, determined, driven, focused on goals, big on cost/benefit analysis, self-preservative, charming, able to use their intelligence as a tool to achieve their goals, etc., and that this is where you will find “real friends.” More would be said, but almost no Slytherin character is able to develop very much. It’s just Harry’s blind bias that causes so many of the Slytherin characters to look “bad” or at least weak.

Mini-rant aside, the plots are generally strong. Individually, the books don’t seem to have many plot twists, just the major one that, oh, it WASN’T that Slytherin after all! Then in the end Dumbledore will have a solution that seems to bend magic a little, and that’s it. Taken altogether, however, the plot throughout the series is really excellent. Part of why I say that and one of the main ways I judge plot is the way that everything comes together in the end.

For example, take what I found on the Internet:

In their third (or so?) year, Harry and Ron are making predictions for Divination. They give up on doing it the way they’re supposed to because it is impossible for them (they don’t have much in the way of an Inner Eye). So they start making stuff up. Harry makes up 4 predictions:

1. “OK…on Monday, I will be in danger of—er—burns.”

2. “Lose a treasured possession”

3. “Why don’t you get stabbed in the back by someone you thought was a friend?”

4. “And on Wednesday, I think I’ll come off worst in a fight.”

In their fourth year, Harry is selected as a Triwizard champion, meaning he has to

1. Fight a dragon

2. Reclaim Ron from the mermaids (“We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss“)

3. Not part of the challenges obviously, but Ron ends up hating him because he thinks Harry put his name in the Goblet intentionally without telling him

4. And then Harry ends up in the graveyard and has to fight someone you’ve probably heard of by now.

If that’s not mastery of storytelling I’m not sure what is. There are more, too—and if you ignore the 4th book, looking at the books opposite one another (1st and 7th, 2nd and 6th, 3rd and 5th), there are really startling parallels that lead up to sort of a sense of conclusion at the end of the 7th that’s probably more satisfying than almost anything else I’ve ever read.

For example (although I won’t tell you much in case you STILL haven’t read it): the first book starts with Harry being brought to Privet Drive by Hagrid on Sirius’s motorbike: from the Wizarding world of his life to the Muggle world he has to be dumped into. The seventh book starts with Harry being brought from Privet Drive by Hagrid on Sirius’s motorbike: from the Muggle world of his life (sort of) to the Wizarding war he has to be dumped into. In both Chamber of Secrets (#2) and Half-Blood Prince (#6), Harry spies on the Malfoys in Borgin and Burke’s, both incidences having to do with the vanishing cabinet (which of course crops up again). Et cetera. Of course every book builds up to the dramatic and grand ending—book 1 introduces everyone; book 2 involves a Horcrux; book 3 must have some purpose other than Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew, but I’m not sure what; book 4 has Voldemort’s return; book 5 has the introduction of the prophecy; book 6 has the introduction of the horcruxes; and book 7, of course, is the end that brings all of this together. That’s pretty cool, too. But what I love about J.K. Rowling is that even the little things wind together to tie everything up.

Of course there are plot holes. There are some pretty big ones, too. I will address this at the very bottom of my post and only to people who already love Harry Potter enough that this will bring them back to reality. If you’ve already got a problem with Harry Potter, please don’t read them.

I will give plot 6/5.

Character Depth/Development

J.K. Rowling lived with these characters in her head for 17  years. That kind of defies rating. That kind of looks a rating system in the eyes and smirks. The characters definitely seemed very real, very three-dimensional. In many books, if there are more than two friends they have to have differences, and they have to sort of make each other stronger through their differences. For a long time I was kind of unsure about Ron’s purpose in life, but it is as follows: most trios have a heart, a brain, and a body; Harry is the heart, Hermione is the brain, so Ron is the body. That doesn’t mean he literally has the muscle or whatever, it means he’s sort of practical, sort of has the strength—mental, physical—behind whatever Harry’s doing, even just in terms of support. Even though in a way he’s the least loyal of the three of them, he’s also the most loyal.

Harry is a perfect hero. His parents were murdered, so you instantly feel sympathetic. He’s plunged into an amazing world he knows nothing about, which you happen to know nothing about as well, so he is the way that you view his world and that makes him your best companion. He’s injured, physically by his scar and emotionally by the loss of this parents. He’s strong, because he’s a good person and he has support of good people, but he’s weak because he’s a child, because of the prophecy, because Voldemort can manipulate him, because Voldemort is quite frankly more powerful. He’s strong enough to make you want to support him, but he’s weak enough to make you really fear for him. So in short, he becomes your best friend and your hero. In many books, the main character is slightly more than an opinionated window.

Hermione is the perfect role model. Half of what ends up happening happens because of her brains. She’s intelligent, she’s strong, she doesn’t have any girlfriends and doesn’t care too much what the girls think of her. She speaks her mind and generally gets listened to because there’s so much mind to speak. She sticks with Harry the whole time.

All of the characters are full characters, and when you start with 11-year-olds, of course there will be development. Of course they grow up and start looking at the world differently. The Harry Potter characters developed better than characters in almost any book I have ever read (and I say “almost” just because I want to leave the possibility open; I can’t think of one). It’s realistic and sort of dramatic, but at the end you can definitely see echoes of the little 11-year-old who got 50 points taken from Gryffindor trying to save Hagrid’s vicious dragon.

And all of the characters had so many messages. Harry Potter taught us that there are things worth dying for, that with people around you you can do almost anything. Ron Weasley taught us that you have to believe in yourself, and you can always come back. Hermione Granger taught us that it’s never bad to be smart. Severus Snape taught us never to judge without the absolutely full story. Rubeus Hagrid taught us that everything’s cute if you look at it right. Lily Potter, Molly Weasley and Narcissa Malfoy—and Severus Snape—taught us that love is more powerful than anything. Remus Lupin taught us that we shouldn’t judge people by things they can’t control. Albus Dumbledore taught us that good people are not always good. Draco Malfoy taught us that bad people are not always bad. Neville Longbottom taught us that courage is standing up for what’s right, even when you’re scared out of your mind. Luna Lovegood taught us that it’s OK to be yourself and not care what others say. Dobby taught us that freedom is a gift. Fred & George Weasley taught us that sometimes all you need is a good laugh. Arthur Weasley taught us that an good sense of curiosity and a bit of obsession can be healthy. Fleur Delacour taught us that true love is not based on appearance. Molly Weasley taught us that a happy family is not measured in gold. Bellatrix Lestrange taught us that there are truly horrible people in the world. Kreacher taught us that if you want to get to know a man, look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals. Nicholas Flamel taught us that “to the well-prepared mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Minerva McGonagall taught us that a good cause is worth fighting for at any age. Lord Voldemort taught us that a life without love is barely living.

And J. K. Rowling taught us that the stories we love will always be with us. Until the very end.

