Potterview #2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, from what I have seen, is considered to be one of the worst books in the series. And yes, it’s one of the earlier books, so the plot is a simple mystery and not very deeply involved with the larger overarching story. But I thought it was better than Sorcerer’s Stone at least.

I liked the plot of this book a lot better than Sorcerer’s Stone’s. The mysterious monster and the Petrified victims were very creepy, and definitely grabbed my attention when I was a kid. When Hermione became a victim, and when Ginny was kidnapped, emotional incentive was added. I cared a lot more about the outcome of this book when I was a kid because characters I knew and liked had been threatened. And of course, the diary and the basilisk tie into the overarching Horcrux storyline.

The characters are also developing a bit more. Hermione is a particular standout. Her suggestion to brew Polyjuice Potion in the girls’ bathroom is a defining moment. We already know that it is uncharacteristic for her to suggest breaking rules, but this event teaches us that she’s willing to do so in order to protect others. It’s also nice to get more background on Hagrid and the reason he was expelled from Hogwarts.

I am, however, starting to notice some plot holes. Magic that is used in later books is not used here in cases where it would be applicable because Rowling has not come up with it yet. For example, Harry is suspected to be the Heir of Slytherin, and it causes him a lot of trouble. But couldn’t Dumbledore just use Veritaserum to find out whether or not he’s guilty?

I love seeing the books get darker and more complicated, and I’m excited for Prisoner of Azkaban.

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Potterview Number 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I’m going to assume that everyone who likes books enough to follow a book review blog has already read the Harry Potter series. So I’ll be skipping the plot summary and diving right in!

The thing I noticed the most about this book was that it was very markedly a book for children. Most of the story is full of descriptions of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and comedic moments with the Dursleys. While it’s very whimsical and fun, the actual plot felt a bit thin.

The climax also felt a bit underwhelming. It was very exciting the first time I read it, of course. And the twist ending was very clever. But considering what I know about the stakes of the climaxes of the other books, it felt small.

On the upside, I loved seeing all the characters again. It felt good to see Harry full of awe and innocence, with no knowledge that within seven years, almost everybody he loved would be dead. Ron was funny, and I loved tiny, bossy Hermione. It was even fun to see Neville try to fight Malfoy, knowing that soon, he would fight Voldemort.

This review is short, but the book didn’t leave much of an impression. I love the whimsy of this book, and the world Rowling has created, and I don’t want to disrespect it. But compared to the others in the series, it was a bit dull and hard to get through. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, though!

Hunger: Finally Feeling It

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I sort of want to punch that stupid smarmy model

As anyone who read my last review knows (if you haven’t, here: https://thechosenblogger.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/gone-what-can-i-say/ ), I did not care much for Michael Grant’s novel, Gone. But I have to say that the second book, Hunger, is a vast improvement. Hunger picks up a few months after the end of Gone. Food is quickly running out, and people are starving. And what’s worse, Caine is being controlled by the Darkness, and he has a plan to feed it and increase its power.

I feel like this book did a few things better than Gone. The first was that the story focused more on the struggles of surviving in the book’s post-apocalyptic environment. I felt that Gone focused far too much on the conflict between Sam and Caine, partially because I didn’t find Caine very believable as a villain. This book, however, was mainly about Sam struggling to try and get enough food to feed the kids in Perdido Beach, with a subplot about Caine’s attempts to shut down the nuclear power plant. Even Caine’s plot is truly about the Darkness, not Caine himself, and the climactic battle is against the Darkness. I enjoyed the focus being on survival instead of the conflict with Caine. As I mentioned in my previous review, I love the concept of the series, and I’m glad the author is utilizing the possibilities of the scenario a little more.

Another improvement was the introduction of the Human Crew, a hate group formed against mutants. I like Zil and his friends as villains. Unlike Caine and Drake (who were just a little TOO evil), Zil and the others feel like real people. They’re just a bunch of kids trying to act tough and looking for respect. They’re bullies who don’t quite understand that the consequences of their action are far more severe when there are no adults to step in when things get ugly. I’m interested to see how this plotline plays out.

Thirdly, the characters are very well-developed. When I began to read the climax, I realized exactly how much I cared about Sam, Edilio, Brianna, and the rest.

