A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that though there is a high level of violence and emotional upset in this fifth novel in the Harry Potter series, positive lessons and a boost to reading ability more than balance them out. A group of teens fights adults who want to kill them, and a major character dies. Harry is tortured again with a curse that makes him writhe in pain; another character is attacked by a snake. Positive themes of friendship, equality, and loyalty continue to flourish. Harry develops a short fuse and needs help from his friends to work through his anger and frustration. Parents who want to learn more about the series (and spin-off movies and games) can read our Harry Potter by Age and Stage article.
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What's the story?
Harry's summer break with the Dursley's is more wretched than usual in HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, the fifth installment in the most popular book series of all time. Not only are the Dursleys as despicable as ever (though Rowling drops a few intriguing hints that there may be more to Aunt Petunia than meets the eye), but dark forces are reaching out for Harry even in Little Whinging, the drab suburb that had seemed too ordinary for magic.
But when he finally gets back to the wizarding world, Harry finds things aren't much better there: Voldemort is gaining followers; Dumbledore is avoiding Harry; the Daily Prophet has been running articles implying that Harry is publicity crazed and Dumbledore is senile (it seems that even in the wizarding world one defeats one's enemies by discrediting them in the media); Hogwarts is under siege by the Ministry of Magic, which has appointed a High Inquisitor to wrest control of the school from Dumbledore and ensure that the students do not learn any defense against the dark arts; and Hagrid is missing.
Added to these potentially fatal struggles are the stresses of growing up: Harry is a bit older, a bit taller, and a lot angrier; Fifth Year is the time for the first round of testing (Ordinary Wizarding Levels, or O.W.L.s) and career counseling; Harry has his first girlfriend (and first kiss, mercifully not described); and Ron and Hermione have both been appointed prefects (along with Draco Malfoy), but Harry has not.
Is it any good?
As in the other books in the series, Rowling provides a rich emotional subtext that never strays from the believable and realistic. J.K. Rowling's characters are aging realistically, not only through obvious devices of moodiness and interest in the opposite sex, but through a graying of the black-and-white world view of the earlier novels. The heroes have notable flaws, and the villains become more human and sympathetic.
Rowling does what few, if any, in the literary or film worlds seem to be able to accomplish: to create a rip-roaring action/adventure/suspense thriller in which the human elements, character, emotion, motivation, relationships, are more important and believable than the action. And, perhaps equally importantly in a book with a high level of violence, when characters die, their loss has a profound and lasting impact on those left behind. Harry's anger and volatility are becoming as much a liability as his power and courage are assets.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Harry's turbulent and triumphant moments. Why do you think he seems so much angrier in this book? Do you think he treated his friends fairly when he arrived at Grimmauld Place?
Why did he agree to let Rita Skeeter tell his story? When the article is banned at school everyone wants to read it -- and does. Can you think of examples of this happening in today's media?
For kids who've seen the movie as well, did you like it as much as the book? What was left out that you missed? Were the new characters -- like Luna Lovegood and Tonks -- how you imagined them when you read the book?
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