Completed 6/21/2015, Reviewed 6/22/2015
Suffice it to say that each book in the series gets darker than its predecessor. “Phoenix” is no exception. The book opens with Harry and his obnoxious cousin nearly being killed by Dementors. At Hogwarts, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor physically and emotionally abuses him. The tie between Voldemort and Harry becomes more terrifyingly real. And for a second time, one of the characters dies. Unfortunately, what is most memorable about this book is that Harry is annoying, angry, and full of teen angst.
In a way, the book fits perfectly with its audience. Harry and his crew are now about fifteen years old, the perfect age for teen angst. He is completely self-absorbed, making everything incredibly difficult, from relationships with friends to learning new ways to block his mind meld with Voldemort. He screams, he shouts, he rages against the magic machine. He does what you’d expect for a boy of his age in the situation he’s in. However, in an 870 page book, it got a tiresome. I lost my empathy and wanted him to just grow a pair. And that’s the sort of thing I usually don't think too often. I usually can empathize with powerlessness and internal rage. This just went on too long. I felt like some judicious editing could have made it more poignant, keeping me inside Harry’s head rather than making me step outside and harshly judge him.
Ironically, I found the deliciously evil Dolores Umbrage a lot more tolerable than I thought I remembered from my first read of the book. Her harsh physical punishments, her disbelieving of his encounter with Voldemort, and her assumption that she is the absolute authority brought back my memories of the evil teachers (nuns and lay alike) from elementary school. So maybe I need to give Harry a break, because even I wish I could torture Sister Ewalda, Sister Terenia, and Mrs. Gora today, firmly believing that eternal torment in hell is just not enough for them.
My favorite part of this book is the creation of Dumbledore’s Army. Hermione comes up with this idea as a way for the kids on Harry’s side to train in defense against the dark arts in preparation for the threat of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. What I like particularly is that this is the first time we really see Neville Longbottom succeeding in his wizard training. Up to this point in the series, he’s sort of a bumbling mess, being more accidently helpful rather than intentionally. In the final climactic scene, he still bumbles, but at least he’s a lot more confident. After four books of his focus being mostly comic relief, his development here is very satisfying.
I give this book four out of five stars. It has all the elements to be mind-blowing, including another exciting and devastating ending. I could have given this book five if it wasn’t so filled with angst-ridden rage. If I was fifteen when I first read it, it probably would have been my favorite book in the series. Instead, my response to Harry are the three words that I never thought I’d hear myself say: Get over it.