I won’t rate this because it’s unfair to both my rating system and to sane authors everywhere who don’t spend 17 years on characters.

Je Ne C’est Quois

Again, this sort of defies rating. It’s not fair to give this a number when the worst-selling Harry Potter movie (Prisoner of Azkaban) outsold the best-selling Twilight movie by about $90,000,000. (Tell me if you think my facts are wrong.) People love these books, and it’s not because of incredible writing, and it’s not just because of incredible plot and characters. You can do those by the rulebook and without that je ne c’est quois they won’t sell. So again, I won’t rate this. But the Harry Potter books are so many people’s chocolate from dementors, so many people’s best friends, so many people’s favorites. Every time I go back to them I smile. The rating would be high, but I won’t give it a number. Read them (if you are STILL READING THIS even though you haven’t read the books) and try it for yourself.

~~~~~~

Some Bonus Material For Your Enjoyment because there are far too many people out there with no lives who make me smile quite often

“Severus Snape” is an anagram for “Persues Evans.”

The first thing Snape asks Harry is, “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” According to Victorian Flower Language, asphodel is a type of lily meaning “my regrets follow you to the grave” and wormwood means “absence” with a connotation of bitter sorrow. So “I bitterly regret Lily’s death.” :O

There is legitimately a dinosaur named “Dracorex Hogwartsia,” or, “dragon king of Hogwarts.”

HoGwaRtS: Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin

To get into the Ministry of Magic, one dials “62442,” which spells “magic” on a telephone.

Ron’s patronus is a type of dogs that chases otters; Hermione’s is an otter.

J.K. Rowling is the first person to become a billionaire through books.

In the credits of the 4th film, it says “No dragons were harmed in the making of this movie.”

no dragons were harmed

Not to mention just the great people in the fandom. Because of Harry Potter there is a generation of people who love to read. Previous fandoms were more movie or TV show or comic book or something, but now there is the same passion—about words. It’s hard to explain. There are just smart, normal people in the world, and Harry Potter is something most of them like. And then there are people who learned to love reading because of Harry Potter, which is very, very cool. Even when they’re just abusing Twilight, there’s this attitude there, that we’re all brought together because of these books, and because they’ve sort of created an atmosphere of smart is good. For example,

Spoiler alert!

may or may not contain lord voldemort

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then the other side of the spectrum. To puncture any lingering Potter infatuation you might have (there are people), and to get you to realize that actually, worshipping these things is a bit of a stretch, here are some of the big plot holes or implausibilities {feel free to answer these for me if you can}:

Book 1:
OK, strange guy barges into the house and gives your cousin a tail. Let’s follow him out in the middle of nowhere because he’s totally legitimate that you’re a wizard when you’ve been given practically no proof at all.
But you’re 11. Maybe we can cut you some slack. Also, you’re pretty desperate to get away from your family. Who, by the way, are so terrible to you it’s practically abusive. How is this OK? This boy’s parents died. Why are his uncle and aunt so prejudiced against him?
Despite this fact, we must assume that this little boy was not overly emotionally scarred by this terrible childhood. Moving on.
If my parents are dead and in their place I’ve been given some horrible relatives I’m willing to follow a random man off into the middle of nowhere to get away from, and I end up in a place with ghosts, it would definitely occur to me to ask about death and ghosthood in less than five years.
When there’s a troll in the dungeons and everybody is collected into the easily defensible Great Hall with all of the teachers who are, it must be mentioned, good at magic that must affect a troll somehow, let’s send them all wandering off on their own to their dormitories, some of which are actually in the dungeon where, oh yeah, there is a troll.
And also, what is it with the puzzles? If you’re trying to hide something from someone deeply evil, why is it eventually possible to get to that thing?

Book 2:
If the magical barrier doesn’t let you through, you fly a car to Hogwarts even though you don’t know where it is and almost every capable adult witch and wizard is currently behind this barrier. Why don’t you wait for a bit until they come out and then they can personally take you to your school because I’m sure that there has at some point once been a late student who needed to get to Hogwarts some other way than the train, and the school must have thought about that and it won’t be illegal.
Why has nobody ever abused Howlers?
Why does nobody really care that the magical barrier wouldn’t let two students through?
Why does nobody care that Ron’s wand is severely broken and isn’t working? If you go to a school to learn magic, isn’t it kind of beside the point if you can’t do magic? Shouldn’t they have spare wands or something? That’s like going to a school for computer technology and breaking your computer. You’ll use a spare, right? Not just kind of avoid ending up in a situation where you’d need to use a computer.
How big are the pipes anyway? Is it normal to have pipes that large? Who needs that type of plumbing? Especially in a magical school—speaking of which, shouldn’t there be a better way to clean everything up than Filch? Like um…magic?
Also, the points system should lock out at a certain time before the award ceremony feast.

Book 3:
Can’t say these because they would spoil the book too much. But think about it. Scabbers the rat sleeps in Ron’s bed. What would the Marauder’s Map say to that and how would Fred and George not catch that?

  • Answer: “Fred and George never noticed [Scabbers] on the Marauder’s Map because they didn’t know who he was. Even if they had recognized his name, they would have assumed he was just a student with the same name. [He] was one of many moving dots on the map, and Fred and George would have only been focused on the path their mischief took that day.”

Book 4:
Why are we sending all the kids off alone, possibly into the middle of chaos?
Why has Harry done nothing to learn about the terrible reign of darkness that he personally ended? Even if it had nothing to do with me, if I was introduced to a community that had just had a terrible war I’d try to learn about the war and not have no clue what a Dark Mark is.
Why does nobody care that Harry will probably die in a game? Maybe there are contracts, but death? Shouldn’t they just disqualify him and help him cheat to get out alive? They are certainly physically capable of helping students cheat.

Book 5:
Tonks can change her appearance to whatever she wants; house-elves can Apparate wherever they want—why were these skills so underused?
Why does Harry not use the two-way mirror to see where Sirius is? Can he really be stupid enough to not even look at a package that will allow him to instantly communicate with his godfather, and then completely forget about it when he ends up actually needing to? If it’ll be so inconvenient to the plot that he’ll actually need to forget about it in order to get around that, why not take it out? (It didn’t end up being tremendously important anyway, I’m sure it would’ve been easy to find another way for what it ends up doing, to happen.)
What does “neither can live while the other survives” even mean? Harry and Voldemort are currently both living and both surviving. Of course, Voldemort wants to kill Harry, but only because of the prophecy.

  • “Neither can live” isn’t necessarily being literal and referring to their life; it could just be a metaphor for “neither can rest” until the other is dead—which is certainly true. But it seems a bit anticlimactic.

Book 6:
How come Bill can just walk into Gringotts and take money out of Harry’s vault?
Why does Harry not try Sectumsempra on something other than a person?
Why don’t Inferi come out before Harry and Dumbledore get what they want?
Why does Dumbledore freeze Harry in place on the tower? Wouldn’t that be a terrible thing to make him watch? Shouldn’t he just force him to go away somehow?

Book 7:
Why, in 6 years, was Harry never taught a single healing spell?
Why does Lupin reappear and what does it have to do with anything? What is its point and how is it even consistent with Lupin’s character? If it’s in there, clearly adults know where Harry & co are; why aren’t other adults presenting reasoned arguments for why they—who do not have babies coming—should help?
Why can Nagini bite Harry and be cured by Hermione’s dittany, but when Nagini bit Arthur before, it took him weeks in St. Mungo’s, who obviously will have dittany lying around if Hermione did?
When Harry jumps into that freezing lake, why doesn’t he use warming charms? They have Freezing Charms, surely they must have Warming Charms.
Why has nobody abused the Taboo spell before either?
Why are Harry & co taking the Sword of Gryffindor so lightly? First of all, just tell Griphook what it’s for! Make an Unbreakable Vow that he won’t tell people or something. Second of all, this is probably a good time to lie better, if there ever was one. Voldemort’s death is at stake here.
The Death Eaters are torturing first years? Isn’t that a bit extreme even for them?
How does Harry possibly remember the tiara from one year ago?
Why is it necessary to kill [xxxx] for possession of the [xxxxx] wand? We already know that it’s just as good to Disarm them, why isn’t that good enough for Voldemort?

And that’s not even beginning to TOUCH the movies, which were great until the 6th or so, and after that sort of lost the thread of the plot a little in my opinion. I mean, hello??? The end of the 7th??? All that flaky black stuff??? Either you have witnesses or you have a body; if you have neither why are people supposed to believe you??? “Here is some black tissue paper I ripped up; your war is over and this was your nightmare.”

Anyway, these books have pieces of everything, on top of a sense of humor. It’s practically impossible not to get attached to the characters, and overall the plot is beautifully wrought. So try it. What’s the worst that happens?

**Disclaimer: much of what I wrote in here that you haven’t seen is from the Internet. Some of it isn’t. But if you originally wrote it, feel free to tell me and I’ll credit you 🙂


Uncle Tom’s Cabin


Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is the book that legendarily prompted President Abraham Lincoln to greet the author with the words, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a book about slavery, yes; but it is also about religion, humanity, suffering, love, power, family, and revenge.

I want to start out by saying that Mrs. Stowe came from a very, very, very deeply religious background. Many of her immediate family members were ministers, and she was brought up in a traditional Christian household. She continued to hold these beliefs very closely to her throughout her life. For this reason, Uncle Tom’s Cabin carries very heavy Christian overtones and undertones. This made me slightly uncomfortable throughout the reading of this book. The author and characters emphasize over and over that to be Christian is to be good, and to be non-Christian is to be bad. If you aren’t Christian, you’ll go to hell, and the goal of every single one of the characters in the book that we were supposed to empathize with was to be the best Christian they could be, with pretty much only one exception. The characters who were supposed to be “bad” either refused to believe in Christian beliefs, or obviously and crudely twisted the words of the Bible to suit their own interests.

