Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (2005)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books.

spoiler-alert

We already know from previous books that Harry has had a couple throw-downs with Lord Voldemort, and being at Hogwarts is his protection. From the last book we now know he has a very dedicated group of people, The Order of the Phoenix, as well as dedicated friends. The Order is working to ultimately bring down Lord Voldemort and thwart his plans for takeover. Things got very dicey in the last book, and many Death Eaters are now in Azkaban, while others are out. As if Harry didn’t have enough hanging over his head, he hears the eery prophecy when it breaks at the Ministry of Magic. Interestingly enough, Voldemort thinks Harry’s retrieved it. I was sure that’s what this book was going to center around – the great prophecy….

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … 

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Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow

Despite having committed, dedicated friends who have his back, Harry has not told Ron or Hermione about the prophecy. Only he and Dumbledore know what the prophecy says, although there is much speculation flying around in The Daily Prophet, which has know quite quickly changed its tune from Harry Potter/Dumbledore hater to Harry is the “Chosen One.” Dumbledore urges Harry to tell Ron and Hermione, but still is reluctant. He does so, but leaves out the part about the prophecy possibly being about Neville, and how Voldemort chose Harry, thinking that’s who the prophecy intended (based on his very limited information). Dumbledore has also returned to school with a blackened, shriveled hand that he continually puts off explaining…as well as an interesting ring that was a Slytherin heirloom. Dumbledore also instructs Harry to carry his Invisibility Cloak with him at all times…

I noticed straight off in this book that Harry is exuding more thought processing than has been shown in previous books, and it’s due largely in part to the fact that Hermione and Ron aren’t as concerned with what Draco Malfoy is doing, where he’s going, and they don’t believe Harry when he admits that he believes Draco to be a Death Eater. And another very odd thing happens: Snape has been given the green light to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, a post he’s been pining to teach for over 15 years, and rejected each year. He is also firm in his belief that Sirius’ death is Snape’s fault, due to Snape taunting Sirius’ inability to really contribute to the Order, being holed up at 12 Grimmauld Place.

JIM BROADBENT as Professor Horace Slughorn and DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Professor Slughorn returns to Hogwarts

Harry is taking private lessons with Dumbledore and learns some interesting history about Lord Voldemort. Through these lessons he learns nothing he really doesn’t already know about Voldemort’s character, but he does learn extremely valuable information regarding Voldemort’s past. Meanwhile, Dumbledore is not getting along well with the new Minister of Magic, who was previously the head of the Auror department at the Ministry. And for good reason to, as we find out. The new Potions Professor, Slughorn, is trying to collect student who have strong connections to powerful or famous wizards into an exclusive club….and Draco is quite trite that he’s not been invited to join and partake of all the activities.

During a Potions class, Harry is assigned a temporary book that has additional notes for potion-making and even some made-up charms, with a scribbling on the back cover that the book belongs to the Half-Blood Prince. There’s no indication who this Prince is, but I immediately thought it was Voldemort – given that he’s always lamented and cursed his Muggle father. Harry, however, thinks that the Half-Blood Prince is his own father, James. Hermione is irritated that Harry follow’s the Half-Blood Prince’s annotations and directions and is suddenly excelling in Potions class – even surpassing Hermione.

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Puzzled by the Half-Blood Prince

However, just as a rift occurred before between Ron and Hermione, another one does…over the same set of circumstances: matters of the heart. Ron and Hermione are secretly crushing on the other, but are at odds about it. Ron is quite mean to Hermione, who avoids being present like Ron’s carrying the Black Plague. And there’s another unsuspected crush going on for Harry, and he’s apt to keep it secret and quiet. And the icing on the cake for the first semester is Katie Bell being cursed by a mysterious necklace that she mysteriously came into possession of and needed to deliver to someone…at Hogwarts. The very same necklace Harry say Draco Malfoy looking at years before in Knockturn Alley. She gets sent to St. Mungo’s.

