Monthly Archives: July 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, & John Tiffany

19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny (along with Ron and Hermione, and many of their fellow classmates) gather at Kings Cross station to send their children off for the upcoming school year. The younger of Harry’s sons, Albus Severus, expresses concern about the upcoming school year, only hinting at the weight of expectation he carries from both his namesakes’ histories as well as his family legacy. Consumed by unease, he finds comfort in his fast friendship with Scorpius, Draco’s son. As the years go by, Albus continues to find himself coming into conflict with school, peers, teachers, and his parents. Meanwhile, Harry faces his own challenges. Aside from an overwhelming workload, Harry continues to be plagued by a past that relentlessly interferes with his present, straining his relationships with family and friends. As Albus fights to bear his inherited burden, attempting to prove both his own worth as well as preserve the legacy of his family, Harry wrestles with the ghosts of his past and the looming threat of an unpredictable future. With the unwavering support of their friends, Harry and Albus come to realize that the past may never be neatly tucked away, but the messy experiences behind them create opportunities for the future ahead of them.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is the 8th installment in the Harry Potter world. Written for the stage by the joint efforts of J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, this book is a reprint of the script for the play. In many ways, the script holds true to the characters, relationships, and wizarding world developed throughout the first seven novels. Ron is the quintessential Ron, Hermione lives up to all her expectations, and many other characters grew into adults that retain personality traits from their youth. The script also reinforces the reality of the wizarding universe, similar to some of the commentary in “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” or “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (for example, by attributing quotes to Ludo Bagman). As a different mode of storytelling, though, the script beautifully portrays interactions that might elude narration in a novel. An entire scene on staircases with no dialogue conveys emotional depths and possibilities, whereas a narrative description of these same interactions might trade poignancy for clumsy or plodding detail. The script retains all the essential elements of the wizarding world, combining adventures with a prolonged look at the internal struggles of living up to expectations for a story about what it means to overcome struggles within a community, and for oneself.

As part of the Harry Potter universe, this book is absolutely phenomenal. OK, it has some corny parts and a few predictable plot lines, but it is still absolutely phenomenal. I love that this story spends more time looking at Harry’s struggle, years later, as “The Boy Who Lived” as well as his son’s difficulties inheriting the family legacy. It grants humanity to Harry and acknowledges that, yes, in fact, he survived immense trauma and encounters personal difficulties as a result of that. The only problem with this book is that it leaves me longing for more. What else does J.K. Rowling have to say about the wizarding world?? There are so many possibilities to elaborate further!

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The Martian

By Andy Weir

Caught in the midst of an unexpected and increasingly intense windstorm on the surface of Mars, the 6-person crew of Ares 3 have choice but to abort their mission after only 6 days on the planet. In the process of evacuation, Mark Watney loses contact with the team when his suit is breached by an antenna, indicating to the remaining crew that he has died. When Watney regains consciousness after the storm has passed, he finds himself alone on the surface of Mars facing the tremendous task of survival. Using a combination of ingenuity, training, and sheer dent of will, Watney finds a way to grow potatoes, maintain life support systems, and recover an old space probe to reinstate contact with Earth. Meanwhile, NASA frantically talks through every possible scenario to rescue Watney, pulling strings and cutting corners in every way possible. After an unsuccessful attempt by NASA to launch a resupply mission, the Ares 3 crew makes a slingshot journey back to Mars. As Watney’s food supply continues to dwindle, both Watney and the Ares 3 crew must deal with the technological breakdowns that come from extending a mission well beyond the intended completion date. Although time is of the essence, neither Watney nor Ares 3 can do anything to reach Watney sooner. Watney, the crew, NASA, and the rest of the world must wait helplessly and hope for the best.

“The Martian” by Andy Weir is an irresistibly captivating story of technology, possibility, wit, and the indomitable human spirit. To capture the different storylines in the novel, Weir writes from a combination of first person perspective to portray Watney’s struggles and achievements while also narrating the activities of NASA and the Ares 3 crew. Watney faces his challenges with a sense of realistic optimism, describing his tasks and plans with wry wit and sarcasm. He does not minimize the massive challenges he deals with on a daily basis, but neither does he let them overwhelm him. Throughout the novel, Weir gives the fabric of the story ample scientific background to explain Watney’s (and NASA’s) actions, instilling a sense of plausibility. The technology sounds believable, leaving the average reading free to become fully consumed by the Watney’s daily struggles rather than getting caught up in the details of questioning the logistics.  The combination of details, snarky commentary, and striving against all odds crafts a story that quickly draws you in and keeps you turning page after page until the very end.

What a great book! Watney’s character is laugh-out-loud funny, and the storyline is amazingly compelling, though quite complex in the details. For a while, I tried to pay attention to all the science-y details to be sure that everything worked (in the fictional reality of the book), but I quickly became too caught up in the story to do much more than gloss over the technology because I just had to finish the book. Whether or not you’ve seen the movie, the book is well worth the read!

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