J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2003)

Fifteen-year-olds have it rough; school becomes harder, no-one seems to understand what you going through, and . . . dating? But perhaps no teenager has it as tough as Harry Potter, wizard-in-training and The Boy Who Lived. The end of Goblet of Fire saw a tragic death and the re-emergence of an evil many thought would never be seen again. But only a few months after those horrible events, Harry is where he always is during summer break, trapped at Privet Drive. Though he desperately tries to find news about the return of You-Know-Who, he can't seem to get any information from wizard or muggle. All that will change soon enough, and Harry finds himself in the middle of yet another struggle in the fifth book of this series.

Order of the Phoenix has a Fellowship of the Ring feel to it. Now that Voldemort has shown himself, those who want to stop him must come together and work as a team. At the end of Goblet, Professor Dumbledore makes plans to form a resistance force. But just like Fellowship, J.K. Rowling has two more books to go, so anything can happen before the final showdown. And she shakes things up beautifully in this book. Only time will tell which side everyone is on, and characters bond and bicker throughout the book.

Meanwhile, back at Hogwarts, life continues even after the Triwizard Tournament. Cho Chang is still on Harry's mind, and Harry finds out that dating can be just as scary as Lord Voldemort. Quiddich games are as important as ever, and this year sees some new faces for Gryffindor. Fred and George start up their business, using Hogwarts as a proving ground. A new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher gives Harry, and everyone else, more than they bargained for. And the fifth-year students begin studying to prepare for their Ordinary Level exams, or rather, their "Ordinary Wizarding Level" exams (which was kind of difficult for this U.S. gal to understand at first, especially now that they've re-done the English system of exams). They also receive career counseling, since they've only got two more years of school to go after this one if they continue, of course. . . .

Yes, a major character dies in this book. There's been enough pre-publication gossip about this spoiler for me to safely mention it here. The hubbub after Goblet's supposed character death "wimp out" (something I never agreed with, since I don't want to see any of these characters die, headliners or not) will definitely come to an end at the loss of a much beloved character in this book. I was stunned at this turn of events, and if I'm being honest I'll admit to a healthy dose of denial. Just don't go looking for death on every page, because J. K. Rowling sets the pace here, and she's the only one who knows what's coming around the corner, and when.

One of the things I love about this series is how Ms. Rowling keeps secrets she wants hidden well out of sight, doling out information in ways that leave the reader wanting more. This book is no different. From the Sorting Hat's new song to the show-stopping climax, just about everything in this book made me wonder if there was more to what she just described. Maybe that's because with each new book, she pulls out some tidbit from years past and gives it new meaning. In an interview a few years ago, Ms. Rowling showed the pages and pages of notes she uses when writing. All I have to say is, I'm sure she's got to have that information, since just about everything has some kind of greater meaning or purpose. That's one of the reasons why this book, and this series, is so good. Readers have to stay focused, not just to enjoy the finer nuances of the story, but to make sure a friend at school (or by the office water cooler) doesn't surprise 'em with a bit of missed information. That kind of engagement is what keeps people of all ages entranced.

This isn't the kind of newfangled "kiddie story" that has enough adult winks and nudges to keep grownups interested. Nope; this book keeps the over-eighteen crowd coming back for more because it's a good story, plain and simple. The basic idea of good-versus-evil is something any child can understand, while the writing (and, let's face it, the childhood flashbacks) keep adults turning the pages. There's character development as well, as the children step firmly into their teen years. And each time someone takes a small step toward adulthood, it highlights the fact that though most of the characters have learned much from the past four years, some characters don't seem to have changed a bit.

Though readers will certainly cry out in anguish at the end of Order of the Phoenix, I'm sure the latest tragedy won't stop readers from picking up the final two books of the series. Because the characters keep you interested. The plot keeps things interesting. And . . . well, you‚ve gotta find out what happens at the end. If Order of the Phoenix is any indication, we won't see it coming. But we'll love it, whatever it is.

[Denise Dutton]