In many books, you can sort of read around the fact that the author is subtly trying to convert you (if you’re not Christian)—but Mrs. Stowe is not being subtle in the slightest, so it made this book a little bit awkward.

However, this is not just a book about Christianity. The purpose of this book was to present the world with an accurate description of the evils of slavery—both its worst parts and its best parts. And what this book did was reach into people’s hearts and force them to see the horrible nature of what they were becoming. So for that, I don’t think I can underestimate it, whatever it is she did.

I really enjoyed Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Even though its topics, slavery and racism, are tough topics to talk about, it made me want to read, and it made me want to act (although I suppose I was a little late for this particular issue of this particular country…), but most of all, it made me think. One of the reasons I liked it is because it was written during the time slavery was taking place, so it wasn’t affected, the way modern works of historical fiction might be affected, by knowledge of what ended up happening and by our own societal views on the subject. Instead, the way it was written shows an insight into the way life really was back then, instead of how it is imagined to have been, and explains how abuses of humanity like slavery and racism could have been culturally accepted at that time.

Writing

“There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others; whose earthly hopes, laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed.”

This book was poetry in prose format. This means that it had a lot of description, and also a lot of introspection. For some people, that doesn’t work as well. For me, it was absolutely beautiful. It is also written with a dry, somewhat subtle humor, which, along with the delicate use of language, made me enjoy this book very much. However, there are parts that are pretty disturbing—there had to be—and there were places where I wanted to skip ahead, because of violence or sadness.

“Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us. There is a most busy and important round of eating, drinking, dressing, walking, visiting, buying, selling, talking, reading, and all that makes up what is commonly called living, yet to be gone through…” 

This book wasn’t dressed in a cute outfit. It wasn’t sugar-coated. This book is real life, taken from real people’s stories. It is grim and miserable at times. It is also occasionally pleasant—but at others it is so dark that the light times are clearly peeking out of a black curtain, as opposed to it being the darkness that is smeared across the light. (The zebra is black with white stripes.) As Mrs. Stowe said after she wrote it, “The author hopes she has done justice to that nobility, generosity, and humanity, which in many cases characterize individuals at the South. Such instances save us from utter despair of our kind. But, she asks any person, who knows the world, are such characters common, anywhere? For many years of her life, the author avoided all reading upon or allusion to the subject of slavery, considering it as too painful to be inquired into, and one which advancing light and civilization would certainly live down. But, since the legislative act of 1850, when she heard, with perfect surprise and consternation, Christian and humane people actually recommending the remanding escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding on good citizens, — when she heard, on all hands, from kind, compassionate and estimable people, in the free states of the North, deliberations and discussions as to what Christian duty could be on this head, — she could only think, These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion. And from this arose a desire to exhibit it in a living dramatic reality. She has endeavored to show it fairly, in its best and its worst phases. In its best aspect, she has, perhaps, been successful; but, oh! who shall say what yet remains untold in that valley and shadow of death, that lies the other side?

My point is that, because this is real life pretending to be fiction, and not the much more common fiction pretending to be real life, the stories are not fairy tales, and happy endings won’t occur just because they’re supposed to. Just because it doesn’t sound good on paper doesn’t mean it didn’t happen—and doesn’t mean Mrs. Stowe left it out. Even very depressing works of fiction have a sense of fulfillment at the end (in most cases), because people, as a whole, don’t like bad things. But in real life, it doesn’t work that way, and this “fiction” was created to poke that real life—to say, Hello. Wake up. This is actually happening, and you need to notice it. Whatever bond you have, whatever contract you signed with the author by buying this book, is not going to read the same way you expected it to, when you’re picking up a biography as when you’re picking up a work of fantasy. This is somewhere in between, and nobody made any promises.

One thing that bugged me about this book was the way the dialogue went. Back then, it was common to write the way characters talked; today, most authors would tell you, “No, no, no, no!” It’s a little bit hard to understand, when you write “Lor’! she’s de biggest gal, now,—good she is, too, and peart, Polly is. She’s out to the house, now, watchin’ de hoe-cake. I ‘s got jist de very pattern my old man liked so much, a bakin’. Jist sich as I gin him…” When you’re faced with a page of text like this, it’s a little bit daunting.

And the last thing that I’m going to bring up is the racism. I’ll just say it. This book felt very racist to me. Harriet Beecher Stowe did not believe in slavery (obviously); but she lived in a time when it was practically impossible to believe that whites were not superior to blacks. Maybe she didn’t think that, but perhaps she did think that there were differences. Again, at this point in history, there were. Slaves had a slave mentality, and their owners didn’t. Many colored people of this time were illiterate, whereas most white people could read. However, she kept subtly talking about the things Uncle Tom did “in ways intrinsic to his race.” Even ignoring the incredibly racist remarks made by the characters (which could be just a portrayal of different people’s opinions), there are many examples left over. The difference is that what a character said doesn’t have to be write; but what the narrator says in a book is fact, at least for the book. Tom “had the soft, impressible nature of his kindly race, ever yearning toward the simple and childlike”; it is also said that, “The negro, it must be remembered, is an exotic of the most gorgeous and superb countries of the world, and he has, deep in his heart, a passion for all that is splendid, rich, and fanciful; a passion which, rudely indulged by an untrained taste, draws on them the ridicule of the colder and more correct white race.” These comments are utterly unnecessary. I don’t know if Mrs. Stowe thought that colored people were lesser than white people; if she did, that was the time period, and I’m not sure I would blame her; it was embedded in the culture. It was wrong, but it was harder to see that back then. I don’t think she was, but the only other reason I can think of would be that she was trying to connect to the reader in some way; and surely there were better ways to do that?

If ever Africa shall show an elevated and cultivated race,—and come it must, some time, her turn to figure in the great drama of human improvement,—life will awake there with a gorgeousness and splendor of which our cold western tribes faintly have conceived. … Certainly they [Africans] will, in their gentleness, their lowly docility of heart, their aptitude to repose on a superior mind and rest on a higher power, their childlike simplicity of affection, and facility of forgiveness. In all these they will exhibit the highest form of the peculiarly Christian life, and, perhaps, as God chasteneth whom he loveth, he hath chosen poor Africa in the furnace of affliction, to make her the highest and noblest in that kingdom which he will set up, when every other kingdom has been tried, and failed; for the first shall be last, and the last first.” 

Really.

People, it seems to me, often think that the Northern states were more or less blameless in this whole issue of slavery; Mrs. Stowe does a remarkable job of bashing this misconception as well. “You would think no harm in a child’s caressing a large dog, even if he was black; but a creature that can think, and reason, and feel, and is immortal, you shudder at; confess it, cousin. I know the feeling among some of you northerners well enough. Not that there is a particle of virtue in our not having it; but custom with us does what Christianity ought to do,—obliterates the feeling of personal prejudice. I have often noticed, in my travels north, how much stronger this was with you than with us. You loathe them as you would a snake or a toad, yet you are indignant at their wrongs. You would not have them abused; but you don’t want to have anything to do with them yourselves. You would send them to Africa, out of your sight and smell, and then send a missionary or two to do up all the self denial of elevating them compendiously.”

I will give a 4/5 here, because the writing itself was exquisite, but the overwhelming meanings did not always leave me comfortable, for reasons other than what was intended.

Plot

Perhaps you’ve noticed a vaguely perplexing and novel (no pun intended) arrangement of these sections. Don’t mention it.

So, the plot. I don’t really think I’m allowed to rate the plot here. As I’ve said, this wasn’t just a story; it was also people’s lives. Can I give a number to the turns someone’s existence took? I will give a number, instead, to the way Mrs. Stowe tied these threads together; to the way she showed her message with real events, and not with just telling. So, 5/5.

Character Depth/Development

In terms of the history of writing, at this time, it was not necessarily as important to make your characters real people, when there was a point you were trying to convey. These characters, for the most part, had hopes, motives, dreams, fears, and depth. However, the only development was moving towards Christianity. Overwhelmingly. I saw very little other change in the character development. If the character changed, it was at least explained through their renewed acceptance of Jesus, etc. I felt for the characters—how couldn’t I?—but at the same time, I felt that real people wouldn’t react the way they would.

However, during times of slavery, war, or other terrible events, people act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise, and are tested so that they learn more about themselves than they would have. As Mama says in A Raisin in the Sun, “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. … Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.” There is always something you don’t know about yourself, and you can’t judge anybody—even yourself—without looking at the worst parts of their lives.

I personally have never been through something as terrible as slavery, or anything like what some of the people in this book went through. And anyway, many of these characters were modified based on real people. How can I know what was “realistic”? They had depth, yes, even if it was a bit religious. So, 4/5.

Je Ne C’est Quois

This is another one of those difficult but-I-really-don’t-want-to-live-there sorts of books. Did I cry at the end? (Well, I never cry, laugh, or smile at anything printed or on a screen. I don’t think I can. But did I cry in my head?) Yes. Was it because the book was over? …No. I’ll admit it: I was a little bit relieved to have escaped this world. However, this was a beautiful book. Sad, yes. Terrible, yes. But it stirred up a nation. It made people think. And I suppose that’s the best accomplishment you can hope for. 5/5.

