I don’t read a lot of young adult literature. (This is a matter a personal taste- it’s not a value judgment about the genre. Some of my favorite bloggers are fans, and I have no problem with anyone who reads and loves YA, forever and ever amen, end of caveat.)
My inexplicable lack of interest in YA means I totally missed the Harry Potter craze. When the books began to become really popular, I was 17- Too Old to Read Things That Are Even Slightly About/For Children, FOR I AM A GROWN UP. Once I got over that, the series had become longer and more complex, and I didn’t want to jump into the middle of a story. And then it was 10 years later and the phenomenon was essentially over, and I had missed one of the largest pop culture experiences in the last 50 years.
Reader, I read them. I decided that millions of readers had to be onto something. Besides, I was missing so many jokes on Twitter, and there’s nothing I hate more than feeling left out. Except possibly bananas. And leggings worn as pants.
I got through books 2 through 7 in about two weeks (I had already read the first book a year ago). Here were my findings, in book order: meh child’s book, less meh child’s book, AMAZING, filler with mermaids, filler with cardigans, the most depressing thing ever, SUPER AMAZING. As an overall reading experience, I thought it was fantastic (no one is more surprised about this than I am). The world building is first rate, the characters become progressively more complex, the themes are galaxy-sized and handled masterfully, and best of all, Rowling doesn’t talk down to her audience.
The things that bothered me about the first book (clunky dialogue, excessive use of cliché, aspects of the book that were overtly derivative of other kid’s books) are ironed out in the second book, and gone in the third. The progressive development of Rowling’s skills directly contradicts Harold Bloom’s (that crankiest of cranky critics) assessment that her prose style “makes no demands upon her readers.” It makes no demands in that I don’t need a dictionary for every sentence, but her prose certainly demanded that I assess my ability to be a loyal and true human being. I think that’s more important. At the end of his snobby review, Bloom says that he “hopes [his] discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery.” I think I can say without any hesitation that that is exactly what it is. While reading Harry Potter doesn’t require that I speak literary-fictionese during the process, it challenges some of the most basic concepts I have about friendship and sacrifice. The Harry Potter series proves that “literary fiction” does not have a monopoly on quality written art.