Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

I really loved Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

(Warning: there will be plot spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t read this book and want to, please refrain from finishing this)

The premise of this book was perfect. As the series shifts from MG to YA, Harry learns of the Order, a group of adults who will fight against Voldemort, but isn’t allowed to join. The juxtaposition of being powerful and smart but still considered a “child” is powerful, bringing out emotions not just in the protagonists, but in the reader. Harry’s frustration is palpable, relatable to anyone who has tried to walk through an open door only to have it slammed in their face. Especially as a teenager, facing situations in which some adults treat me with respect and others still see me as a child, Harry’s struggle with the Order is familiar, captured beautifully by J.K. Rowling.

What struck me most about this book in the series was how realistic it is. While the other books did have realistic social elements sewn into the mystical plot, this book portrays a vividly realistic account of the pressure and awkwardness of high school. The pressure of OWL years and the ensuing amount of homework is true in any school (even without complex wizarding exams). The way Harry and Ron procrastinate their massive amounts of homework is even more realistic, a trap even the best students can fall into.

The romance between Harry and Cho is awkward and tentative, and comes off extremely high-school-y. This isn’t a story written for the romance, but as with any group of teenagers crammed together for a year, flings and couples do appear. J.K. Rowling managed to add romance to her series without losing the focus of the novel, something other authors have dramatically failed to do. I respect her also for making the coupling–because there are others–tense and awkward, instead of the born-for-each-other, instant romance of most books that involve this sort of thing. This is real romance, playing out in the background of stressful schoolwork and larger issues, the kind that actually happens, instead of some perfect, soul mate romance seen in other series. (Don’t get me wrong, I love reading that kind of romance. But in this series, it was refreshing to see that the realism of the series wasn’t sacrificed for a few bonus points with an older audience.) Harry Potter is still about magic and triumph and sacrifice–but the addition of romance added to the realistic-ness of the series.

And then there is Dolores Umbridge. She is a fantastic evil character, something I appreciate. She is every horrible teacher you have ever had–but moreover, she feels like a bad substitute teacher. All of the jaw-clenchingly horrible things she does come off as the actions of a power-hungry sub, while the rest of the students suffer because they know what the class is supposed to feel like. This highlights the loyalty Harry’s peers feel to past teachers, and actually learning the subject.

Umbridge is the ultimate red-tape character. She is an evil none of the students know how to fight–a corrupt government. Every move Harry would make to undermine her is countered with a bureaucratic sweep of her pen. In this way, Umbridge is not only keeping Harry from enjoying his time at Hogwarts, she is also (unintentionally) aiding Voldemort in his rise to power by containing the people trying to stop him. She is frustrating. She is the perfect antagonist–and I LOVE her.

The creation of the D.A.–Dumbledore’s Army–adds a level of solidarity to the Hogwarts peers. Whereas before it was just Harry, Ron, and Hermoine who united against the approaching evil, now there is a group. This is the first step toward the unity Dumbledore–and the Sorting Hat–begged for. And for Harry, who has experienced very little loyalty or faith in his years at the school, this is a turning point, proving to him that he is strong enough to be a leader. Ironically, this show of strength was spurred into existence by Umbridge, so that her lasting legacy in the school is one of unity, not brokenness.

I loved Fred and George’s exit from the school. It was hilarious and perfect and I don’f feel like I need to talk about it much, because it was basically awesome.

The climax of the fifth book was really intense. I haven’t read this book since I was really young so I had no idea what was going to happen–and I was terrified. Serius’s death was almost too sudden for me; it wasn’t until the whole ordeal was over and Harry was trying to cope with it that the loss really struck me. However, the rest of the Order survived, and the book ended on a hopeful note for the group.

The fifth Harry Potter was emotionally moving in its realism and uplifting in its triumph over evil.

On Why I Don’t Say Crud and Darn

cursing bullshit brooks 1

I’m a high school freshman girl. Most of the people who read my writing, especially the works I don’t post on this blog, are my family. Since I started this blog, a lot of family friends–adults–have started to read my stories, things I usually keep under wraps or only show my friends.

And nearly all of them have the same comment:

“Why do you curse so much?”

or

“You don’t need to use those curse words.”

It’s not like I blame them. Most of these people have watched me grow up. Of course it’s weird for them to read my writing and see f-bombs.

But here’s the thing:

People curse.

I curse.

Not at school, of course (not with adults around anyway). Not at family gatherings (usually). But with my friends? At home? Hell yeah.

(This doesn’t mean that I curse during class discussions or feel comfortable–most of the time–with cursing at specific people or that I’m going to go to a speech and debate competition and use “shit” in my arguments. I know how to turn it off. Most people do. But if I stub my toe, all bets are off. And I think that’s a part of human psychology that should be embraced by authors, not shied away from.)