~~~

Should you read this book? Yes. Why? Because it is a single book, yet it was an essential part of America’s history. (Sorry if I’ve been saying “this country” or “our country.” I’ve been assuming you’re all American. But some of you aren’t!! That’s the exciting part!!) And America’s history is not just relevant to historians; it’s not just relevant to Americans. History is important because it gives you answers to questions about humanity. And there are very few questions as large as Who would you be on either side of a group that has absolute power?


Nineteen Eighty-Four


1984, by George Orwell, is a grim look at our past, present, and future.

“For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable—what then?” 

Like Feed1984 is scarily possible and very real. 1984 was written around the time of WWII. 1984 is like Animal Farm in that it is trying to caricaturize communism and the power of propaganda. In this book, the main character, Winston Smith, goes from a person who is barely more than a figure in the lines of people of the community, to an active participant in rebelling against the totalitarian regime under which he lives. By “totalitarian,” I mean that there is a dictator; but this dictator is totally in control. There are no more individuals. There are just masses, swayed very easily by propaganda. The government controls the past, so it also controls the future, and the present. When nothing can be trusted but your mind, what is real? Is it possible to have a minority of one?

1984 paints a really grim picture, of bleak, desolate grayness and “Sameness.” When you wipe out the individual, you are left with nothingness upon nothingness.

