Sunday, July 31, 2011

Harry Potter and the Neurotic Man-Child

I’m certain there are some of you writhing in agony at the thought of reading yet another blog post, review, or article about the enormous impact Harry Potter has had on the lives of millions around the world.  However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add my own musings about the world of Harry Potter and my never-ending gratitude to J.K. Rowling for sharing her creation with us.  It seems especially appropriate since today is not only Harry's birthday, but Rowling's herself.  So here it is, my story about how Harry Potter taught me everything about life.  Well, almost everything.
I was 11 when my mom gave me a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  All she told me about the book was, “I’ve heard the first few chapters are a little slow.”  Indeed they were.  It seemed that Rowling was attempting to create the most despicable characters in history: the Dursleys, who lived on Privet Drive with their abused nephew, Harry.  Now, I wasn’t exactly hot on the life I was living at the time, but things were certainly put into perspective when I read about the life Harry was leading.  At least until I found out he was a wizard.  Then I kind of got jealous.
Harry’s rescue by Hagrid and journey to Hogwarts where he met a friendly ginger and brainy brunette were a turning point in my love for books and belief that they could really have an impact on my life.  I raced through Sorcerer’s Stone and consumed Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban with equal fervor.
In retrospect, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were my friends during those voice-changing, weird-places-for-hair-growing, baby-fat-gaining years of middle school.  Being home schooled at the time, I had little interaction with my peers and Rowling’s books filled an ever growing void in my life.  Hogwarts was the one place I could escape and feel good about myself (cue violin music, please).
Sometime between the publications of Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix I lost interest in the series.  I felt that I was too old for the books or too cool or whatever.  Anyway, it wasn’t until the summer between my junior and senior year of college that I read an article about Daniel Radcliffe and thought, “I can associate with this guy.  Besides the fame and millions of dollars we’re exactly alike.”  So, I spent the rest of the summer starting where I left off in the series and immersing myself into everything Harry Potter.  I found traces of myself in all the characters as I studied each book.  I have Harry’s reluctance to be a leader, Ron’s ability to make people laugh, Hermione’s tedious following of the rules along with a portion of her brains, and Luna’s pure love for her friends.  I also have a little of Malfoy’s ambition if truth be told, but let’s not go into that.
In the end, I realize that I will never be too old for Harry Potter.  He was my childhood and will always be a part of me.  It’s because of the series that I believe that people really do fall in love, that good people still exist, and that an owl would make an awesome pet.  It is an honor for me to say that I am part of the first generation to experience Harry Potter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

She was going home. Home. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

Taylor Stevens’s debut novel, The Informationist, is a fast paced mystery thriller which carefully mimics the style of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with a dash of Robert Ludlum thrown in for good measure.  Stevens’s heroine is 20-something Vanessa “Michael” Munroe, a brunette waif with a motorcycle and a chip on her shoulder. Does this sound familiar folks?  Although Munroe shows ample similarities to Lisbeth Salander, Stevens skillfully dodges completely copying Stieg Larsson’s infamous protagonist.
The plot is driven by an assignment given to Munroe by friend Kate Breeden.  Emily, the stepdaughter of millionaire businessman Richard Burbank has disappeared somewhere in Munroe’s birthplace of Africa.  After some coaxing, Munroe travels back to her homeland in search of the missing girl.  This is where the novel gets interesting and themes of espionage come into play.  Stevens puts Munroe on a world stage having her travel from the United States to Germany, and then to Africa where a backwards government steps in front of Munroe’s plans to uncover the truth behind Emily’s disappearance.
Like Lisbeth Salander, Munroe insists that she works alone, but her cool demeanor in countered by the warm charming Miles Bradford, who has been sent by Burbank to keep an eye on Munroe and the investigation.  Stevens then takes us on the well-worn story of girl meets boy, girl drugs boy, boy has to save girl from terrorists.  I think that’s how it usually goes...right?
Stevens’s strength is her ability to convey the atmosphere of Africa.  Raised in The Children of God, Stevens was denied an education beyond the sixth grade and eventually had to flee Africa as a teenager.  Much of this story is retold through Munroe’s own experiences and I suspect The Informationist was partially an attempt to relieve some of the author’s bitterness related to her childhood.
Although sometimes confusing and a bit predictable, The Informationist ends up being a well rounded debut novel.  Those who enjoyed the novel will be pleased to know that the its sequel, The Innocent, will be available in December.