Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling



When I first read the premise of J.K. Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy, I felt a bit skeptical of her new writing endeavor.  How could someone who had created such an intricate and magical world in Harry Potter write about a quiet England town?  Our frequent readers may also wonder why I am reviewing an adult novel on our YA book review blog, but so many of my high school students were reading this, or wanted to read it.  I was surprised when I started reading this book, how easy it was to disassociate this novel from the Harry Potter series.  I read The Casual Vacancy as a completely separate novel, almost as if it were written by an entirely different author.  I was not disappointed at all.  J.K. Rowling has, in my eyes, proved herself a capable and distinguished author, capable of spanning across genres and appealing to all audiences.

The town of Pagford is your typical quaint, small, close-knit community.  I don’t think it’s exclusively a British community.  I can see some of these characters and the lines dividing classes existing in any small town.  There are so many characters in this novel, and that may be hard to get past for some people.  But Rowling allows us to get into every character’s mind, and you are able to empathize with almost everyone.  It has been said that J.K. Rowling has created some of these characters out of people in her own life or past, and I believe that we all know a Howard Mollison, a Samantha, or a Krystal.  I have told my high school students repeatedly, that if you stick with it, you get to know the characters, and it is easier to remember who’s who. 

There has also been a lot of debate about the language, sexual content, and social issues throughout the novel.  Some readers might be shocked to read this in a J.K. Rowling, but let’s remember… it’s an adult novel, with adult issues and language. 

As for the ending, I do not want to include any spoilers, but I was saddened and disappointed by the ending.  I guess I had hope for some of the characters that never came to fruition, but I wasn’t left feeling completely hopeless.  There were definitely some changes, and even I would say catharsis, for several of the characters.  Though some of the issues, and writing, may be beyond that of many high school students, I’d say I would recommend this to a majority of the students.  Teenagers, I find, have a greater grasp and understanding of the adult world than we give them credit for.  Some, sadly so.  Though I would have preferred different outcomes for some of the characters, I understand why Rowling ended the novel as she did, and I found this to be as well-written as I had hoped.

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