And the people around me curse. I’ve heard teachers say “shit” and “bitch.” My family curses (a lot). My friends have perfected chain-cursing, in which you string together lots of expletives with semi-violent threats of bodily harm to express how exactly you’re feeling about pretty much anything: the weather (which is always too hot or too cold), homework, tests, teachers, lack of sleep, group projects, jerks, bad music, loud noises, or people throwing food. The random people I pass during passing periods all have their sailor’s licences in expletive dropping. People curse when they text. People curse online.

(Again, I don’t mean to promote or condone cursing. But if I’m writing a story about people, especially people today, they’re going to curse, because that’s what the world looks like right now…and pretty much since the invention of curse words, back then in the stone ages.)

on cursing ducking

So when I go to write a story, I don’t shy away from curse words. They are a natural part of life for me. And my current writing goals are to write things that feel real to me.

When I went to write my novel, Devil May Care, my goal was to capture high school. I feel that I’m in a unique position, as an actual student, not an adult trying to remember what it was like, or an adult preaching about what it should be, or an adult basing it off of High School Musical and Mean Girls. I go to it everyday. It’s the epitome of real life for me. And my novel, though it is paranormal, takes place in a very normal high school environment. So for my project, I decided I would challenge myself to make my portrayal of high school as accurate as possible. Which meant crowded banks of lockers and getting elbowed in the head during passing periods and…cursing.

A message to every parent that tries to keep their child from cursing and thinks they can keep their child from being exposed to it: give up. I hear a dozen perverted, sexual, explicit, and expletive-ridden conversations on my way from first period to second. It happens. It’s a part of my reality.

I’m not going to hide from that when I go to write. There will be cursing. There will be innuendos and conversations you wish I don’t understand. With Devil May Care, I decided I was going to write high school the way it actually is, not the way adults want it to be. I’m not going to replace fuck with eff, bitch with bee-with-and-itch, damn with darn, crap with crud, shit with shizz, goddamn with GD, what the fuck with WTF. No one talks like that. (I have ONE friend who literally never cusses. I love her for it. But she’s a MAJOR anomaly. She is the outlier to end all outliers.)

Even in DMC, where my main character refuses to curse out loud, she curses in her mind (and as the story progresses…that changes, but hey, character development!). The characters around her curse. When I wrote a side character named Xia–a short, dyed-black-hair, ears-pierced-til-the-end-of-time BAMF–I let her curse like a goddamn sailor. In the first pages with her, I actually found myself going back to her dialogues and adding in curse words, because it was so unrealistic for her to not curse. (I was in the habit of avoid f-bomb campaigns with my old project, the more middle grade After We Waited for Ever. I successfully trained that out of myself with DMC.) It became a part of her diction and syntax. I knew what curse words she favored, how she used them for emphasis, how she built rhythm into her rants with them. Her cursing habit helped me understand her character and made her come alive for me. It was also a clear way her influence could rub off on Rose, as curse words gradually slipped into her used-to-be-clean dialogue.

I have an entire, annotate-able motif in DMC about all the different ways my main character is called a bitch. It is actually one of my favorite parts about the book, adding in beautiful juxtapositions and characterizations that would be lost if I didn’t feel comfortable dropping the word.

And in the series I post here, Hell and Styx, I curse. Hell is a badass gatekeeper of eternal punishment with serious unresolved emotional issues and a pessimistic, cynical view of the universe. Styx is a bored teenager who has to put up with Hell until the end of time. Neither of them have adult supervision at any time and share their purgatory with a ton of dead people. Do either of those characters sound like people who would shy away from cursing? Who would censor themselves when they went on a I-hate-the-goddamn-universe rant?

No.

Not even sort of.

I want to write real stories. I’m trying to push myself to make even my paranormal stories read like real life.

For me, that means cursing. I don’t do it for no reason. Every expletive I use adds something to the characterization or plot development. They give insight into how the character works. The goody-two-shoes says fuck? Some serious shit hit the fan. The new character curses every two words? You immediately understand what this person is like. The person who usually only curses in their mind curses out loud? They’re under stress. Someone who has only cursed once in the book starts yelling and hurls curse words like spittle? They’re seriously angry.

Maybe you say a more advanced author would find another way to get these facts across. But I like my way. It’s real. It’s efficient.

on cursing shirt

So there. That’s why I curse in my writing. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable. That’s fine, really. But don’t chide me for it. People curse. Which means my characters curse. Until we live in a world where I can walk through the quad at lunch without hearing about how much of a “fucking awesome weekend” someone had or my friends can walk home without being told they have “fine asses,” I’m not censoring my writing. These are my stories.

on cursing twainQuestions? Comments? Concerns? The comments are always open 🙂