To show off his fame (by association), Slughorn invites many to a Christmas party. Draco is found trying to sneak in, and an odd moment is exchanged between him and Snape. Harry secretly follows them and overhears a conversation that is quite questionable – and once again brings the matter of Snape’s loyalties and trust to the forefront. This information is of course brushed off by Ron, Mr. Weasley and Remus at Christmas, when a very unexpected and unwelcome visitor (by everyone but Mrs. Weasley) shows up at the Burrow: Percy – with the Minister in tow! The Minister essentially wants Harry to make the Ministry look good, and he wants privileged information of Dumbledore’s comings and goings. He gets quite angry when Harry refuses:

He raised his right fist. There, shining white on the back of his cold hand, were the scars which Dolores Umbridge had forced him to carve into his own flesh: I must not tell lies.

“I don’t remember you rushing to my defense when I was trying to tell everyone Voldemort was back. The Ministry wasn’t so keen to be pals last year.”

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Harry’s homework task

This is quite a risky move, given the power the Minister of Magic holds and Harry’s shaky past with the Ministry. Even riskier, Harry openly admits that his is “Dumbledore’s man, through and through.” He has definitely declared his allegiance.

Upon the return to Hogwarts, Harry begins religiously hunting for Malfoy on the Maurader’s Map, hoping to catch him up to something…but at times, Harry can’t find Malfoy on the map! How can he be leaving the grounds? Other revelations continue to pop up for the remainder of the book, setting Harry on edge and making him continually wonder and ponder – and possibly jump to conclusions. Dumbledore sets him what seems an impossible task, but it is the final piece of the puzzle explaining how Voldemort came to be what he is  – and the secret to possibly toppling his crudely-built empire of power.

This book will definitely leave you shocked, wondering and questioning just as Harry has always done. It will completely throw readers, and it leaves the fate of Hogwarts up in the air. I said of the last book that it was set apart from the rest of the series because it was setting some big things in motion – and this book has definitely shown a glimpse of that. I expect Rowling to go no-holds-barred for the final book of the series.

If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read. Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

-CA

Book Review: The Keeper of Dawn

The Keeper of Dawn by J.B. Hickman (2012)

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Genre: YA, fiction

*Nominated as a finalist for Young Adult Fiction by the Midwest Book Awards.

*Awarded “Reviewer’s Choice” for Midwest Book Review.

*Contender in Round 2 of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest 2013.

I received a digital copy via Smashwords in return for an honest review.

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Symbol and Theme, Reader’s Theatre, Reflections
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Raker Island, Map of Raker Island, Timeline
  • Math: “Design the Island” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of Wellington Academy

This is Hickman’s debut novel, and I found it interesting that he shared how pieces of this book came to be, including the title and some of the research he did. If you are a budding writer, you may want to check it out.

They had become a stain in my memory, the letters bleeding indeterminably together. But their impact lingered. 

Hickman most definitely hits the proverbial nail on the head, in so many ways in The Keeper of Dawn. Rebellion at its finest. It rips away the prestige of privileged boys and exposes what lies behind them, both in their personal lives and their school/career lives. The Raker Island lighthouse is both a symbol and a motif in this novel about four young boys sent to boarding school. I could not put this book down, and thought I’d finish it in one sitting. But life interrupted, and I had to finish in a few installments late at night which I think detracted from the momentum of the novel, and also the emotional connection between the characters and I. I’ve tried to capture all that I could in this review without spilling the beans, but let me tell you two things: Hickman’s written a stellar novel, and you won’t be disappointed! This book belongs alongside other award-winning young adult novels about coming of-age, life lessons and facing demons of the past.

Nothing stays for long. Nothing but that lighthouse.

Oh, how true this proves to be…

Sons of great men are sent to a belly-up island resort turned prep school, Wellington Academy, off the coast of Rhode Island. Rebellion is in the minds of adolescent boys, especially the flashy Governor’s angry son, Chris, who detests his father’s attitudes and tries to be everything his father is not. He acts out extremely to bring a glaring light onto Governor Forsythe.

