All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright PlacesJennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places will be the novel I recommend to anyone desperately in need of the feels. Its subject is not without its controversy and emotionally hard to process, but Places is beautiful and finds the extraordinary in everyday places (and being a Midwestern native who knows our hills are more like lumps—I should know.) It makes us reexamine our current criteria of living, if we’re really ‘awake’ or just going through the motions. Violet and Finch meet on the ledge of a bell tower for similar reasons with different purposes. The novel examines two young adults both caught up in their own struggles. While Finch is obsessed with death, Violet is just looking for a way out. Although this sounds like the worst pairing, both of them rediscover passion and excitement, but even love is not enough to keep someone going. Places is a reminder that amid loss and death, people somehow solider on.

Before I continue, this post contains content on mental illness and suicide. Be advised. Also: SPOILERS.

Theodore Finch spots Violet Markey on the ledge of a bell tower the same day he’s tempting to jump off of it himself. He ends up talking himself out of jumping and keeps Violet from doing the same. From there, everyone believes Violet is a hero for saving Freaky Finch: mercurial, manic, a new guy every week. Former cheerleader Violet is the opposite of him or at least she was before the accident that killed her older sister. Violet has been left stranded in what she calls ‘extenuating circumstances,’ and just wants to get the hell out of Indiana. During a class assignment about discovering new places in Indiana, Finch volunteers to be Violet’s partner, giving the chance for them to grow closer and fall in love. Behind Finch’s tenacity is more than just persistence but an ominous, pervasive feeling tearing Finch down. Finch is quickly unraveling and despite everyone knowing about it, no one intervenes, and it’s too late.

Places  delivers a straightforward story about a girl and boy meeting and quickly falling in love. The opening passage quickly sets up the story within the first several passages by introducing Theodore Finch and his disturbing, dry sense of humor on suicide, exemplified by his conveyance of the pros and cons of death via jumping off a building. The narration switches over to Violet Markey, who’s sensible and less enthusiastic about flinging herself off a building than her counterpart; however, she anchors the story whereas Theodore adds comedic relief to a bleak storyline, thus, creating this complimenting effect. The changing narrations help the boy/girl plot, but, admittedly, still contains several tropes from the Teen Romance genre, which explains why it’s so often compared to The Fault in Our Stars (yes) and Eleanor and Park (just no.)  An eccentric boy appears in a girl’s life and changes her complete outlook on things, but in the case of Places, it’s not as one-sided. Each of these characters imprints something on the other, bestowing us with beautiful metaphors and nuggets of wisdom perfect for young adult.

The characterization in this novel sharply imagines teens dealing with real, complex problems and doesn’t exploit characters with mental illness. The crazy, flirtatious banter between Finch and Violet is irresistible, especially in part because of Finch’s compulsive behavior to deviate from the mundane and lighten the mood. Finch’s story is very much about trying to find something to complete him than it is about finding the perfect way to die, though this might just be one of the many caveats of the story. He’s surprisingly hyper sensitive of what people think of him while being incredibly resilient to his peers’ castigation. When the manic episodes dominant his waking hours, his character begins shriveling. The reduction of this larger-than-life character painfully illustrates Finch losing his agency and the underbelly of mental illness, showing us how he departs gradually, boxing himself into smaller spaces until he’s gone. Niven carefully describes Finch and his descent. She distinguishes the two by showing off the intrepid Finch and when he’s lost control. The distinction reminds us of how mental illness is just a condition and doesn’t subsume a person’s identity.

Violet, although is burdened by her previous life and does everything to break away from the past, is characterized as a normal girl. With a character like Finch, it’s easy to overlook Violet. Her story appears minor but contains its own interesting problems. Like Finch, she’s in the public eye but with everyone’s attention trained on her. She is loved, so everyone panders to her circumstances because they know she’s still grieving. She even has supportive parents who are also grieving. She has so many people trying to be there for her but no one that’s capable of helping her transition. Her people are all super sensitive around her and trying to push her back to a place before the accident, but Violet starts to recognize that death isn’t the end but a trigger for change. When she suffers two devastating losses, the theme of the story is punctuated. She survives but is left behind and for someone to have to lose two people she loved in such a short amount of time, this leaves her with survivor’s guilt. Niven also thematically concentrates on the aftermath of loss and shows Violet piecing her life together and trying to make sense of Finch’s death. With Violet, her story isn’t about wanting to find an end but how to restart.

Places never lets go of the challenges of existing in the presence and valuing our lives. Finch, despite his fast-track spiral, was about the liveliest person because he lived each day like it was his last. And Violet wanted to save him—just like he did on top of that bell tower for her. Places does good work in breaking our hearts but doesn’t leave us broken. It reassembles all our parts leaving us with an important message: be there as much as you can. Love the people closest to you. Don’t live according to everyone else’s idea or for your family’s convenience. We’re born and then we die. Not to have lived even one moment is a waste.

