J.K. Rowling,
Harry Potter and
the Chamber of Secrets

(Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 1999)

Harry Potter returns for his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the sequel to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

But before poor Harry can go back to Hogwarts, he must spend the summer with the dreadful Durseleys: Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and Dudley. He manages to get by until a self-punishing house elf named Dobby tries to convince Harry not to go back to school, claiming that if he does return to Hogwarts, doom and disaster will descend -- particularly on Harry.

Harry begins his second year at Hogwarts in spite of all of Dobby's well-intentioned efforts to keep him away -- some of which very nearly kill Harry. He is reunited with his best friends Ron and Hermione, resumes playing Quidditch, and does his best to avoid his nasty rival Draco Malfoy and the brooding mysterious potions instructor Snape.

It isn't long, however, before Dobby's warnings begin to ring true. Harry begins to hear strange, violent voices in his head and demonstrates an unusual ability to communicate with serpents. A mysterious warning appears on the wall announcing that the legendary Chamber of Secrets has opened. Then some kind of creature starts to attack students from "Muggles" (non-magic) families, and Harry and his friends are determined to unravel the mystery for the sake of the school. When the creature attacks Hermione, however, it gets personal.

This book reads as smoothly and quickly as the first. Less time is spent developing the characters and setting the scene, and Rowling deftly recaps the first book without bogging down the pace of the story. She relies a bit too much on nick-of-time revelations and rescues, but that can be forgiven and forgotten in the rustle of rapidly turned pages. This title is a bit more violent than the previous book, and those squeamish about spiders should beware.

In addition to the familiar faces from the first book, Rowling introduces Gilderoy Lockhart, the vain and self-important new instructor; Moaning Myrtle, a soggy ghost haunting a girls' restroom, and Tom Riddle, who seems to hold the key to the Chamber of Secrets. Gamekeeper Hagrid's secret is revealed, and Lord Voldemort makes an unexpected appearance.

The appeal of the Harry Potter books is universal, with winning characters in a whopping good tale. Often, the second book of a series lacks the momentum of the first title, but Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets doesn't disappoint. As for the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban -- is it October yet?

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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