Intended Age-Group: 9+ (recommended 13+)
Issues of Violence: action violence, torture, murder, mutilation, intense situations, snake attack, cruel punishments from evil teachers.
Intimacy Level: mild attraction, mention of kissing (or "snogging"), and one character kiss.
Language: some instances of d***, nicknames for disliked teachers
Other: Mention of drunkenness regarding some characters, a scene inside a bar (nothing questionable)
Recommendation: yes, 4 out of 5 stars with reservations (see end of entry)
The Order of the Pheonix is the first book in the series after Voldemort has returned. Naturally, Harry is on the watch for any murders, disappearances, and odd happenings in the wizarding world, but Voldemort's playing it smart and keeping low. Meanwhile, the Ministry interferes at Hogwarts with a new member of staff, partly to keep an eye on the "unstable Harry Potter" and partly to keep Dumbledore from spreading fear about Voldemort.
Harry's main character trait in this book is angst. He's hit the dramatic teenage years where he questions himself, questions others, and can't seem to see past the mirror. We all went through it and, now reading this book outside of my teen years, I see how impeccably accurate Harry's hormonal upheaval is.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron, find themselves in a new type of mystery. How do they prove Voldemort is out to destroy the world when Voldemort's not showing himself? Harry deals with taunting from peers as he's labeled "mentally unstable". His strange dreams and visions don't help matters, but he's determined to keep people safe, even if they won't help him. In the end, Harry and his faithful friends face Voldemort's followers in battle. Inevitably, deaths and injuries take place that are a bit intense for the younger reader.
Loyalty of friends is a big theme in this book, especially since Harry seems estranged from his peers--they're frightened of him after what happened the last school year during the Triwizard Tournament. Harry and Hermione are as faithful as they come, standing up for him and encouraging him to be the leader he needs to be, which brings me to my next positive: Leadership.
Harry steps up to lead his peers, even against his own misgivings, to ensure they can protect themselves against a dark wizard attack. When he steps into these shoes, it's with genuine humility and the feeling he's unworthy to lead, which is one reason he's so good at it.
Unity is strong between those who believe the Dark Lord has returned. It creates a sense of family, safety, and trust. Harry's kinship with his new role models--Sirius, Lupin, the Weasleys, draws him even deeper into the sense of family outside of actual blood relatives. It shows the readers it's possible to have such unity solely through love of one another.
Well, Voldemort is back, what do you expect? He's conniving and vindictive against those who didn't come to his aid during his years of hiding. Most of all, he wants to kill Harry Potter and he uses mind tricks to do it. He draws Harry in and then uses his minions to torture, kill, and injure those who fight against him.
The unlikable side of adults comes out in this book. Harry's admiration of his father is brought back down to earth, he sees the maniacal side of a professor determined to do anything for her misguided beliefs. Harry sees what solitude and captivity can do to a grown man and what affect that can have on mental stability. All this time, while Harry is looking to an adult to lead him, he's seeing their faults and it's discouraging. Even Dumbledore is being distant. This pushes Harry to take a lot of matters into his own hands.
The entire Harry Potter series carries wonderful themes of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, love vs. hate. These themes only grow in this book and, though the characters encounter violence and dark opposition, they learn to rise above with the right beliefs, values, and morals. I recommend this book, although I do believe the intended age group of 9 and older is too young. I would stick to 13 and up.
Violence Level: **** (violence is strong and high)
Romance Level: ** (innocent and age-appropriate, a little kissing)
Christian Focus: * (No Christian focus, but there are still good themes/messages)
Readability Level: ** (easy to read)
Story Depth Level: **** (thought-provoking with several layers of plot that are still fairly easy to follow)
Recommendation: **** (above-average read with thought-provoking themes. I will re-read it.)