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The Casual Vacancy Review

You might be wondering why I'm reviewing The Casual Vacancy. This is a young adult blog that sometimes covers middle grade books. Rarely do we do discuss adult novels. But you, smart reader, also know J.K. Rowling penned one of the literary world's most influential children's series, Harry Potter. And if you're like me, you're insanely curious to see how Ms. Rowling fared with her first adventure into the adult realm of writing.

Several successful authors have dared to dip their toes into a different age group with their writing: Judy Bloom, James Patterson, Meg Cabot, and Kim Harrison to name a few.  How did The Casual Vacancy hold up? Was it a splendid success? A dismal disaster?

The answer: it depends. Let's start with a little review first.

Barry Fairbrother is dead.

Don’t worry; I haven’t given away any sort of spoiler. We find this out two pages in as poor old Barry’s death is the catalyst for the tangled web of a story Rowling has produced. The sudden ‘casual vacancy’ his death leaves on the Parish's city council sets the small town of Pagford on its heels as the political jostling begins. 

Pagford is the idyllic small English town, and their are some on the council determined to keep it that way. Their first priority? Wipe the Fields, a slum of a neighborhood that strangled out Pagford's beautiful view, off the maps. A nest of low income housing and drug dens, the Fields has been a thorn in Pagford's side for years. But the council also has members determined to help the Fields, and its residents, to keep it from falling into further decay. 

In this story about a town at war, Rowling takes her time setting the stage, giving the reader a quick glimpse into the lives of all the players. And by all, I do mean all. The first twenty or so pages, while wonderfully written, felt like a test in memorization. How many people and how many little sordid bits of their lives can I recall before they're mentioned again, thirty pages later? But . . .the characters are juicy. Ones with secrets, ones with a overzealous self-appointed duty to do what is right, and ones that thrive and revel at the slightest morsel of gossip. 

In typical British humor, the book is laced with quiet zingers. Rowling does a wonderful job of showing true human nature with witty and honest observations, making you both loathe and love the characters.But there are moments of heartbreak as well as we witness the group of protagonists do and do and do, and yet never quite land on the right action. What should be the priorities all too often slip through the cracks as they blindly fight for their political agendas--a message that at times bordered on too obvious. 

Rowling doesn't leave the younger kids completely behind as there are a handful of teenagers who play a role in the story as well. Make no mistake, these aren't any you'd find in Harry Potter. They're troubled, rich, and very real. 

So was Rowling's adult debut a success? 

I found it to be a sometimes humorous, sometimes dark and heartbreaking tale of the roles of society. If you can honestly put aside your hopes that The Casual Vacancy would have a hidden patronis or muggle hidden inside, I think it's worth a read!

Amanda Hannah

Amanda grew up on a big farm in a small town with one stoplight, one school, and a handful of imaginary friends.She would’ve gone to college forever, but eight years and five majors tested her advisor’s patience. So she moved to Germany to explore creepy castles before landing in Spain where she’s perfecting her Flamenco.

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  1. Hmmm, would it be OK for a 14 year old? Ms.Rowling has stressed much on the fact that this is an ADULT book. I'd love to have your opinion on that. Thanks

  2. Anon- I would say NOT ok for a 14-yr-old. Aside from the f-words, and some graphic subject matter, I don't think a young teen would be interested in it.

    My main problem was that I disliked almost all of the characters. I really didn't care what happened to them because they were all so just... ugh (except the dead guy!).

  3. I hate answering a question about age regarding a book--I truly believe young adults ready for different subject matters and content at different times. But I'm going to agree with Melanie here, mostly because it's likely the book wouldn't hold the interest of someone at the age of 14 (this is strictly what *I* take away from reading it). The writing got a little dense at times, the plot moved more slowly than you'd see in typical YA, and the subject matter was suited more to people who've witnessed or been involved in these sorts of societal situations. Again, just my opinion though!

  4. Interesting review. I've got the book but i'm not in any hurry to read it. I want to read it because I love Harry Potter, but I know it's not Harry, and I know it's about as different from Harry as you could possibly get. I've heard very mixed reviews about this story, and while I will read it eventually it's not top of my list!

  5. I really want to read this -- I had no interest at first, but now I'm really curious!

  6. There's no bigger J K Rowling fan in the world than me, but I have to say I didn't really like this. I really think she should write another YA novel.

  7. I'm not a fan of telling people what they should and shouldn't read--especially kids. That's what parents are for. :) That said, I would concur with those who underscore the adult elements of the book. There is a lot of profanity, and very frank and sometimes graphic depictions of sexual activity that at times, for me, seemed gratuitous. I gave a full review of the book on my blog, so if you care to know more, you can look for it there. Suffice to say, I really get the impression this was a book JKR felt compelled to write. It speaks to a lot of issues she's passionate about, as can be seen from her charity work. But having got the book out of her system, I agree with S. L.--she needs to get back to writing YA, because I think she does that so much better. :)

  8. I do want to read The Casual Vacancy, but I'm 14 :P and I'm not sure I should read it just yet, but the summary sounds good and the way you said it, It probably compels the reader to keep going.

  9. I finished A Casual Vacancy last week, and I loved it. It's a very heart-throbbing story. I agree with Amanda about the characters. It does require a bit of a learning curve to get with the characters, but if you can get past about 200 pages (which are good pages, by the way), the book takes off with the steam of a locomotive and you're plunging through a lot of scandalous behavior from both adults and teens.

    It is completely adult though. Forget the language and lewdness of some of the scenes. It's highly political - though granted it deals with small, city council politics. However, I consider myself a political junkie, so the politics of the council and the lower-class people really hit home. I loved it.

    Does it have a slow start? Yes, perhaps. But getting inside the characters is completely worth it for a very incredible book.

  10. I couldn't wait to read this book, but for me it was a bit of a let down. I mean, this is J.K. Rowling! I recently finished another book that I like even better. It is called, "Up From Corinth: Book 2 of Journey Into Darkness" by author J. Arthur Moore. This a fiction novel, which is part two of a four part series, that follows a boy's search for his father during the Civil War.

  11. I made the decision a while ago that I did not want to read this book. Partly because I didn't want to destroy my respect for J.K., but also because I can't stand adult books. There's just too much nastiness in them, with few exceptions. That's why I stick to YA.

    But thanks for the review. It's probably the most positive I've seen of all the reviews I've read. Most are extremely negative.

  12. I've just finished reading and reviewing this and, depite it not being an issue for me personally, I did find myself wondering if I'd give it to a young teen. In the end, I concluded I would, as depite the language and graphic scenes it has good morals at its heart, and aren't kids up on this stuff anyway?

  13. Nice to hear some positive things about this one. I adore J.K. Rowling, so I definitely plan to read it eventually. I have a hard time with books without any likeable characters, but fingers crossed her wit will save it for me.

  14. Great Review.. Have to check this one at an online bookstore..


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Item Reviewed: The Casual Vacancy Review Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amanda Hannah