Afterword:

Yes. I’m going to do the thing where I tell you things that you have heard on a bunch of public service announcements. If you feel suicidal, contact someone. I know. You don’t want to. You feel like a bother. No one can handle you. You’re too much. If you talk about it, then someone knows just how crazy you are. You’re worried what they’ll think afterwards or what they’ll do with you. Some might worry that person will take you home. Others might try and send you to a psychiatric facility. How do I know this? Three times I’ve tried (and obviously it didn’t stick) but there was someone to intervene—by sheer luck. I got lucky. Eventually I found out that I didn’t want to be lucky. I wanted to feel less lucky. I wanted to be in control.

There are resources available to you, and I get it: the last thing you want to do when you’re in this state is sparse through research or have to wonder about the cost of treatment, which is why reaching out before you reach critical is good. Talk. Cry. Talk. Ramble. I’m sure my SO would tell me my episodes were nonsensical and incoherent, but I felt better afterwards, and I’m very grateful that there’s a person in my life for that.

Tid Bit: Don’t wait fucking ten years to seek help like I did. We are complex creatures who need to converse awkwardly, sometimes in between sobs or through clenched teeth to find our doughy parts again. It’s better than feeling mean and hard.

So. There’s my public service announcement.

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

20820994I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is a beautiful, coming-of-age story about finding yourself when everything feels shared, less, or not your own. The death of their mother significantly changes Noah and Jude, fraternal twins struggling to feel a sense of belonging. Sun is narrated by the shifting perspectives of Noah and Jude, from the year before their mother’s death to three years later. Even before the life-changing event, Noah and Jude were opposites in every way, competitive for their parents’ attention and a yearning for acceptance, but once things change, they flip personas. Sun creates a vacuum only for self-discovery with everything and everyone being conveniently pulled to one place. It’s about breaking free of encumbering labels, self-perpetuating guilt and shame, and rediscovering the magic.

Before Noah’s mother died, Noah was passionately consumed with art. Whenever he was emotionally entangled or brainstorming, he conceptualized paintings in his mind. His sister Jude was a surfer girl with latent, artistic talents but more interested in boys and parties than trying to get into a prestigious, art school, which was all Noah wanted. Flash forward three years later: Noah is sports guy and taking stupid risks by jumping off steep cliffs and not doing art anymore while Jude is attending the prestigious art school that Noah didn’t get into. She’s not surfing or going to parties anymore. Instead she’s creating misshaped clay sculptures (divine repercussions,) chatting with her Grandma (a figment of her imagination or possibly divine intervention,) and relying on her Grandma’s bible of superstition, quoting verses that are so unfounded but funny (like putting an onion in your pocket will bring you good luck.) She has already come apart at this point. After the death of their mother, Noah and Jude both put their lives on pause and just exist now. Then Jude’s teacher sends her over to be mentored by the “Rock Star of the Sculpture World” Guillermo Garcia, who’s a typical austere, tortured artist archetype. Beforehand, while waiting in a church, Jude meets the charismatic, chatterbox Oscar Ralph and everything changes.

What works best in Sun is its two, young adult protagonist. Noah and Jude engage us with witty commentary and playful banter containing symbols and metaphors. Noah and Jude play this game where they offer parts of the world off to each other. When Jude sees one of Noah’s drawings, she must have it and offers the sun to him as well as most everything else, except the flowers because Noah lets her have those. As twins, they already share most things with having both of them feel like they’re compromising or bargaining for things, which extends to how they feel about their parents and their friends. The mother, while wanting both of them to attend art school, spends most of her time with Noah on museum trips. When Noah’s crush Brian meets Jude for the first time, Noah wants to shut her out. After Noah and Brian join Jude’s posse of friends, Jude feels she’s snuffed out of the group. Sun constantly feels like it’s having these characters go back and forth with each never feeling there’s a place for them. Noah and Jude are ostensibly opposites but it feels more like a response to the other. Jude’s art only really surfaces when Noah decides to quit art. Jude stops surfing only for Noah to take on sports, creating this constant see-saw effect between the two characters. Nelson maps out a story that’s peppered with ambiguous lessons, stripping the black and white world to one full of colors. It’s not one way or the other.

Sun delicately weaves two different kinds of love stories but never goes excessively into the romance department. The twin’s experiences with love start with someone noticing them apart from being twins. Their love interests don’t know Noah and Jude as “NoahandJude.”  Even while the characters are falling in love, Sun is far from being another love story and emphasizes the kind of people Noah and Jude are intimately.  Noah’s story is painful, confusing, yet beautiful because of his narration of when the world, although doesn’t ostracize him (everyone kind of knew he was gay before he did,) makes him feels less of man when already he prefers arts over sports and doesn’t live up to his dad’s definition of masculinity. Noah’s conflicted about his identity, his sexual orientation, and belonging anywhere when it feels to him like so much of what he loves has to be kept reserved and he’s forced to live a lie. Jude struggles with breaking from that image of being “that girl,” which her mother often called her. When she loses her virginity to some guy in a car, the other guys determine she’s easy and brand her a slut. Afterwards she’s insecure and aimless trying to find her mom in her artwork, which she claims keeps breaking because her mom is angry with her. She’s trying to find forgiveness and a chance to start over. Love ends up being more transformative than a means of escape for each of the characters. There’s romance but it never replaces the twin’s personal stories.

