Friday, June 12, 2015

Nostalgia Review:: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling

Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Author: J.K. Rowling
Series: Harry Potter, #1
Format: Paperback
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Still good?
...kind of.

In my book club guild on HabitRPG, someone posted a challenge to re-read all the Harry Potter books. I grew up alongside, Harry Potter. The final book was published when I was 18 or 19. I really was the perfect age for these books. I made friends over these books. I loved these books. So how do they stand, now that I'm an adult? It was good... but not great.

I think YA has come a long, long way since 1997, and that's part of the problem. Reading Harry Potter, all I can think is "wow, this is overly simplistic, black and white, and kind of eye-rolling in parts." And let's be honest: most YA books in that period were. In fact, a lot of adult books I was reading at that age were.

But I don't want to judge a book as "good for a YA book in 1997." That's unfair for the book itself. Now, I'm not going to throw the target audience out when rating it, but I recently reviewed Secrets of Selkie Bay, which was a middle grade novel more complex than Harry Potter. (One could argue that the first book is middle grade, but it's definitely aimed at a higher reading level than Secrets of Selkie Bay.)

Basically, I don't like stating what I think with qualifiers. It shouldn't be "a good book for a fantasy novel." It shouldn't be "a good movie for an action movie." That just furthers the divide between good old "literary" fiction and genre fiction. A specfic novel should be able to hold its own. And so should YA.

I honestly believe that most readers in middle and high school can handle more than black and white morality. I think that the blatant misdirection with Snape vs. Quirrell in this book is insulting to the audience. I think that while the series does better as it goes along, especially with disposing of Harry as a blank template character, it should have done that from the beginning.

I also really, really hate the cheap shortcut of throwing a character from a non-magical world into the magical world as a way of justifying "as you know Bob." See, because Harry wasn't raised in the magical community, everyone has to tell him what's going on! Sure, there's some great wish fulfillment too, but it gets tiring seeing it used as a narrative device. This is bad worldbuilding.

Not to say that there isn't some fun worldbuilding in there. I remember reading the books that they get more complex and better written as they go on. This is a debut novel, and it suffers from a lot of the problems early authors sometimes face. But I feel like J.K. Rowling's editor could have done more to help this novel be better.

It's tough, really tearing apart something that was so important for me as a kid. It was really difficult to find books that I could relate to and form friends over. Most of what my friends were reading were books I couldn't really get into. I had a few fad crazes. I read Goosebumps. I tried Animorphs for a while. But eventually, I wasn't interested in what my friends were reading. And Harry Potter helped me bridge that gap.

So yeah, I'll give it three stars. If I were just reading it now, for the first time, I'd probably give it two. I imagine the later books would get slightly higher reviews. But I mean... Harry even remarks that everyone in Slytherin looks evil. Come on. We aren't the Ancient Greeks at this point. Don't we know that our external appearance really isn't a sign of what's underneath?

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