Plot

The plot of 1984 is vague, because it’s not the point of the book. Winston meets Julia, another main character, and slips in and out of reality. He can’t trust any document, propaganda, or words from another’s mouth. Everything is erased and rewritten so many times that the words left at the end cannot be read anymore. I found it a little hard to follow along when the narrator barely even trusted himself. However, the point of this book is not the plot. It’s the look at this society, one the author felt we were too close to touching. 4/5

Character Depth/Development

The characters in this book were very weak. Winston himself, the main character, had very little motivation, strong emotion, or real connection with the reader. That’s because, like I said before, the characters weren’t the point of the novel. George Orwell did not want me to walk away thinking, Gee, that Winston guy was really annoying, or Winston Smith was amazing; I’ll remember him forever. He wanted the reader to walk away with chills. He wanted to leave the reader thinking about himself, and counting the reasons he had to live, and realizing that if the world continued along the path this novel prophecies, all of those reasons will be obliterated.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” 

In fact, this part of 1984 was beyond don’t concentrate on the characters; it wasin this society the characters don’t matter. There was no individuality, no dramatic deviations from the status norm. There weren’t strong emotions or passions. How could Winston have them, if society didn’t allow the idea of them to exist? A whole language was being created so that the citizens could not express even in their own heads what made them different from their neighbors and friends, what made them special, what made them an individual.

It raises an important question: what is equality? As small children, maybe you, too, made a fuss when your sibling got more of something than you did, and it wasn’t fair. If we’re all treated exactly the same from birth, we still won’t end up with true equality, because we each have special needs of our own. The only way to have perfect equality is to make everyone exactly the same. So what we want isn’t equality; it’s justice and fairness. It’s each person having exactly what he needs.

Writing

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” 

In 1984, every single person was brainwashed. For example, the slogans of the three main bodies of government were:

“War is peace. 
Freedom is slavery. 
Ignorance is strength.” 

Society was built on a lie, but it was also built on the knowledge that the lie was actually a truth. It didn’t make any sense, and yet it made perfect sense. It was really hard to see through, because it was hard to tell where the confusion stopped, and whether what was behind it was in fact solid. The purpose of the society here was to squash: to squash the individuality out of the people and the people out of the community, until what was left was a general idea that everyone followed, because they were all the same.

The writing of 1984 was harsh and grim and rhythmic. It followed strict rules to the letter. Not a word was wasted or too long. This style fit the book exactly as it should have; it, however, made memories of the book gray and steel-like: hard and cold with straight, heavy lines. 4/5

Je Ne C’est Quois

This book was not a pleasant place in which to dwell. That was the point. It left me with an unpleasant feeling. It left me disturbed and slightly hopeless. Looking at the way the world has moved on, perhaps this is not hopeless so much as hopeful, but this book will haunt me.… 1/5

One thing that really struck me about 1984 was the first line. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” This seems a weird thing to focus on, especially as it makes perfect sense. However, when I first saw it I thought, But clocks don’t have 13. Almost positively the author was simply referring to 1:00 in the afternoon, military time. If he wasn’t, though, it would have made a brilliant opening statement.

All in all, this is a very dark look at specific aspects of society, but I do not believe that it is a realistic one. People, as a collective, are passive, true; we saw that in Feed as well. But there are always those who will be active, and those are the ones on whom progress relies. Be active. Drag the world along behind you. Shove 1984 a little bit farther away.


Lord of the Flies


Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, is a disturbing and somewhat horrifying look at humanity.

You’ve probably heard the summaries. Boys are in a plane when it crashes and end up alone on a desert island (by which I’m referring to the dictionary.com definition of “a small remote tropical island,” not a literal island that is a desert; I am also making a subtle pun on “deserted island”), and start to lose every ounce of civility they might once have owned.

Lord of the Flies is a startling, terrifying book. What happens when there are no rules? At the beginning, despite the fact that they are alone, the island is a sort of paradise. There are no adults to boss the boys around. They can do whatever they want. They can sleep whenever they want, say whatever they want, go wherever they want. They think they’re mature…capable. They think they can be in charge of themselves.

They are wrong.

Writing

The writing of Lord of the Flies is incredible. “Along the shoreward edge of the shallows the advancing clearness was full of strange, moonbeam-bodied creatures with fiery eyes. Here and there a larger pebble clung to its own air and was covered with a coat of pearls. The tide swelled in over the rain-pitted sand and smoothed everything with a layer of silver. Now it touched the first of the stains that seeped from the broken body and the creatures made a moving patch of light as they gathered at the edge. The water rose further and dressed []’s coarse hair with brightness. The line of his cheek silvered and the turn of his shoulder became sculptured marble. The strange, attendant creatures, with their fiery eyes and trailing vapours busied themselves round his head. The body lifted a fraction of an inch from the sand and a bubble of air escaped from the mouth with a wet plop. Then it turned gently in the water.
“Somewhere over the darkened curve of the world the sun and moon were pulling; and the film of water on the earth planet was held, bulging slightly on one side while the solid core turned. The great wave of the tide moved further along the island and the water lifted. Softly, surrounded by a fringe of inquisitive bright creatures, itself a silver shape beneath the steadfast constellations, []’s dead body moved out towards the open sea.”

The descriptions are incredible. More than that, the boys’ words and the narrator’s (since it’s a third-person perspective, what I mean by “the narrator’s words” is William Golding’s descriptions) are very clearly different, giving the boys shape as real people distinct from the world, which can be interpreted as you wish. They talk like real people.

Each paragraph has tension, beauty, or strong emotion. My breath caught from one page to the next. 6/5.

Plot

The plot of Lord of the Flies starts out rather slowly and gradually picks up the pace until it’s racing along, one major event after another. The world of the book is brought to the brink of disaster and back again multiple times. The words are riveting and terrifying. This is a terrifying plot. It’s a startling and frightening look at each other and ourselves. It is scary, and the most chilling thought is that it could be true. 5/5

Character Depth/Development

In Lord of the Flies, people develop dramatically to the point of monstrosity. There is the question, is this too much development?, but that’s a dissection question, for classroom analysis. Meanwhile your eye moves fluidly across the page and follows the boys downwards and inwards. Some of the boys blend into each other, because there are a few distinct main characters and the rest don’t really matter, but it’s okay because the few that are important are very clear, and they are each very different. I honestly could not give this book a low score for character depth or development even if I felt that the other boys should have had more depth. This is a psychological novel, a look at human nature; how could the characters not have depth? I think it’s just that the depth that they have can be so disturbing we don’t want it to be true. So, 5/5.

Je Ne C’est Quois

This is definitely a place you want to leave behind. When I first read this book, the only parts of it that disturbed me were the especially graphic scenes, such as a particular scene with flies and rotting flesh. These aren’t all too frequent, although there is a perpetual air of death hanging over the island near the end. However, almost as soon as I put it down, it was sending chills down my back to think about. What if? What if this is true? What if the stretch it seems to be making on reality is not so much of a stretch at all? What if we are as terrible as this book quietly claims for us to be?