But on the other hand, Sun is surprisingly a small world. Each character is connected in some way with some kind of purpose. While I love stories like this, cynics will toss their eyes at the many, MANY coincidences that arise at the end and at how smoothly everything comes together. Sun borders on being too miraculous but wins out by having almost all its characters happy and together, briefly suspending our disbelief and making us believe in the notions of prophecies. There’s a kind of invisible force in Sun that takes your broken spirit and turns it into your best self.

 

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

French MilkIn the graphic novel French Milk, Lucy chronicles her month long visit with her mother in the enchanting city of Paris giving us plenty of illustrations on the city’s food and fashion, apparently the only things to have imprinted on her. A Goodreads’ summary describes French Milk as “grappling with the onslaught of adulthood” with both Lucy and her mother struggling “with their shifting relationship,” but the only noticeable struggle found is in the weather, long lines, and Lucy’s menstrual cramps. French Milk intrigues us with the notion of a 20-something woman’s exploration of the alluring, majestic city but leaves us wanting more observation and retrospect. Coming to terms with financial responsibility and intimacy as an adult is apparently a cakewalk.

Milk is more or less an illustrative diary. It’s compiled of dates, summaries, and illustrations cataloging her day. What we see is a transparent interpretation of her experience: what you see is what you get. Lucy offers little to no substance besides what she ate and wore. Lacking is a feeling of vulnerability and absorption of her surroundings. Lucy and her mother sightsee but don’t immerse themselves in the culture. We only read about the tourism aspect of the novel.

The narrator, twenty-two year old Lucy, delivers a mild interesting look at Paris that’s mostly juvenile. An art undergraduate student, Lucy finds things like Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, artwork, and the 2006 film of Marie Antoinette interesting, but Paris, a city she mentions she’s already been to, is nothing more than a hotspot for shopping. Some of the novel’s idiosyncratic moments are humorous, such as Lucy’s book-ending hangover or her mother’s early morning habit, but other than these funny moments, what we have is a narrator struggling to find and apply meaning from her current experience to her circumstances. We hardly learn about this alleged struggle between Lucy and her mother or Lucy’s young-adult problems. The narrator provides us a prosaic point of view that illustrates the widely, frustrating notion that 20-something can’t conceive anything profound and serious.

Lucy’s illustrations are fun and easy and quickly comb through her experiences. There’s no great effort shown but it’s this leisure-like quality that bolsters the tone of the story. Lucy animatedly depicts her shopping and culinary experiences but does so in the simplest of drawings. Unfortunately with the lackluster content and prose, the illustrations remain stagnant and never depart from literal depictions.

Milk should be recommended to anyone about to leave for a trip for Paris in the near future. Its story is tailored to meet the provincial desires of an American tourist (without a budget) and point him or her  in the right direction of Paris’s attractions (why she visited the Eiffel Tower three times I will never know…) It can act as a companion to anyone without any prior knowledge of Paris. For others, they’ll want something more substantial than a croissant.

My Week with Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 7 (The Finale!)

harry potter and the deathly hallows

Of course there will be spoilers contained in my last post of “Harry Potter”, but, still, I will say it once more: Spoiler Alert: Do not read if you haven’t read any one of the “Harry Potter” novels.

Back in high school when everyone was reading the last Harry Potter book, my SIL, best friend at the time, had offhandedly redubbed it as Harry Potter and the Prolonged Camping Trip. I had no idea what she meant until now. She’s bloody right. Pages are dedicated to Harry, Hermione, and Ron camping in the woods while on the run. They’re busier sorting out their own problems than finding Horcruxes.  Some, like Ron—too preoccupied with his own bruised ego—just do nothing to advance the story along.

The Deathly Hallows is an accumulation of unsaid conversations finally surfacing. Harry’s unwavering loyalty to Dumbledore. Ron’s inferiority complex of his best friend. Hermione’s feelings for Ron. And to be brutally honest, the latter of the two are just exhausting, a banal romantic entanglement to remind us that Harry and Hermione are never ever going to happen.

The last book recounts our heroes’ aimless search for the Horcruxes, their misgivings towards each other, and the strength they find to persevere and overcome impossible odds. It’s also famously known as one of the most tragic books from the Harry Potter series with more beloved characters killed off than in a Joss Whedon series. Deathly Hallows is the series’ apogee, an emotional cutting, candescent piece that while struggles with pacing, is what the story deserves instead of what it needs.