Jacob Hawthorne, the main character, is a serious 15 year-old son of privilege. Yet he is nervous to meet his father, the “great vanisher” who continually disappears out of his life, on the celebratory parents’ day at his school. His mother professes that he’s a great man, but she’s not entirely convinced herself. Indeed, Jacob is sent to Raker Island to Wellington, the same resort island his parents honeymooned on. He’s been sent there so he won’t follow in his older brother’s footsteps, and he’s determined not to enjoy a moment of it. He yearns for his father’s approval – would even settle for acknowledgement – and has stolen a photo of his father from his mother’s wedding album. His father stands on the very same island he is now imprisoned on, and he often finds himself gazing at the photo.

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Mr. Stanley Roper of Three’s Company (Normal Fell)

Benjamin Bailey, Jacob’s roommate, is the overweight kid who’s always left out, and swears he plays fair. Although he is a pessimist – or rather, because of it – he keeps his “unfavorable opinions to himself.” However, that quickly changes when popular Chris cozies up to him for a covert mission after lights-out. It goes terribly wrong for Ben, who then avoids the boys even though they rescued him. Things continue to get horribly worse for Benjamin at Wellington, forcing him to leave. 😦

Derek Meyhew is the equivalent of Mr. Roper from Three’s Company: the nosy neighbor, always butting and barging in. In the very first chapter, he’s telling Benjamin how to do up his tie with the eerily foreshadowing comment: The secret to a proper noose is you need just enough length to hang yourself. 

After a run-in with the ill-fated Chris and his sidekick Roland leaves them all with the punishment of helping the maintenance man, Max, restore the buildings and grounds, and another run-in with a group of upper-classmen and two quite accidental plays on the football field during an intramural game between halls, Jacob’s in for it. There will be no more “flying under the radar” for Jacob Hawthorne at Wellington…but a bond grows between him and the school’s maintenance man, Max, that will prove invaluable.

Looking for Alaska | John Green

Looking for Alaska | John Green

These boys band together for mischievous purposes at Wellington, breaking quite a few rules. The old abandoned lighthouse, rumored to be haunted, serves as a place that makes these young men face the not-so-well hidden realities of their lives, their families, and ultimately their destinies, serves to leave the buried secrets and fears in the dark…and incites them to grander adventures. It reminds me starkly of the barn scene (The Best and Worst Days) in Looking for Alaska in such a way that both makes me happy as a reader, but sad given what I know will eventually happen.

Meanwhile, other boys are taking notice of the group, begrudgingly dubbed The Headliners, in honor of their morning ritual of pouring over the news headlines searching for news of their fathers, when one day all of their fathers make headlines: Chris looking for Governor Forsythe’s next ridiculous act for attention to get voted back into his cozy seat; Derek seeing how his father’s home security company is faring financially; Roland perusing his four-star general father’s new post-Vietnam military strategies, and Jacob catching up on the court rulings so he doesn’t hear his judge father’s decisions from someone else. The Headliners take it upon themselves to help Jake out when it comes to his arch-enemy, “Loosy-Goosy” by playing a few pranks on him.

Dead Poet's Society

Dead Poets Society

Wellington’s new “absent-minded” history professor, O’Leary, from a rival school, is much like Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society. He invokes the students to question, to think, and he also pursues Jacob in an effort to provide some guidance and support. At their first meeting, he assures the students:

It is my job to present the facts. It is your job to decipher them. There will be no fence-sitters in my classroom. To not have an opinion is to not be informed. 

A few grand schemes lead to some very unplanned and unexpected scares and injuries, separating all the boys. Long hidden secrets are revealed; all but one. Hype and the outside world is brought to the secluded island when Wellington hosts the 1980 Senatorial Debate – and things go horribly, horribly wrong, as planned by the boys. This begins the unmistakable scrutiny of both Wellington and Chris’ governor father. But as the book progresses and nears the end, you find that things are not quite as they seem with Jacob and his father, and a long-buried, painful memory is brought into the light of day in the newly renovated and serviceable Raker lighthouse.

Denial can lie very thick in a child’s heart.

But if certain events are edited, perhaps even omitted altogether, how much trust can we put in the printed word?

I had forgotten most of it, or made up lies to deceive myself into believing something less hurtful than the truth. 

