Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (For Throwback Thursday)
Harry Potter is now a 13 year old wizard and once again stuck with the horrible Dursleys over the summer. He is convinced that he can survive a couple of months when the rest of the year is spent in a life that makes up for the little time he is stuck with Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and Dudley. That is, until Harry finds that Uncle Vernon's sister, Aunt Marge is coming to visit and she believes that Harry attends the St. Brutus' Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys. Harry agrees to keep up the ruse in exchange for permission to got to the wizarding village, Hogsmeade with his classmates.
If only it was that easy. The visit starts off horribly and continues to get worse. By the time Aunt Marge begins bad mouthing James and Lily Potter, Harry can take no more. Although he is forbidden as an underage wizard to use magic away from Hogwarts, he is so angry with what is being said that he accidentally inflates Aunt Marge. Harry panics and assumes that he is not only in big trouble at home, but he may very well be expelled from school. So, being convinced that he is no longer welcome anywhere he knows, he grabs his stuff and takes off.
Harry makes his way to Diagon Alley where he finds Cornelius Fudge, head of the Ministry of Magic, waiting for him. Harry expects that Fudge is looking for him to put an end to his wizarding life. On the contrary, Fudge is delighted to see him, laughs off the blowing up of Aunt Marge and seems only concerned with Harry's safety. Fudge has Harry promise that he will stay on Diagon Alley and away from muggle, or non-magical London.
Harry later learns that he is believed to be the intended target for the wrath of Sirius Black, who once killed 13 people with one curse, and was the first person to ever escape from Azkaban, the wizard's prison. But, he doesn't know why this Black person would want to hurt him and no one seems to know why, or, if they do, they are not willing to tell him.
Harry returns to school to find a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (of course), Remus Lupin, who is shabby but interesting and, more importantly, a teacher Harry can respect and learn a lot from. There are also the Dementors, horrible prison guards from Azkaban. Because of Sirius being on the wizard's most wanted list, and it being assumed that he will come after Harry, the dementors are patrolling the school boundaries. Although the dementors affect everyone horribly, someone like Harry with so much pain and despair in his past can be hurt by them so much more than his peers.
One of the reasons, I think, so many people consider this the best in the series is that this year, year three, Harry learns a great deal more about his parents and their friends when they were students at Hogwarts. It's heartening for Harry to hear people who knew his parents, recognize them in their son. It's also nice for him to have people speak to him affectionately about his mom and dad. All he gets at home with the Dursley's is talk of his parents being freaks and losers and bums. After his lifetime of belonging nowhere and with no one, he has people telling him how much he looks like his father and how he has his mother's eyes.
It also looks deeper into the rise and fall of Lord Voldemort, as well as the Potters' part in it. You come into the series with that tiny little prologue of Hagrid on Sirius' motorcycle dropping baby Harry off on the Dursley's doorstep after his parents' tragic deaths. We saw how the Dursley's took the boy grudgingly and never waivered from that sentiment. Then, finally, in this book, we meet the family that his parents made for themselves. The friends who they cherished and you just know that Uncle Remus and Uncle Sirius would have had a huge impact on young Harry's life. Well, I guess they did, finally.
As a woman who has always been very intuitive, I find myself even entering the minds of fictional characters. I love a good character study. I'm good at reading people, even when I'm reading about fictional people. The characters in the Potterverse are very believable, despite their absolute impossibility. As we delve into the chips on characters' shoulders and the dashed hopes and dreams of survivors of a war narrowly averted by the sacrifice of one young couple and their son, the boy who lived, you see that Rowling has created a rich history for these people, her creations. They've loved and lost and they carry on. They don't always make the right decisions. Although Lord Voldemort is just plain bad through and through, most of the other characters, even his followers aren't all bad. They are rich and multi-faceted with their history and their beliefs and their families. It's not a bad world to lose yourself in. It's also not a bad place to go if you have a tendency to overanalyze everyone and everything, take it from me.