Death Is Coming For You

Harry Potter is quite merciless at killing off some of its most intricate characters. I wasn’t harboring any delusions of everyone being safe from Rowling’s pen. Moreover, I expected a few deaths. Hedwig’s death, the first death in Deathly Hallows, signals the novel’s ruthlessness… and also the beginning of my own bawling. What can I say? I cry  at reading and watching people’s pets die. But more importantly, Hedwig’s death thematically represents a loss of innocence. She was one of the first gifts and a friend bestowed to Harry. Killing her was symbolic of Harry leaving behind his childhood (or, depending on your interpretation, thrusted into adulthood.) This is a reoccurring theme in all the Harry Potter novels, being that this is an epic, coming-of-age story.

Some of the other deaths were some of the best, well-written pieces I’ve read in a while. The death of Dobbie and Fred were so eloquent that they gave me chills. But others did disappoint me, such is the case with the deaths of Remus and Tonks. While it was apparent that Remus was destined to die—his friends gone, his career in the gutter, and an unstable condition—I did wonder if perhaps he would survive after marrying Tonks and fathering a child. Still, every time we saw him in rags, blanch and thinning, he looked like he was wilting before us, similar to what happened to Sirius Black. At this point, I wanted the same fate for Remus, to go out in a blaze of glory, but unlike Sirius, the glory is a hollow death. He loses his life alongside his young wife Tonks, leaving behind a child he will never know.

But, thankfully, Harry was appointed Godparent…so… Harry will raise the boy…right? Right?? Seriously, if anyone knows, please tell me, because the ending didn’t seem to suggest that!

Hunting Horcruxes

Famous heirlooms. Voldemort’s hubris… How was this hard?

And reading through Ron’s inferiority complex caused a really loud sound that I couldn’t shut off. Oh, wait. That was my screaming at him.

Ron, the bane of my existence (and apparently Hermione, but she ends up marrying him so…)

The Bittersweet End of Severus Snape

The Deathly Hallows reveals the most about Severus Snape. Argued as the ultimate anti-hero, Snape, as I already knew, loved Lily Evans/Potter. They met when they were children right as Lily was discovering that she was a Witch. Even after being sorted into the four Hogwarts houses (eleven is really too young…), they continue as friends, but like any cliché, Snape falls into a bad crowd of future Death Eaters. When Snape regrettably calls Lily a Mudblood, their friendship dissolves. Lily starts dating James, and Snape joins the Death Eaters.

Several parts of this story are curious and most revealing about the character Snape. Despite loving Lily and being deeply ashamed at how he treated her, he remains in love with her while doing horrible deeds in the name of the Dark Lord. He only begins to repent when he discovers the prophecy and how Lily will lose her life protecting her child, thus, taking on the role as a double agent and later as Harry Potter’s secret protector. The real question that I always find myself asking though is this: why did he continue down a destructive path after what happened with Lily?

Snape demonstrates that he’s capable of feeling remorse (although it may only apply to Lily, Dumbledore, and Harry.) He recognizes when he’s made a mistake, but this isn’t enough to change him. More often, it’s usually not for anyone. It ends up being a life-changing event that reforms Snape into a person that still does horrible things but for the greater good—which is exactly what he wanted whether he knew it or not.

I used to think the life of Severus Snape was a tragic one, and it still is in retrospect. He wasn’t offered the chance to come clean or openly make amends with anyone, even with Harry, who Snape treated the worst; however, Snape’s last line tells us so much about who he was.

“Look…at…me…” he says in his dying breath. It’s quite the contrast to the movie’s version that attempts to redeem him and make him more sympathetic, but the book’s version succinctly summarizes who the character Severus Snape is. He’s tormented and destructive because he doesn’t see himself as anything else. He doesn’t forgive himself. Not ever. Snape isn’t spending his last breaths trying to confide in Harry or apologizing. That’s not his version of atonement. Snape doesn’t want to feel better. He interprets his mistakes too great to ever be forgiven, so he must suffer as much as he loved Lily.

He’s committed, that’s for sure.

Dumbledore’s Biography

I did say I wanted a biography…I just didn’t expect one to be published in the Harry Potter universe.

Dumbledore didn’t adopt his altruistic beliefs until later on after making a handful of mistakes. He was a know-it-all, genius wizard who couldn’t care less about his family. Awards, achievement, and the revolution of the wizarding world were the only things occupying his mind, that is, until the death of his sister, Ariana, who Dumbledore may have inadvertently killed during his altercation with his brother and friend, Grindelwald. Dumbledore never forgave himself, so much so he never pursued a position of high- ranking power. For him, his sister’s death sobered him. It taught him he couldn’t wield tremendous power. He lacked the mental discipline and humility, even though we’re lead to believe he’s the most humble professor considering the glut of power at his disposal. Even so, Rowling has removed most of the mystique surrounding the powerful wizard Dumbledore and greatly humanized him, something which I loved.

19 years later. . .and All Is Well.

If you’re not up to date on your Shakespearian references, the last three words will mean nothing to you, but if you are, then it should tickle your brain. It did for me anyway.