The three quotes above are the essence of this book. We can’t talk about it – buy you can find out what I mean by reading the book. 🙂

The title of this book comes from a quote by a Coast Guard man whose grandfather was a lighthouse keeper:

They started a movement to preserve their profession. They wanted to go back to the way things were. All those years lighting the night sky, of preserving at least a glimmer of the dawn, and they didn’t know how to live without it. Something very dear had been taken from them, and they fought with everything they had to not let it go.

They were the Keepers of Dawn…just as Jacob will become.

The prologue is a bit disjointed, and it’s not clear in the divided section where he is. From vague comments, the first seems to be his initial trip to boarding school, while the second is back at his often deserted home. The fact that nothing looked recognizable to him suggests some amount of time has passed. The disjointedness of the first few chapters and the confusion in the last few will all be revealed – and explain these peculiarities (and in this case, tools) of writing.

Jacob’s memories don’t match up with the physical appearances of the present, but he is always pressing on … because of David. His parents hold his grandfather responsible for what happened to his older brother, David, and the reason behind why he left. Jacob seeks out his estranged grandfather to find out exactly what kind of hand he had in David’s leaving, and ends up forging a new-found bond that endures while he is at Wellington. It stays unchanged and keeps him grounded when everything else in his life is going one speed: hellbent.

The first chapter is noticeably jumpy from the first to second paragraphs, creating the same disjointedness as in the prologue. This appears again throughout the novel, juxtaposing the present with the past. It’s not clear why this is until it’s occurred few times. His flashbacks of the times spent with his grandfather are indeed juxtaposed in a sequence creating a parallel of his relationship with his grandfather and his experiences at Wellington: when he recounts first meeting his grandfather after all the years (and the David business), it directly follows the new start at Wellington; becoming familiar and less formal with his grandfather also follows an event of The Headliners in which it is apparent that they are indeed friends.

His grandfather is remarkable in that he has a lot of metaphors and similes about life, such as the following about bonsai trees:

*in reference to him, his son (Jake’s father), and David (and even Jake himself)….

Like most of us…they’re set in their ways. It’s taken years for their branches to grow to where you see them today. They have to be guided when they are young by wiring their trunks. Then the sunlight takes things from there. For most of them, it would be hard to change their location. The young ones could handle it, but the older ones like Julius here wouldn’t much care for it at all.

*in reference to his son’s absence from most of Jake’s life (and probably David’s too)….

Their name is a reminder that their life is in your hands….And they’ll know if you neglect them.

Being a good caretaker requires more than just performing the day-to-day chores. Perhaps most important of all, a bonsai needs to be loved. 

*in reference to himself and his son, and their behavior to their sons….

I meddle too much. I either cut too far back, or trim too often. That’s the mistake of an amateur – to try and do too much. You don’t want to smother them, but it’s human nature to tamper, to try to mold them into a particular image. It’s a mistake made innocently enough, but one that can have disastrous consequences. 

spoiler-alert

One of the many sad parts of this book was at the end of the chapter with the bonsai trees. Jake adopts one from his grandfather and eventually takes it home. The sight startled his own father and “sealed [his] fate to Raker Island” he was later to discover….and SO SO much more that I wish I could spill because I’m dying to gush about this book, but I don’t want to ruin it. I was saddened to see the progression of the bond between these boys (and the reasons for it), followed quickly by the disintegration of the boys’ friendship, as predicted by Mr. O’Leary in his warning to Jacob in the very beginning:

Are you part of it, Jake? Or are you caught up in it?….In adolescence, boys are clannish. Girls are intimate, but boys are more tribal. They’re like wolves – they socialize in packs. They’re loyal to those in their pack, but suspicious of outsiders. When a boy comes to boarding school, he is alone for the first time in his life. As a result, he loses his identity in the group. But it is also in the group that he truly finds himself. Forget about education, forget about the Ivy League and that six-figure job at the end of the road. A boarding school’s real mission is to give boys good tribes with good elders. If this is done properly, they will prosper and grow. But give them no tribes, and they will create their own without elders, and they will become irretrievably lost.

That’s what a scare is. A reminder that once upon a time you were hurt bad enough to be changed by it. 

-CA

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