I think I’ll give this book a low Je Ne C’est Quois rating, because I was not left with a “warm ache”—to the contrary, I was left with a cold ache—and the only part of this book that feels special in that sort of way is the delicacy of the prose. The book is special, make no mistake, but in a way too cold to offer itself for Je Ne C’est Quois. Nevertheless, this is a book that will stay with me, so 2/5.

 

Lord of the Flies leaves a lot of questions, and it leaves a lot of answers. I don’t know whether they’re true, and I certainly do not want to find out.


Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)


I have some history with this book. (Like how I thought Maximum Ride was about a boy on a roller coaster for no apparent reason until I actually picked it up.) When I was really young, my mom would give me books to read, and I’d usually give her some equivalent of a negative-sounding “Hrmph.” Most of these books I reread at a later date and liked better. I could read them when I was young, but I didn’t like them.

Artemis Fowl is about a genius, the millionaire criminal mastermind of the same name (to quote Charles Dickens, “the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this [post]”), and potential thief of fairy gold. He has discovered something hidden for ages: the fairies were kicked off their land by humans and have retreated underground, where they can be safe. Artemis Fowl wants to capture one and take its ransom gold. He thinks he’s prepared. But he isn’t quite ready for Holly Short, the first female LEPrecon (fairy police officer) ever. These fairies are real. And it’s possible they’re prepared even for Artemis.

My initial impression was, Great, a really annoying male hero who’s rude and unfriendly, and an underground fairy culture that’s supposed to be years ahead of humanity, yet still hasn’t managed to have a single female police officer. I put it down.

But recently I picked it up again and I was blown away (if I gave credit to Sophie every time she made me read something, you’d get bored of the repetition, but here I must). Yes, there is that little issue of fairies having more sexism than humans, but honestly, it’s an amazing story of one boy with too many brains dealing with being human, and a bunch of hidden fairies dealing with being not (human).

And I loved it.

Writing

OK, I don’t know if it’s something to do with being Irish (I’ve seen multiple books with Irish authors who do this), but the author, Eoin Colfer, writes weirdly (in my opinion). His punctuation is messed up and, because of the font he uses, it looks worse than it is (don’t ask me how THAT works). However, it’s really mostly distracting in retrospect. That’s the technical aspect. In terms of description, etc., he doesn’t go overboard and does not use flowery language. In fact, he often utilizes clichés.

But here’s my rating system’s weakness. See, there’s the technical piece (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.), and there’s the descriptive piece. These things do matter. It’s important that you’re technically correct, and that you write elegantly. However…some authors don’t, and they still manage to produce a wonder. Mr. Colfer writes for children (I think Artemis Fowl is supposed to be for the 3rd-7th grade level, approximately; but since when should you care?), which I think many people regard as an excuse to allow slack in regard to these types of errors, the thought being that children won’t notice. People tend to ignore the fact that most adults won’t notice, anyway. The point is, Artemis Fowl is written really well. The characters are portrayed well, the scenes are portrayed well, reactions are portrayed well, the plots are portrayed well—what’s the goal of a writer? To make you feel like you’re there. To make you stay up into 3am finishing the book. To make you call “One second!” when you’re summoned while reading—and have that “one second” become half an hour (or until you’re caught out, whichever comes first). Mr. Colfer might not have the technical perfection that makes me comfortable, and he might not go overboard in terms of metaphors or descriptions. Yet I’m inclined to give this a 5/5 anyway.

Plot

The plot is strong and unpredictable. It’s at times touching and at others vaguely confusing, but it always makes sense eventually. There’s more loss than you would expect. Don’t think nobody is going to die. Don’t think somebody will. I’m just putting it out there that magic works in weird ways, and, therefore, the book might end with something that looks unsolvable. You know what? 6/5.

Character Depth/Development

Mm…OK, here’s the problem. I personally, as I read the books, didn’t find any specific issues. But this is why I don’t make much sense: I write reviews, but I really don’t think people should read reviews. I’d write a list of books and say, “READ THESE.” But you wouldn’t, so here we have it (and you could just look at the titles of the posts, anyway). The problem about reviews is that I have to tell you what it’s about. Have you ever read a book without having any idea what happens in it? Try it sometime; it’s much more satisfying. (Yes, then you don’t know whether or not you’ll like it, but it’s still more satisfying, in my opinion.) I also end up, whether I want to or not, influencing your opinions. If I say “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD” (…*cough*…), you’ll probably be slightly more inclined to think that it’s amazing, and vice versa. Actually, if you read something I rate badly you’ll probably notice it twice as much, because I’ve pointed it out.

I saw shallowness in the characters at times, and cliché, but before I read these books I read a few reviews, and they said that the characters would have shallowness and cliché, so I found it. It’s entirely possible that it never really existed in the first place.

The characters can get predictable (except for Artemis Fowl, because he’s supposed to be smarter than you are. But even he gets predictable). When they aren’t, it’s occasionally annoying—I mean, sometimes they act totally out of character for no apparent reason. Also, they’re sort of stereotyped in ways. There is huge development, but it leaves you wondering, Is this too much development to be realistic?

See? Evil Magical Dubiousness of Doom. Nuh-uh. This is No Good.

The characters, however, are important, lovable, hatable, real. They’re smart, witty, funny, and sad. They’re creative and quick. They make you ache, laugh, and smile indulgently. They make you nod knowingly and/or sigh. (Sometimes the sighs come from them not acting “right,” i.e. what they would if this were “real,” but honestly, I don’t think that’s too often.)

The important thing is that I wanted to meet these characters. That’s really what matters. So I’ll give 4/5 and don’t look for where that extra point went. You’ll regret it.

Je Ne C’est Quois

I think I messed up the order a little. I’m sorry. I’ve been busy. READING. But I am back! So, we will now continue, as you have so delightfully been doing, to ignore the messed up order (however it messed itself up), and proceed to Je Ne C’est Quois, which I believe I have already established to land on an unfair 6/5.

P.S. I think it’s really popular but it’s still really good, and I think you’ve been under the impression that “Bling” won’t be good, so it landed in Obscure Gems as well. I know that defeats the purpose of the categories. You should know by now that I don’t make sense. 😉

P.P.S. An Explanation of Tags

Child thieving: He’s a criminal mastermind. But he isn’t an orphan grabbing things from street vendors, he’s an international embezzler. Yeah.

Environment: The fairies are partly underground and hiding because humans have messed up the earth’s environment, so there are a lot of semi-subliminal messages about how we shouldn’t mess up the earth.

Magic that’s really science: There’s magic, and there’s science, and there’s magical science. So the magic isn’t really science, but the legendary fairy magic is partially technological achievement.

On the run: …uh…criminal mastermind…someone’s got to be chasing him.