The only reason I actually know this reference is subsequently from studying and writing on Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, noted as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays but also considered a Comedy. Why it’s viewed as a problem play stems from its implicit content that doesn’t comply with the conventions of Shakespeare’s Comedy; it essentially deviates from the tropes of the genre. All’s Well That Ends Well contains several issues that many argue don’t fit the category of Comedy, shoehorning the two romantic partners together and carrying in its subtext egregious gender politics. To sum it up, it’s not a happy ending for all. In this play, the quote “All is well that ends well” tries to remedy the loose ends and fates of the other supporting characters almost like a comedic shrug; however, the phrase is harsher than we know. What happens, happens or That’s life. Sound familiar, right?

Besides the staggering death toll, several characters’ fates aren’t expounded upon in The Deathly Hallows, with the fate of some not necessarily happy. For instance, the ending of Remus’ son is problematic since he grew up more or less an orphan. Bill Weasley is permanently disfigured. Percy will forever carry with him the psychological trauma of Fred’s death. George lost his twin, who was like his other half. Draco Malfoy, considered an antagonist throughout the Harry Potter series is apparently redeemed despite almost killing a girl and Ron in the Half-Blood Prince. All things considered, there’s no room for celebration. So how does one go about ending a series that, for many, has been a source of happiness and comfort without euphorically washing out the story’s maturity and complexities?

The ending quote, “All is Well,” doesn’t gloss over any of the problems or somber moments. It pointedly and realistically addresses loss and grief and how time can temper these things but not expunge them from our emotional circuitry. It also identifies that not everything is perfect. Fair to say, if leaving Harry Potter with the feeling that everything is as it should be or believe it’s a happy ending, then we’ve blithely misread and overlooked the nuances of the last chapter.

As Harry, Ron, and Hermione send their kids off to Hogwarts, we know as well as they do that this moment is contributed from an amalgam of sacrifices, losses, and victories. There are things they’ll never be able to forget. Certainly things aren’t perfect and were not supposed to think they are, but we can say, that it’s better than the alternative.

The Harry Potter Blues and Final Thoughts

I’ve heard about this condition where people go into a catatonic book slump after reading Harry Potter, a void that just cannot be filled. While I am experiencing some reading lag, let me reaffirm that this has more to do with the holidays and a temporarily closed library than Harry Potter.

It’s been interesting reading the series. I’ve met and talked with some cool people and gleaned from our conversations that Harry Potter holds a special place in their hearts. It’s a token from their childhood and/or adolescent years. I get that. It just isn’t for me. I’m older, arguably more mature, but more so, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t carry keepsakes from her childhood. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite Barbie doll was. I had over a hundred drawing hung on the fridge, which have all been discarded. Awards and trophies are kept in closets or stuffed in draws. A sign of avoidance and/or repression? Possibly.

Harry Potter is special in the sense that it can touch so many people differently. I think of it like watching an eclipse: you have to use a pinhole to see it right and have to be in the right place and time. Maybe I didn’t see the eclipse right or maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Who’s to say?

I read and enjoyed the series. I picked up several new things that I wouldn’t ordinarily find in other books because I don’t spend a lot of time reading series in general. Rowling created seven books that read cohesively while adapting to the aging characters, a huge undertaking and not often appreciated.

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven months since I first picked up the first book. And I would definitely be up to rereading the series after I’ve spent some time reading other books, writing about them, and continuing to write my own story. Then someday, I can revisit Hogwarts.

Thanks everyone for following, or for others, humoring this reading escapade.

If you missed Parts 1-6, I’ve included links below.

Hope you survive enjoy your holidays!

My Week with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone, Part 1

My Week with Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Part 2

My Week with Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, Part 3

My Week with Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Part 4

My Week with Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, Part 5

My Week with Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, Part 6

 

 

 

My Week with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Part 6

Harry_Potter_and_the_Half-Blood_Prince_(US_cover)Spoilers are ahead. I say this again: SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED IN THIS POST OF ALL THINGS HARRY POTTER.

Following the events from Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s name is cleared, and Hogwarts is liberated from the Ministry of Magic’s control, thus, allowing Dumbledore to do what he does without surveillance. If only that were all true.

Replacing Cornelius Fudge is Rufus Scrimgeour, a more competent, militant man who wouldn’t hesitate to exploit an enemy’s weakness or use others for his own gain (of course under the premise that it’s for the ‘greater good.’)  Scrimgeour is arguably the Commander in Chief we need to fight Voldemort’s army, but in the Harry Potter universe, the Ministry, i.e., the government, is not what will save the day. Even Harry Potter, the ‘Chosen One,’ isn’t necessarily stopping the onslaught of Death Eaters. The man with contingency plan who has a contingency plan for his contingency plan is Albus Dumbledore. He’s been looking at the bigger picture probably since learning of Tom Riddle’s diary and its significance. At long last, we learn that Dumbledore has been researching and locating magically charged objects called Horcruxes. While Harry’s been scrapping by in surviving Voldemort’s attacks, Dumbledore’s been on the offense and trying to find the Horcuxes to kill Voldemort.

