I actually didn't start out loving Harry Potter. That seems unreal to me now, but I remember thinking that the characters were stereotyped and the story itself was unoriginal and merely a rewriting of old stories. Then I fell in love and never looked back. So I trusted Rowling, and when I started the new book, I was willing to keep going even though I did not really like the Casual Vacancy. I still didn't like it by 100 pages in and I was having a hard time keeping the characters straight. The book has no clear central character and the view point changes from one section to another and back again so you never get to know enough about one group of people in the first introduction to have them firmly in your mind the next time they appear. It was a confusing feeling like the first week in a new town when you always wonder, "have I met this person before, should I recognize some details or is this all new?"
I spoke to other people who were reading the book and found that we shared some of the same feelings and had some interest in the same characters, but agreed that they were not exactly people you would "like" or want to know in real life. But "Real Life" is what this book is all about. I found myself recognizing situations and people in a way that was a bit uncomfortable and gritty. I flinched at some of the brutal detail and the language, but after 23 years teaching children and meeting their families, especially those in Severely Handicapped classes, none of the brutality sounded unreal or exaggerated. JK Rowling's new book is not a magical escape but rather a confrontation with the part of town a lot of people prefer to avoid.
By the time I finished the final chapter, and turned the back cover, and glanced once more at the author blurb, the final line of the back flap stood up and slapped me awake. "She supports a wide range of causes and is the founder of Lumos, which works to transform the lives of disadvantaged children."
Then I saw it, and I realized this book is very similar to Harry Potter after all.
There is even a faint reference to Harry Potter in one line on page 81, " . . . once, (she dreamed of it, still), a child who had been locked in a cupboard for five days by his psychotic stepfather."
So this book is, like Harry Potter, about fear and prejudice against those who are different, and about children who are unwanted, or even if wanted, neglected through ignorance and desperation. There is much about Harry and Krystal Weedon that is similar, but then with Harry there was an owl, and a magic school and a quiddich team and friends with powers and hope. There were teachers who saw potential and nurtured it. For Krystal there is no magic owl, and the rowing team breaks up when the book begins with the one adult who saw her potential, dropping dead. Her peer friends were also 16 year old powerless foster kids. Life without the magic,
but still trying to show that disadvantaged children are
really there, and we all need to stop looking away.
Let there be light. Lumos.