(Spoilers)

I was terrified that Brianna would die of radiation poisoning, or that Lana would be kept by the Darkness. I was on the edge of my seat when Edilio, Dekka, and Diana were injured almost to the point of death. And even though I only knew him for a few pages, I ached for Duck’s self-sacrifice. The only character I couldn’t care less about was Astrid, who attempted to stop Zil from lynching a mutant by making a speech about Christian morality (it doesn’t work-shocker), then was captured by Zil because she is completely helpless and can’t do anything by herself.

(End Spoilers)

The female characters were a lot more well-written in this book. Astrid still didn’t get much to do aside from get kidnapped and yell about God, but she did take a little more initiative in this book, and I’m sure she’ll only get better. Lana was also a bit more proactive, but it didn’t end well. However, we are introduced to Dekka, an awesome and powerful black lesbian mutant, Brianna the Breeze, a self-assured mutant girl who thinks of herself as a superhero, and Brittney, a FAYZ soldier so dedicated that she literally refuses to die until her job is finished. They were smart, strong, and proactive in this book, and I think they’ll only get better.

That being said, Hunger still has some flaws. Remember before, when I mentioned that the focus of the plot was taken off of Caine, and instead, the main threat was the Darkness? And remember my last review when I talked about how the Darkness was not very scary or interesting to read about? That is still true. It’s a little creepy when the Darkness infiltrates Little Pete’s dreams, yes, but barely enough to even pique my interest. On top of that, the Darkness has no discernible motivation. For what purpose does the Darkness need the new body it’s trying to create? Why is it manipulating the kids of the FAYZ? And of course, when the villain of a story falls flat, the rest of the story tends to fall flat. This wasn’t quite the case here, but it came very close, saved only by the strength of the other characters.

I would like to make a quick note about the book’s Christo-religious themes. I didn’t really mind them at first, being Catholic myself (although seriously, there are no Jewish kids in Perdido Beach? No Hindus? No Muslims? Not even a committed atheist?). However, some of the things these kids say are not exactly realistic. I know from experience that when teenagers under pressure pray, it sounds more like “Ohgodohgodhelpmehelpme” than “St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us. We call upon you for our salvation.” And some of the religious speeches made by the characters (Astrid in particular, though Brittney is also guilty of this) are a bit preachy and overdramatic. These incidents are becoming more and more common, and whenever this occurs, it takes me out of the story.

This book improved upon its predecessor from both a feminist standpoint and a story standpoint, but I still don’t want to rank it above a Good. Hunger is definitely better than Gone, but it didn’t quite reach Very Good level. However, I put it down excited to continue the story, which is much more than I can say for the first book.

Second Opinions:

http://simonbohun.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/hunger-by-michael-grant/

http://ashleighonline.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/hunger-by-michael-grant-review/

http://charlotteunsworth.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/review-hunger-lies-and-plague-by-michael-grant/

Questions?  Comments?  Complaints?  Concerns?  Please comment!  I LOVE constructive criticism!

Gone: What Can I Say?

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INTENSE STAAAAAARE

I am going to feel terrible about this review later. I really am. The reason being, of course, that I didn’t like this book as much as everyone else in the world seemed to. And I feel a bit guilty about giving Michael Grant’s Gone what is probably the only somewhat-negative review it has ever received. What crime has this book committed, aside from not quite reaching my (admittedly rather high) expectations? What has this innocent little novel done? (Well, it reinforced gender roles. But I’ll get to that).

Anyway. On with it.

Gone seems like the sort of book I would love. The premise: One day, out of nowhere, everyone over fifteen in the town of Perdido Beach suddenly vanishes. A giant dome (called the FAYZ) encases the town. The left-behind kids must fend for themselves. And to complicate things, some are developing superhuman powers, and a mysterious underground creature called the Darkness is calling to them. I love young adult dystopian sci-fi, gritty loss-of-innocence chronicles a la Lord of the Flies, Stephen King, and X-Men. The sample first chapter I read on Amazon was brilliant, and I was wildly excited to read more. So what has caused this sudden fall from grace? Read on.