Even with this narrative introduced, we know nothing about Dumbledore, of his family (though I sometimes think he just poofed into existence), marital status, travel destinations, etc. And Harry, despite seeing Dumbledore as a paternal/role model, doesn’t ask a lot of questions about his mentor. There’s certainly something to be said here about Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore. It’s definitely not a two-way street, even though we are lead to believe they have a unique friendship (I was originally going to say special but that sounds creepy, and it’s definitely NOT that.) It’s true Dumbledore takes Harry under his wing, but we can only infer as to why. We can’t assign any term to describe their relationship other than the teacher/professor relationship, but Harry doesn’t fully realize this until the end of the novel, hitting Harry almost harder than Dumbledore’s death itself. The mystique of Dumbledore enchants us and is the main reason he’s such a beloved character. Hogwarts, which in itself is beloved, appears as the only place he’s attached to. What is Hogwarts without Dumbledore? It’s a haven for so many children, even once for Voldemort. Dumbledore’s characterization has so far been the most unusual since we haven’t learned anything actually about him, but we do manage to glean things from his interactions with others. What we really know about Dumbledore is what people think of him.

Here are a few additional thoughts on Half-Blood Prince:

The Discourse on Horcruxes:

The purpose of Horcruxes is to grant immortality by having a wizard or witch affix their soul to an object. They’re considered Dark Magic for two reasons: splitting a soul involves committing murder; having a broken soul leaves a magic user unstable and dangerous. Although most of you reading this already know what Horcruxes are, there’s a lot left out from the conversation, such as, what happens to the wizards and witches (Aurors), when they kill? Are their souls forever broken? Based on characters such as Mad Moody, Lupin, and Dumbledore, it’s hard to tell.

Rowling offers a nuanced discussion on the act of murder and its effects. In no way does Harry Potter approve of murder or its varying degrees. Half-Blood Prince suggests distinctions, however. Damaging the soul beyond repair requires a severe act of malice, which seems to imply killing the innocent or defenseless. While this idea makes sense, the finality of death and the irreversible consequences, I have to wonder if the criteria should take into account other acts like sexual assault and torture. I would think these would qualify, but this isn’t what this conversation ends up being about.

Horcruxes symbolize both a person’s hubris and sin, as in the divine kind governing most our morality.  I can see why they’re considered so dark. They’re basically trophies of someone’s irredeemable acts.

With That Said…Voldermort is an idiot

I feel like I need to write this in print one more time: Voldermort. Is. An Idiot.

Voldermort is the poster child of allowing his ego to encumber his rational-decision making. I’m well aware he’s less human now, but he’s leading an army and overtaking the Ministry, which, to his credit, displays some level of intelligence. Some.

But why would attach your soul to famous relics and heirlooms? Just…why?! His journal makes sense, but if I wanted to keep staying immortal, I would secure my soul to the most obscure object as possible…like a pen or a bookmark.

Did he, the most hated ‘man’ in the universe, think that this could just be the worst idea ever conceived? Did achieving immortality turn the lights off in his head? Horcruxes themselves are not invincible and you paint an even bigger target on them when they’re extremely well- known!

Maybe he’s lost some of his motor function from his days as Tom Riddle from splitting his soul into seven, but this just feels, all around, a haphazard plan.

This is exactly the problem with having too many yes men; there’s nobody with the bones to stand and say, ‘That’s ill-advisable, My Lord…Might I suggest a spare button instead?’

The Half-Blood Prince’s Book:

By far, this was my favorite part of the book.

I love books that have been written in them. It’s the main reason why during undergrad that I bought all my books used– not to mention, how economically affordable they were compared to the new copies. Including this in Half-Blood Prince was quintessentially my book-nerd fetish.  I honestly don’t know why more people don’t write in their books.

Let’s Talk About Ginny:

I admit, I wasn’t sold on Ginny at first.

Her appearance in the film is partially responsible. I saw her in the second film as a little girl obsessed with Harry Potter. She was also being mind-controlled by Voldemort. The next time she shows up? The sixth film. What?? Where in the world was Ginny Weasley in three, four, and five?

She was, of course, at Hogwarts, sometimes hanging out with Harry, her own friends, or with the boyfriend of the week (which I loved!) Ginny has a separate life outside of Harry’s, and unlike Hermione for Ron, she isn’t pinning for Harry. She’s dating, checking out her options (but surprisingly, this advice was given by Hermione???)

Ginny’s athletic, talented, and sharp when it comes to pointing out bullshit too. I thought, ‘where has this character been all this time?’ She’s always been there and adds a great dynamic to the already brilliant women in Harry Potter. Growing up in a house full of boys has taught her well.

