So here’s how it goes:
I’m in eighth grade. I’m in a public school. I’m the bright-but-criminey-what-a-uppity-mouth-on-that-one kid you remember, and I’m reading at a college level and obnoxious about it because, well, my parents read to me a lot.
I’ve already read everything on the Reading List for the 8th Grade that isn’t a Lois Duncan book (because, um, no), and am currently contemplating how to ensure I get the spine cracked copy of And Then There Were None so I can hide another book in it without looking obvious, when my teacher hands out five photocopied chapters of something new.
(This was the 90s. Copyright law/debates over Educational Use didn’t count in the 90s.)
“The Boy Who Lived,” says the top of the first page, and the teacher reads it aloud in class. (She even does voices, but I’m both no longer and not yet at the age where I can appreciate how wonderful this is.)
There’s owls, and British people, and a witch, a wizard, and a half-giant who leave a boy on a doorstep to be found by the most painfully normal evil-step-mother-esque family ever imagined.
We get to the end of the fifth page by the end of class. (I’ve finished the packet.)
When the bell rings I skip lunch and don’t care. I go to the school library for something other than a computer for the first time in middle school. I need to get there– I need to check out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before someone else can.
At this point it’s 1999, and the first book is already an international best seller and an ALA Notable, but none of that matters to me. It’s My Series. Pottermania is starting to sweep the country, the fourth book is due out in July, and I feel like I’ve found something brand new and secret and wonderful.
As an adult (and even as a tween) I saw the flaws. Rowling’s early writing is weak. In the fourth and fifth books, she uses “surreptitious” with the eagerness of an SAT-Prep student. Secondary characters are given an introduction and then brushed aside for most of the rest of the series. But it didn’t seem that important.
Harry is wonderful. He’s wonderful and afraid and flawed and brave. He’s human, for all that he’s a wizard, and his fears are human fears: Will the people I love leave me? (Do I deserve it?) What will I do with my life? (What if I do it wrong?) When will I die? (Will it hurt?)
He fights against people who tell him he’s a fool, he’s a child, he’s arrogant, he’s deluding himself, he’s a liar, he’s not worth it. He does the right thing even when it hurts him and others and he tries to do better. He honestly, truly tries.
And he grows, which is the magical thing that’s going to hook millions of kids and adults for years to come. He grows with the reader and goes through the same pain. He does the I’m-16-and-weirdly-hate-everyone angst, knows the I-don’t-know-what-I-want-but-it’s-not-that pain. No one is the same way they are when they start the series, and while no one is Katniss level damaged at the end, they are changed.
Watching the final movie, I couldn’t help but feel like a part of my adolescence had ended– like your childhood home being sold or your youngest sibling getting married. Harry was who got me interested in school libraries as a place beyond where the computers and solitude were kept. He was the first thing that post-puberty me and my brothers had in common. His story grew up with me, and it feels weird to think that his growing has stopped now.
People say the amazing thing about the Beatles is that everyone who discovers them thinks they’re the first one. I can’t wait for Hypothetical-Future-Offspring to pick this series off the shelf. To come home from school and gush about how awesome Harry is and how Remus and Lupin are totally star-crossed lovers.* To see bits of themselves in Hermione and Luna and Ron and Percy and Draco.
It’ll happen. Just wait.
*Hypotheticial-Future-Offspring will see gay subtext in at least as many places as I see it. It’s the Segal bloodline’s gift to the ages.