Because this seems like the best way to organize my thoughts, I will be reviewing the book by focusing on each of the main characters. First, there’s Sam Temple, our somewhat bland protagonist. He’s mellow, humble, and a “natural leader” (whatever that means). He’s nice enough, as Everyboy protagonists go. Pleasant, sort of like that one kid in your class whose name you keep forgetting. The trouble with this was that I couldn’t identify with him. No matter how well-written and fast-paced the prose may be (which it is), and no matter how many exciting twists and turns the author throws at the reader (and trust me, there are many), I couldn’t seem to get invested because I have no emotional anchor with this character.

Tagging along on his adventures are Sam’s two friends, Quinn and Edilio. I liked Quinn a lot. He seemed very real, and very human. The way he reacted to the FAYZ and other complications in the story felt poignant and true to life. I wish he had gotten more page time. Edilio is a quiet, Honduran-American boy. His character was a bit of a blank slate. He was very stoic, I suppose, and obedient to Sam, preforming any task Sam asked of him. As he is a character of color, though, making him silently obedient to the white male lead was a bit problematic.

Then there was Astrid, the intelligent love interest, and her autistic brother, Little Pete. Astrid was a great disappointment to me as a character, as she existed only to be Sam’s supportive lady love and damsel in distress. We were repeatedly told that she is the smartest person in the FAYZ, but the most proactive thing she did was use her intelligence to pick a really good place to wait for Sam to rescue her. Most of her time in the book was spent caring for her little brother.

(Spoilers)

Little Pete was revealed to have caused the FAYZ by using his extraordinary mutant powers to make the adults disappear. I don’t know enough about ableism to comment thoughtfully on his portrayal, but I know enough that it makes me uncomfortable. I have a sneaking suspicion that the author made him autistic in order to make him seem “mysterious” and “weird”, and he seems much more like a plot device than an actual character. His autism reduces him to little more than a silent MacGuffin, easily used and exploited by the other characters.

(End Spoilers)

Another major character is Lana Lazar, a girl with the power to heal injuries. We were told she was “defiant,” but she never actually exhibited defiance, probably because she spent most of her time in the story as someone’s prisoner. Most of her dialogue consisted of screaming for help or crying.

I would like to acknowledge Mary, Dahra, and Albert, my favorite characters in the book. These three understood what needed to be done to keep things going and took charge, doing the jobs no one wanted to do. Mary cared for babies and toddlers, Dahra started a hospital, and Albert took charge of the town’s McDonalds. They represented the best part of the book for me: just seeing how these kids survived and adapted to such a strange scenario. I wish there had been more of that. Even this, though, supported gender roles, as the male character used his intelligence to innovate and start a business, while the women are shoved into caregiving roles.

And of course, the villains, Caine, Drake, and Diana. These three were almost cartoonish in their egregious evilness. Caine came off as more smarmy and annoying than threatening, and Drake, while dangerous, seemed a little flat. Diana had some interesting character development, though, and I am excited to see more of her.

The real villain of the series, of course, is the Darkness. The Darkness drove the most intense plot thread of the book: what happens when Sam turns fifteen? Will he disappear like the others? This is the part that kept me on the edge of my seat, reading until the end. But even the Darkness had its weaknesses. Unlike the Beast from Lord of the Flies, or Stephen King’s supernatural menaces, the Darkness wasn’t terrifying, grotesque, symbolic, or even a little bit creepy. In this book, all it did was sit in a cave and be evil.

So, I have said a lot of negative things about this book. But, hard as it may be to believe, I did somewhat enjoy it. I loved the premise, I liked the writing, and I’m excited to see where the series goes. But I didn’t LOVE it the way I thought I would. It didn’t live up to all of my expectations, and as a result, I judged it harshly. And, from a feminist point of view, it had some problems. The racial representation was good (Edilio is Latino, Albert is black, there are two other named black characters, Lana is part Cherokee, and I think Dahra is Indian), but all of the major female characters are caretakers and helpless damsels (in this book, anyway). I give it a grudging Good, but know that the next book, Hunger (which I will be reviewing next), is much better.

Disagree with me? Want to say something about my writing? Please comment! I would LOVE some constructive criticism.

Want a second opinion? Here are some other reviews of this book on WordPress:

http://charlotteunsworth.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/review-gone-by-michael-grant/

http://nutfreenerd.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/book-review-gone/

http://ohcakeycreativity.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/book-review-gone-by-michael-grant/