Orphans: His father may or may not be dead, and his mother’s sort of out of the picture in a way that doesn’t totally make sense but sort of does. They both make sporadic appearances as Artemis falls into and out of the time stream, does weird things, and comes back home. He’s not an orphan, but his parents really don’t have anything to do with what he does with his life. Or about much of anything he wants, really.

War: It’s entirely possible that there may be a war between fairies and humans. I mean, we kicked them out of their homes. And Artemis kidnapped one of them. And Artemis is the only human they’ve spoken to in a long time. And he’s a jerk.

Photographic memory & genius: He’s a genius….

I believe that’s that 🙂


The Third Book: Maximum Ride


I have some history with this book. It’s weird. Everyone who wrote on “Can you recommend a book to me?” pages (or at least, the ones who originally liked books I’d liked) listed this series somewhere. For some reason, I just decided it was about a boy on a roller coaster. This is probably one of the stupider assumptions I’ve ever made. I’m just saying this to reinforce that even though everyone really does (don’t you?), don’t judge books by their covers. I do. If a book has an awesome cover, it’ll catch my eye; an awesome title will, too. But always remember that authors don’t necessarily choose these things. (Grr.)

To move on.

I’m not exactly positive whether this qualifies as The Third Book (as in, my third favorite). It’s another one of those this-is-the-best-book-I-read-since-the-last-best-book-I-read, so-I’m-mentally-conditioned-to-think-it’s-my-favorite-book-ever. I can’t tell you which books it falls between because while it’s great in some places, it’s really frustrating in others.

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, the first book, by James Patterson, is about Maximum Ride herself, a fourteen-year-old girl who lives with her “flock” of 6: Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel. She’s the oldest, and so in charge. They live their lives hiding from the government and the semi-insane slavering half-wolf people out to rip them to shreds.

And, oh, yeah. They’ve got wings.

Now, anyone who hasn’t dreamed of flying isn’t human. If not a dream, an idle wish. Who hasn’t wanted wings? Who hasn’t wanted to look down on towns, unencumbered by glass and metal, and pretend to squash people because they’re so small? (Okay, that one might be just me.)

James Patterson brings this dream to life with the sassy, sarcastic Maximum Ride and her flock of forgotten children, 98% human, 2% avian. You soon find out that they grew up in cages in a mysterious, questionably legal laboratory known as “the School.” They learned mostly everything from television. They were rescued by Jeb Batchelder, who hid them for so many years that the School has resorted to sending Erasers—those wolf people—after them, knowing that that might result in their deaths. To the scientists, or “whitecoats,” Max & co. are just laboratory experiments. Then Jeb mysteriously vanishes—they all know he’s dead—and they’re on their own against the world.

The ride is fast-paced and as sassy as its main character. There isn’t much time to think and you don’t want to wrench your mind away to bother. It’s hilarious and quirky and creative, and it’s like dreams come to life in a scarily realistic fashion.

This actually manages to last for approximately seven and a half books: The Angel Experiment, School’s Out—Forever, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, The Final Warning, Max (and you can see how the creativity is starting to peter out here), Fang, Angel, and then we have the book Nevermore, but I’ll wait to respond to that until the very, very end.

James Patterson is great. How else could he have achieved status as one of the best-selling authors of all time, with nearly 150 million copies of his books sold? He’s crazy prolific. He’s like what every author dreams of being.

Until you look more closely.

WARNING: THIS DOESN’T CONTAIN SPOILERS, BUT IT DOES CONTAIN DUBIOUSNESS. IF YOU DON’T WANT FOR THE RIDE TO BE SPOILED, SKIP TO THE ~~~~S. If you want the ride to be spoiled, highlight everything from here to the ~~~~s and magical dubiousness will appear to cast its doubt upon your experience.

The books were great. But he appears to have written a bunch of characters’ names and picked 5 adjectives to adhere to them. They don’t deviate at all throughout the entire series, except for Max, who undergoes the same exact changes every single book, and Angel, who becomes increasingly disturbing throughout each book, and is then back at, well, angelic status by the beginning of the next one.

Not to mention, there are many, many questions raised over the course of the series. He manages to answer a decent number in the last installation, but don’t count on the mysteries being solved. 

Now think about the story. Six (more than six) kids are raised in a science laboratory. Let’s for now ignore the fact that the science Mr. Patterson proposes is completely impossible. We can do that; the story lets us do that. He makes us want to. That’s talent, people. But now think about the plot. These six kids are broken out by one man, even though the lab has something tentatively to do with the government. Conceivable; he has codes, right? Even though they’re just six kids. Now, they somehow know to talk, in perfect slang, because they’ve…watched TV. Did the scientists wheel a TV into their dog crates for their entertainment? I sincerely doubt so. So…where did they watch TV? Why don’t they speak the scientists’ technical jargon?

Now, these six kids, the oldest of whom is merely 11, somehow survive for 3 years. Alone. Completely undiscovered. And, somehow, without earning a single shred of money, they manage to consistently have enough food. OK, they could steal. But…they’ve been locked up in cages their whole lives. How do they know how to steal? Maybe they learn. But how many towns are within an appropriate distance of a secluded mountain? And for three years, these very small towns get stolen from consistently—these kids, it’s emphasized many times, eat more than your average teenager; and there are six of them—and they don’t notice? They don’t improve security? Now the Erasers swarm down, hundreds of them, and only 1 of the Flock members get captured? And they conveniently know the exact location of the place they were practically stolen from, likely at the dead of night, three years ago? They know the address? And they can just break in to an extremely high-tech government lab? This just continues throughout the entire series, although I won’t spoil it for you. Although technically I already have……

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The lesson here is, don’t pay attention to reviews. If the author has something negative to say they’ll mess up your experience.

These books are great. They are about characters with form, and the books are interesting and incredibly creative—if nothing else, I’ve got to say that—with weird, unexpected plot twists and an underlying message of save the Earth before it’s too late.

Writing

James Patterson doesn’t write deeply or thoughtfully—at least, not here. If he does, it’s which-awesome-guy-should-I-fall-in-love-with?, what’s-the-best-way-to-get-out-of-here-when-people-come-to-kidnap-us-and-steal-us-away-to-be-tested-horribly-in-science-labs?, or gee-my-childhood-was-awful. Also there’s what-does-this-latest-incredibly-bizarre-psychic prediction/piece of advice-mean?, and why-is-there-a-voice-in-my-head? (OK, everybody just accepts that last one without thinking about it too hard). The writing, though, is good. How else could he attract so many readers? 5/5.

Character Depth/Development

I sort of addressed this in the Evil White Section of Dubiousness That You Shouldn’t Read Unless You’ve Already Read The Books. But as I don’t want to make you think too hard before you read it—which you should, despite whatever I say—I’m going to give it a 5/5. The reason why is complicated. The characters do have depth. They kind of have to—at least one of them—if you’re talking in first person. It’s just sometimes clichéd within the books—overused to the point of exhaustion.

