(original review, 2002)
Children's literature comes in 3 styles these days. "The Coming of Age Stories", in which a child suffers a horrible tragedy and grows because of it. Pets, best friends, and elderly relations don't live long in Coming of Age tales. I hated the things when I was a kid. I'd seen enough tragedy first hand. I didn't need to read about it. Then there are the "realistic" children's books, that describe the social dynamics of middle school, without commenting on how the everyday cruelty affects children. Judy Bloom was the mistress of this. Here young protagonists were very real, but you didn't like them. Finally there are the series. Not well written, contrived plots, a little contrived humor. But kids like them.
Rowling understood what childhood is like. But she wasn't afraid to comment on it. She could be genuinely funny. And she understood that tragedy doesn't necessarily make you a better person. Future writers of children's' books might learn from her.
I was on the Tube one night reading. There was only one other person in the car, and he came up to me and asked what I was reading. Then he asked me if I'd ever read Harry Potter. He looked to be in his early 40s -- not much older than I was -- and he said that he hadn't read a book since leaving high school until his son brought "Chamber of Secrets" along on his weekend with his dad. After that, he read the first two books and when each new book came out he arranged for the release weekend to be one he spent with his son. They bought two copies and both read them, talking about them afterward. I think it was just after "Order of the Phoenix" had been released, but I was struck by him saying that he now read all the time. He loved Frederick Forsyth books. He asked if I thought he'd like the one I was reading, and when I said I didn't think it would be a favourite for him I recommended John Le Carré. Harry Potter had given him a better relationship with his son and brought him back to reading. Loved this story. The book deserves 2 stars just for this...