Tag Archives: young adult

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

HPCursedChild

A couple weeks ago I was walking past the local indie bookstore and noticed a sign in the window advertising a midnight release party for this book. I mentioned it to my daughter and asked if she wanted to go, and she enthusiastically said yes. So we gathered together with all the Potter fans, participated in games, and enjoyed the costume contest. Then we queued up with the rest of the folk there and purchased our copy of the book. Of course, I had to wait until my daughter was finished reading it before it was moved into my pile, but she read it fairly quickly and I was able to start reading it.

Since the book is in play form, it is a quick read. I was a little apprehensive about whether I would like the book, especially since so much of what I love about the Harry Potter series is Rowling’s wonderful narrative. But because these characters are such a part of our social fabric, it was easy to envision the scenes even without the descriptive narrative.

Without giving too much away, the tale features Harry’s son, Albus, and his friend Scorpius (Draco Malfoy’s son). After an argument with his dad, Albus decides to use a time-turner to go into the past and save Cedric Diggory, thereby proving his worth. As you can expect, changing the past has unforeseen ripple effects. Enough said.

What I enjoyed the most about this book is the exploration of the conflict between father and son. It’s an age-old theme that hearkens back to Sophocles. Children at some point usually rebel against their parents, and it is often during the teenage years that these tensions and conflicts begin to surface.

There is a great scene early in the play where the tension between father and son finally erupts into a fight, and as is often the case, things are said in the heat of anger that are not intended but nevertheless have painful results.

HARRY: Do you want a hand? Packing. I always loved packing. It meant I was leaving Privet Drive and going back to Hogwarts. Which was . . . well, I know you don’t love it but . . .

ALBUS: For you, it’s the greatest place on earth. I know. The poor orphan, bullied by his uncle and aunt Dursley . . .

HARRY: Albus, please—can we just—

ALBUS: . . . traumatized by his cousin, Dudley, saved by Hogwarts. I know it all, Dad. Blah, blah, blah.

HARRY: I’m not going to rise to your bait, Albus Potter.

ALBUS: The poor orphan who went on to save us all. So may I say—on behalf of the wizarding kind—how grateful we are for your heroism. Should we bow now or will a curtsy do?

HARRY: Albus, please—you know, I’ve never wanted gratitude.

ALBUS: But right now I’m overflowing with it—it must be the kind gift of the moldy blanket that did it . . .

HARRY: Moldy blanket?

ALBUS: What did you think would happen? We’d hug. I’d tell you I always loved you. What? What?

HARRY (finally losing his temper): You know what? I’m done with being made responsible for your unhappiness. At least you’ve got a dad. Because I didn’t, okay?

ALBUS: And you think that was unlucky? I don’t.

HARRY: You wish me dead?

ALBUS: No! I just wish you weren’t my dad.

HARRY (seeing red): Well, there are times I wish you weren’t my son.

(pp. 40 – 41)

I suspect we have all said things that we regretted saying. I know I have. And that is what makes this book worth reading. It holds up a mirror and allows us to look at our flaws. And we all have flaws; it’s part of being human. But how we deal with our flaws determines the type of person we become in life, or as Harry puts it:

They were great men, with huge flaw, and you know what—those flaws almost made them greater.

(p. 308)

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“The Witch’s Boy” by Kelly Barnhill: The Mystical Power of Words

WitchsBoy

This book was suggested by a close friend of mine who is a science fiction writer and someone whose taste in books I respect. I have to say that this is one of the best young-adult novels I have ever read. The writing and storyline are fairly basic and accessible to readers of all levels, and the tale itself is engaging, but the really amazing aspect of this book is the wealth of mystical, spiritual, and psychological symbolism that is woven into this rich tale. For the sake of brevity, I will focus this post on how words are presented as objects of mystical power.

Early in the book, Barnhill clearly states that words are objects of power that are the essence of creation.

A word, after all, is a kind of magic. It locks the substance of a thing in sound or symbol, and affixes it to the ear, or paper, or stone. Words call the world into being. That’s power indeed.

(p. 29)

One of the main characters in the book is Ned, who is the witch’s boy. Ned’s mother is tasked with protecting the last bit of magic that remains in the world. While attempting to protect the magic in his mother’s absence, the magic enters into Ned and becomes a part of him. At this point, the magic appears as words which flow across his skin, almost as if the boy has become a living book.

His sleeve hiked over his elbow and Ned stared at his skin in amazement. His hands were covered with words. And his arms. And his shoulders and belly and legs and chest. His back and face too, by the feel of it. Moving words. Words that scribbled and looped, crossed one another out, and scripted furiously forward. The words encircled each finger, blotched on his knuckles, tore across his wrists, and swirled over his arms.

