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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

by J. K.  Rowling

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, 2005
652 pages
ISBN: 0-4397-8454-9

Age 9 and older

The much anticipated Book VI in the Harry Potter saga proves to have been well worth the wait as J. K. Rowling continues the arc of her enthralling story. With random violence and murders reported regularly in The Daily Prophet, things have changed in the wizarding world since the Dark Lord, Voldemort, returned to power. But Rowling’s plot echoes changes in the western world in recent years, and while no one is desensitized to fear and violence they are learning to live with it. As a result, even though Mrs. Weasley carries the clock that tracks the fate of each of her family members wherever she goes and all hands point to “mortal peril,” things feel far less ominous for most of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince than they did in Book V. That’s due to changes in Harry, too, who has emerged from the anger, uncertainty and adolescent angst that consumed him in the prior volume with greater equilibrium, depth and maturity, and greater focus and determination to be Voldemort’s undoing. Now sixteen and returning to his sixth year at Hogwarts, Harry, along with his friends, finds the school provides some sense of normalcy even as the world both inside and outside of Hogwarts adjusts to living in fear. For much of the book, building romantic tensions, complete with petty jealousies, insecurities, matches made and broken, and plenty of snogging, are as demanding of the sixth years’ energies as what’s happening beyond the gates, on the Quidditch field, or in class. But the pace never lags in this page-turner that juggles multiple surprises and mysteries, along with the usual fair share of sparkling humor. Harry is driven in the quest for answers, and readers will be too. But many questions will continue to tantalize long after the book has ended, including those that arise in the frantic climax. One of the problems worrying Harry for much of this story is Draco Malfoy’s behavior. A bully at 11, 13 and even 15, now Draco is being secretive, and that feels much more sinister than his sneers and airs of superiority ever did. In part that’s because Draco, along with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and others have crossed an invisible line. No longer children, they stand on the brink of adulthood with almost all pretence of innocence gone. Perhaps nothing symbolizes this more than Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore. Once the headmaster sought to protect Harry from the truth; now he has made Harry his partner in seeking it out. It is also symbolized by the loss of someone beloved before this volume ends—and Rowling handles that loss with great deftness and great sensitivity to her audience, meeting many young readers, whether or not they have experienced the death of someone close--right where they are at. One of Rowling’s remarkable traits as a writer is that each successive book has contained perfectly timed revelations that fit into the plot of the larger story—the seven volume story—in a way that makes it clear things could be no other way. But we are surprised nonetheless, because each is such an extraordinary new element to contemplate. (In Book VI, the most stunning example is the Horcrux). Rowling has managed her complex plot over the course of six volumes with few falters even as she makes each book a compelling story on its own. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, that story is largely driven by the complexity of the plot, and, as in other recent volumes, there are some terrific characters who barely make an appearance, such as Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood. But while readers can choose to fill in the gaps on missing characters, they can’t fill in the gaps on essential plot elements Rowling must build toward and reveal. It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure, but Rowling once again gets it right. (MS) ©2005 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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