Other things…

There is so much that goes on in Half-Blood Prince—Draco Malfoy’s reluctance in killing Dumbledore, Lupin’s commitment issues, Percy’s estrangement, Professor Slughorn’s regret, Ron’s vapidness—that discussing each one would be a blog in itself. I will say this: Half-Blood Prince presents what feels like a deliberate set-up to a finale. In comparison to the previous books, Half-Blood Prince is open-ended and thematically ties in with The Deathly Hollows–but that would leave our eyes dry and I think the overwhelming blood bath in the Deathly Hollows plus Dumbledore’s death would lead to a riot.

Most of what I want to discuss is unfinished. I just have to wait until I’ve finished the final book to formulate some lasting opinions.

My Week with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Part 4

Harry_Potter_and_the_Goblet_of_Fire_(US_cover)Warning: There are most definitely spoilers ahead of you.

Turns out, there are other magical institutions in the universe of Harry Potter with foreign relations held together by the thinnest of threads.

Goblet sets up kind of differently (Dursleys, again…) but shapes out differently than the previous three books–and I’m not referring to its deadly tournament.

There are more conversations had behind closed door that are intentionally kept secretive. As more adults and members of the Order trickle into the story, we begin to see how much is really being withheld from us. There’s more to process in Goblet as more and more things are exposed about Harry, Voldemort, and the Ministry of Magic.

Here are some of my bundled thoughts:

Just how much influence does Albus Dumbledore have?

It’s believed that Dumbledore is the only one with the potential to defeat Voldemort, but I have to wonder just how many people Dumbledore has recruited, or rather, people who owe him favors. This is best represented in the concealment of Sirius Black. For Sirius to travel and not be caught, there must have been an exhaustive amount of efforts to get him to Hogwarts, and I just don’t think Sirius has enough pull on his own or connections in the outside world to help him.

There’s a very real reason why the Ministry of Magic fears Dumbledore, and it’s not just for his crazy powers (which I can’t wait to read more about.)

HarryxHermoine:

I want to go on record here: I hate love triangles.

I loathe when an author employs this convention in a piece of literature, and it so often finds room in the Young Adult genre. The girl is torn between two equally but crazy hot guys with polar opposite personalities. She spends the entire time back and forth conflicted on which one she ‘loves’ and eventually but painfully makes her choice. And while taking her time to make said decision, she (or him) hurts a lot of people in the process. Someday I’m going to compile a list devoted to things I wish books would stop doing. I’m happy to say Goblet doesn’t resort to this when Viktor Krum is introduced into the mix.

Goblet takes advantage of its character, Rita Skeeter, a reporter interested only in writing for entertainment. Her articles work as a beautiful form of satire, a side commentary on the litany of love triangles and how ridiculously time-consuming and monotonous they are. Goblet has all the potential to become this: KrumxHermoinexHarry, HarryxHermoinexRon, GinnyxHarryxHermoine, KrumxHermoinexRon, HarryxChoxCedric. Harry Potter could have easily turned into an episode of School Rumble, but it doesn’t.

With bigger problems obviously ahead, the characters, although their involvement with said other party members is a source of contention, does not interfere with the overall story or suddenly turn any of the characters into a deflated balloon.

With that said, am I really supposed to believe that Harry and Hermione don’t have any feelings for each other? At all..?

Compared to Ron, who refutes and knocks Hermione down a peg or two every chance he gets, Harry treats Hermione with respect and consideration, more charming in my opinion than a guy being mean to you, which in our culture somehow translate into masculine affection. It makes no sense to me.

SNAPE IS THE BAD GUY, uh, right?

If I had a nickel every time Harry and Ron surmised that Snape was plotting Harry’s death…

It’s interesting how everything seems to loop back to Snape. He’s always the first one Harry and Ron suspect that, at this point in the series, you can’t take their accusations seriously; yet, this boomerang effect feels so planned that you would think that the clever Hermione would have already discovered the truth (but teachers aren’t people, they’re concentrated nuggets of goodness!)

There’s a reason Snape is involved in almost everything. Either coincidences are as abundant as rabbits or Snape is intentionally inserting himself into these situations.

The funny part is Harry has the tools he needs to discover what Snape could be doing. If he truly suspected that Snape was out to get him, he could easily take his Invisibility Cloak and camp out in Snape’s office or potion supplies closet (as far as I know, there are no secrets charms or protection spells but feel free to let me know). It wouldn’t take much. Just wait long enough and eavesdrop on one of his conversations.

This might just be one of those times where it just slips Harry’s mind.

Background Checks:

After going through four professors of the Defense Against the Dark Arts, one would think that conducting an investigation into your professors would be prudent. For all the things Hogwarts is, their Human Resource department is haphazard when hiring Hogwarts’ professors. The Divination Professor Trelawney doesn’t seem qualified to predict anything, let alone expect her own students to predict the scope of their lives (but hey, every school has a blow-off class.)

If anyone had insisted that Mad-Eye Moody answer a few basic questions, because Google is not a thing in Harry Potter, a lot of things could have been avoided and lives saved.

Bad Reception:

The biggest mystery is resolved! Finally!