(p. 94)

As I read this, I thought a lot about how the things we read and the stories we hear become a part of who we are. I have always believed that I am the culmination of my life’s experiences, and reading has been an integral part of my life and my personal development. So as I pictured the words swirling over Ned’s skin, I thought of all the stories and poems I have read, swirling through my own being and affecting who I am.

Something that has always fascinated me is the mystical power of words in the act of creation. That is why I have felt a connection to writers like Coleridge. I found definite allusions to this idea in this book, particularly regarding the importance of words for harnessing and directing the creative energy that surrounds us all.

Without words, the magic was uncontained. Without words, it was deadly.

(p. 149)

Finally, in one of my favorite passages in this book, Barnhill expresses what I consider a universal truth in a brilliantly clear and simple manner: the idea that words are mystical symbols that express the archetypal essence of everything that exists.

Ned stood and stepped away from the wolf. He removed his remaining glove and looked at the magic on his skin. Its strange letters. Its otherness. Each symbol was a word—though no more familiar to him than the words of his own language.

And yet.

A word is a magic thing. It holds the essence of an object or an idea and pins it to the world. A word can set a universe in motion. And Ned had.

(pp. 254 – 255)

There are many other symbols and ideas incorporated into this impressive book: the triple goddess; the sea as a symbol for the soul and consciousness; the forest representing the primal and dangerous aspect of the human psyche; the corrupting influence of power (in a Faustian manner); and myriad others. As I said, the sheer amount of allusion woven into the easy-to-read story is nothing short of amazing.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. Feel free to share your thoughts here after reading it. Cheers!

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“The Scar Boys” by Len Vlahos

ScarBoys

My wife suggested I read this book. She told me it was a quick read and that it was right up my alley: a young adult novel about starting a punk rock band. She knows me well. I did like this book and as a musician I related to much of what was in there.

Anyone who has ever been in a band knows that there is always drama and that it is like being in Spinal Tap. You deal with attitudes, stupidity, conflict, and the absurd. In spite of that, there are moments when being in a band, playing on stage with a group of people, and connecting to the audience through music are nothing short of magical and transcendent. Over the years I have experienced the full range of musical highs and lows, and that is probably why I found this book so enjoyable.

The book is presented as if it was written as a college admissions essay, answering your generic prompt about a person that influenced you, a problem that you have overcome, etc. I found this an interesting approach. The chapters are short, which makes reading this like eating a bag of Doritos; you can just keep snacking on one handful of words after another. Also, all the chapters are named after songs and the song titles tie into the events within the chapter. Since I connect life events to songs on a personal level, I found this effective.

So for those of you who have never been in a band before and wonder what it feels like to be onstage playing, it can only be described as the best high you will ever feel in your life.

Playing in front of people was like a drug. The walls dropped away and I found myself surrounded by open air, floating above everything. The energy of the audience—even the tiny audience at that first gig—wrapped the entire band in a protective bubble. Only the music and the knowledge of each other existed. We were four individuals merged into one seamless being, each inside the other’s head, each inside the other’s soul. Music, I discovered that night, was a safe place to hide, a place where scars didn’t matter, where they didn’t exist.

(pp. 73 – 74)

When I first started playing music, it was about what I could get out of it: adrenaline rushes, women, free intoxicants, social acceptance. At some point, though, there was a shift and music became more of a spiritual experience, a way of connecting with others on a level that was transcendent. It is this feeling that has kept me playing music for so many years. Vlahos captures that musical epiphany quite well.

“All I’ve ever wanted,” Chey continued, ignoring us, “is to play music that would make people feel good. We did that tonight.” We were all quiet for a moment.

It’s funny. I’d never really thought of it that way before. I’d only ever thought about how playing music made me feel. But Chey was right. The real magic comes from the audience. Music, it turns out, is more about giving than receiving. Who knew?

(pp. 124 – 125)

There is only one criticism I have about this book, and that is the abundance of references to late 70’s television and pop culture. For me, I liked them because I could relate to them and they stirred a feeling of nostalgia. But at the end of the day, this is a young adult book and I doubt that many teenagers would know who Potsie, Horseshack, or Vinnie Barbarino were. I understand that you have to write about what you know and what you feel, but you also need to take into consideration your target audience.

Anyway, this is a very quick and easy read, and one which I personally enjoyed. And if you remember CBGB’s and WKRP, then you’ll probably enjoy this book too.

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