I Broke My Own Rule: Book Review for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

This week I realized two things: 1) there are two people in this world I will assemble furniture for; and 2) there are two people in this world who could convince me to read young adult fiction. They happen to be the same two people: my stepdaughters. Both of their bedrooms were remodeled this week and in the hours spent assembling desks, dressers, and chairs, I had time to think through why I dislike certain book genres. In particular, I refuse to read young adult fiction.

I'll readily admit that I am a genre snob. Unlike many book reviewers who will read anything and everything, I'm not drawn to books because they are books. Some are just not worth my time and I draw a line in the sand.

The YA genre serves a purpose: its stories teach important lessons in a format that resonates with its audience. Young adults with admirable characteristics discovering how to be more brave, independent, or caring--nothing wrong with that. In fact, recent YA fiction has no doubt helped the current young people of America become more inclusionary and accepting of the LGBT community, ethnicities other than their own, people with disabilities or from other socio-economic classes, and so on. But these are fairy tales for humans who have recently outgrown a belief in fairies, and I just can't relate. The thinly constructed plots barely breathe life into characters as deep as paper plates. Give me the first three pages and I'll tell you how the book ends. I don't have time for that.

All of the above introduces a simple reality: I broke a rule this week and read a young adult fiction novel. To be fair, I did it for my kid, which is the reason we adults do many unadvisable things, such as painstakingly assemble furniture at all hours of the night.

I had promised my stepdaughter that we would read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a follow-up to the Harry Potter series, together after she finished the last original book. Her excitement this summer about Harry Potter was contagious and I remember feeling the exact same way when I read them at her age. I acquiesced. No sooner had she closed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows than we were at the bookstore buying two copies of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a playscript by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne and based on an original story by J.K. Rowling.

Parenting books and blogs would tell you that shared activities, like reading together, help reinforce your relationship. You are caring about something together. You are interested in something at the same time. You are sharing. Yes, I dislike YA fiction and yes, I have a reading schedule to keep. Reading a Harry Potter book means something else isn't getting read. Putting aside my disdain for the genre and my growing stack of "not getting done", we sat down on the couch with a pot of tea and dived in together.

Much has happened since we last left the Potter universe. Harry and Ginny are married with children, as are Ron and Hermione. Harry is now a busy employee of the Ministry of Magic; Hermione, meanwhile, is the Minister of Magic. The story begins with Harry's trouble understanding his younger son, Albus Severus Potter, who is now eleven and starting Hogwarts. Albus quickly befriends Draco Malfoy's son, Scorpius (also misunderstood by his father), gets sorted into Slytherin of all houses, and becomes a social pariah at Hogwarts. The distance between Harry and Albus grows, culminating in Albus and Scorpius abandoning Hogwarts Express and embarking on a time traveling adventure. As with all stories bearing the "Potter" name, this tale too involves a heady mixture of brushes with death, teenage self-discovery, and, of course, Lord Voldemort.

Keep in mind that Harry Potter was born in 1980 and started Hogwarts in 1994. If you, like the rest of our generation, read the original Harry Potter books as a child and are now an adult with your own children, it may not surprise you that so, too, are our favorite childhood heroes Harry, Hermione, and Ron. These characters face the same struggles we all do as parents: having a life outside of the all-consuming thing that is "parenthood," not connecting with one child's interests, balancing work with family time, and communicating loss to someone you wish you could protect from it. Viewed partially through the eyes of the children in this story, the adult reader remembers what it is like to be young and, well, self-absorbed. You can't be told what's right at that age. You have to live it and, as parents, we have to walk that fine line between providing structure and opportunity without too much "telling" and "spoon-feeding". Sometimes we need that reminder, just as much as Harry Potter does.

If revisiting the Potter universe intrigues you, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child won't disappoint. All your favorite characters are still there, alive and well. They, like you, are grown-ups now and have children, not unlike your own. The book is best consumed alongside one of your favorite young adults while enjoying a pot of English breakfast tea.

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