Do everyone a favor and don’t look for it.

Plot

Again, complicated. There is a plot. It’s just full of holes, and implausible at times. It also doesn’t make much sense and never really gets answered. However…you don’t want to care (and the holes only appear towards the end of the series anyway so at least read the first one!). And it’s so completely unpredictable it’s almost annoying (but it isn’t, just fun and surprising; don’t take me wrong). Although you can be pretty safe if you predict they’ll get mauled in the next ten pages. I think the two balance out, so I’ll give it a 4/5.

Je Ne C’est Quois

A strong part of why I keep saying “Gee, I hated it” and “It—was—AMAZING” in the same breath. 6/5.

Now, don’t read the below (the Nevermore review, with more Magical Evil Dubiousness) unless you’re already committed to the series, and, preferably, have already read the last book.

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Nevermore. First off, we (Sophie and I) were relying on this book to provide all the answers. Why was Max told to save the world? How? From what? Who’s the Voice? and a lot more spoiler-y questions. Many of them actually do get answered. But there really wasn’t a way James Patterson could tie everything together.

The question is, why didn’t he try harder?

Let’s start at the beginning. That’s an especially apt place to start, actually. Where do we start? With Angel, in the middle of a ruined world. Nobody’s left (except for…maybe a few people? it’s implied). And Max is dead. I have to admit, although I do love Max as a character, a part of me said yes at this. If someone’s going to survive the end of the world, it can’t be Max. That would be the expected path. James Patterson isn’t expectable. Please. But then, because of the magic, I wanted immediately to take it back. Even if it made too much sense and annoyed me, I didn’t want Max to die. (Especially as…the book’s written in first person. But that’s a separate issue.) 

Fast-forward to the end. SPOILER ALERT!!!! DON’T READ THE FOLLOWING:

(Max is alive and the world isn’t completely destroyed. In fact, they’re in paradise. Hello?End of the world, please? When you start something with a prediction, you’re supposed to fulfill that prediction by the end! Hello??)

End Spoiler!

Sheesh.

The book wasn’t satisfying. It answered many questions, but not the important ones. Everything fell apart at the end and nothing made sense and life appeared to be either a lie or taking place inside Angel’s head. Neither of which was plausible. Moral of the story: Don’t betray the trust. Your stories have to be real. You’ve got to be something special to pull off having your entire story turn out to be a lie. Otherwise, you’ve betrayed the pact between yourself and the reader (remember, the one you don’t remember signing? that one?), and they’ll hate you and scorn your work. Unless you have that irresistible pull. In which case you’ll reel them back in reluctantly, grumbling and groaning. They’ll come, but not willingly.

Spare both of you that sob story and make life truthful. Not that Mr. Patterson didn’t. But he did something worse: he raised the possibility and then wouldn’t tell you!

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I’m done. Read the books. You won’t regret it. They might frustrate you, but what good work didn’t? And you’ll learn something. At the very least, just come along “for the ride. For the incredible, indescribable Maximum Ride.”

(P.S. I tagged this as “magic that’s really science.” If you haven’t noticed, I meant “magic that’s explained so thoroughly it’s plausible as science and treated approximately as such in the world it’s used in.” Here, I literally mean “magic that’s really science.” There’s magic here, but it’s literally science, through DNA and things. It pretends its science fiction without actually using science that makes sense. Just pretend it does, as (most likely) you’re not a …geneticist…someone who studies DNA…let’s just say “someone who actually works in a lab.”)


Ender’s Shadow


I might have enjoyed Ender’s Game, but I loved Ender’s Shadow.

Still by Orson Scott Card, this book is a parallel novel, not a sequel. It takes place during the same time period, from a different character’s perspective.

The book opens with a small child watching a crew of children on the streets of Rotterdam. The children, presumably orphans, make their beds in alleys and their food by theft. This child in particular is not part of the crew, so nobody looks out for him. There are other crews, but he has picked this one to watch.

He comes to them with an idea. They name him “Bean,” because he isn’t worth a bean. They try his idea; it works; and they suddenly have enough to eat each day, and protection from the bigger kids, the bullies.

Bean has succeeded. He will again succeed.

He’s recruited for Battle School (where Ender went to learn to fight the Formics) at the age of 4; most are recruited at 6. He has to be taught on Earth for a year before they’ll accept him. He’s taught by Sister Carlotta and proves himself to be easily as smart in many areas as an adult. This is a four-year-old. Eventually, he goes to Battle School and proceeds to figure out the ulterior motives everywhere, and singlehandedly manipulate several parts of humanity’s current government.

This kid is like the definition of evil genius, except he’s not really evil. He just looks out for himself.

And eventually he’ll discover that nothing is as it seems.


Writing

Again, nothing flowery, but Bean is portrayed wonderfully, considering that Scott Card is not possibly as smart as Bean is (no offense to him, but clearly he was not as intelligent as an adult at the age of 4). I think 6/5.

Character Depth/Development

Bean definitelydevelops from a 2-year-old in Rotterdam. He even develops between the ages of 2 and 3, let alone the ages of 4 to 6, and then on. Bean isn’t very social, so there are lots of people he never really talks to, but his friends (although they don’t all develop) are deep and complex. I especially loved the character called Achilles: “Achilles never ceased to be astonished at how the universe bent to his will. Whatever he wished seemed to come to him. … As if the universe were created to serve him, with all the people in it tuned to resonate with his desires.

The battleroom was cool beyond belief. War in a box. Point the gun, the other kid’s suit freezes. Of course, Ambul had made the mistake of demonstrating this by freezing Achilles and then laughing at his consternation at floating in the air, unable to move, unable to change the direction of his drift. People shouldn’t do that. It was wrong, and it always gnawed at Achilles until he was able to set things right. There should be more kindness and respect in the world.

…But he knew this: He’d learn what he needed to learn. Opportunities would appear. And he, being Achilles, would see those opportunities and seize them. Nothing could interrupt his rise until he held all the power there was to hold within his hands. Then there would be perfect justice in the world, not this miserable system that left so many children starving and ignorant and crippled on the streets while others lived in privilege and safety and health. All those adults who had run things for thousands of years were fools or failures. But the universe obeyed Achilles. He and he alone could correct the abuses.”

So…he should kill everyone who’s mean to him, because “there should be more kindness and respect in the world.”! 5/5

Plot

This has the same basic plot as Ender’s Game, but, as Bean is a different person from Ender, comes from a different place, and carries his own issues up to Battle School. Ender’s Shadow is not Ender’s GameIt is, in my opinion, better; but it’s definitely different, and its plot is never predictable, except where Bean practically predicts the future due to his intelligence. 5/5

Je Ne C’est Quois

5.5/5.