I’ve been closely following the story to piece together if Harry Potter occurs in a time before the internet and cellphones or if it’s purposely being left out. The films never covered it. As it so happens, the effects of magic negate technology! And I’m perfectly content with this explanation!

My next question: If you’re a wizard or witch, does possessing magic make it impossible for you to use technology…? I’d still think that some of those kids would have a cell on them considering it’s still faster to call someone versus an owl (although not as cool, I admit.)

To be continued…

Cedric Diggory:

Cedric embodies many admirable characteristics a champion should possess, and it’s his perfectness, his eagerness to do right by others and be selfless, that foreshadows his tragic, untimely death.

Even though Cedric’s death feels so catalytic, at the same time, I struggle with the lack of subsequent remorse. For all intents and purposes, Cedric was Harry’s rival; his competitor, and the root of Harry’s envy. He was many things but a friend.

It could be I’m overlooking this, but I really didn’t know Cedric. The only Cedric I see is Harry’s version, and while Cedric’s affability and heroism is attractive, it’s consequently something that dehumanizes him, which makes him feel less real to me.

I know many have wept pearl sized tears at the death of Cedric, and I do sympathize at the fact that he was too young and innocent to be taken, but I think I’m more sad at how much we can look at someone, feel like we know them and then not really know them once they’re gone, also one of my favorite type of stories.

 

My Week with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone: Part 1

Harry Potter Book 1Until a couple weeks ago, I had never read any of the Harry Potter books. While I’ve missed out on some noteworthy books, Harry Potter seems to be one of those books that book readers feverishly insist you read—like right now, not To Kill a Mockingbird, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or even, sure, The Bible. These books and others like them, despite being groundbreaking and distinguishable, paragons of literature, are highly recommended, but for some reason, Harry Potter is different; it has had an effect that no one could have anticipated.

I didn’t when I first heard about it in 2005 (analyze my living-under-a-rock another time.) It was about the time Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released. Around this time, I remember the lunch room being as silent as a graveyard for a couple of days and then voices booming days later. It was the book everyone was reading and gabbing about it. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, which, of course, is due in part by my obstinate teen-self unwilling to try or do anything remotely popular or affable. So I missed the allegorical train to Hogwarts and tried very, very, hard to avoid the fandom, which, of course, wouldn’t happen, not with eight movies being released, Pottermore, and subsets of geekdom leading the way.

Harry Potter became universally known—its story and characters were treated as common knowledge, with the phrase ‘*spoiler*’ not popularly coined yet. Other then some arcane knowledge only hard-core fans would know, I picked up a fair amount, which was the problem. The more I knew about the story, the more deterred I was to read all seven books. It would be The Hunger Games conundrum all over again: reading the book after watching the film. The movie was so fateful to the original source that it made my reading it trite and slightly redundant. And after watching all eight Harry Potter movies, I wasn’t eager to invest my time in reading seven books—books, I might add, that seemed to grow longer as Harry gets older. So I put off reading it with no actual intention of reading it (shameless but true.) This didn’t stop people from trying to get me to read it, however. As I mentioned earlier, the Harry Potter readership is an uncanny thing, especially when it comes to converting convincing others into reading the series, from browbeating to peer pressure tactics. There’s also my favorite: ‘because it’s Harry Potter.’ This is not to say every fan is like this—but it was the overwhelming response I got from the ones I encountered.

Then I had mentioned to a coworker who’s an avid book reader himself that I hadn’t read it. He shrugged and said he’d lend me his copy, which he brought in the next day. I reluctantly accepted with already a glut of books on my to-read list. I didn’t think I had time to read it.

Subsequently, the book I was reading that day I had left at home, and my study materials were also coincidentally at home too. Spending my lunch hour perusing Facebook didn’t appeal to me very much (it rarely ever does,) so I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone.

And I really got into it.

The excessively hyped Harry Potter has been lauded as brilliant, genial, and whimsical, words I thought were phlegmatically used to describe it. While I don’t think it’s the book of the century, it’s actually pretty interesting.

In spending little less than a week reading the first book, it’s a modicum of nostalgia for adults and kids and a source of comfort, the main reason so many kids and adults turn to it when they’re beside themselves. While the book contains several side stories besides Harry’s—a nuance from the Harry centric-film plots I’ve noticed—it’s a celebration of every character, making most of them more substantial and sympathetic than mere caricatures. It’s not perfect though. Its antagonists and villains are transparent and lack the same multifaceted characteristics as their counterparts, but I try and keep in mind that it is a Children book. I expect the bullies and naysayers to be provincial. As the books mature and segue into Young Adult, however, this should change.

Although I’ve read the first book out of the series, it has so far been delightful, and I’ll continue to chronicle my impressions and thoughts instead of reviewing it. To me, it just doesn’t serve any purpose, as Harry Potter is already substantiated with a surfeit of its own reviews and criticism. I’m interested in analyzing why Harry Potter remains culturally relevant, and what makes it mostly known for defining a generation, aka, my generation.