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By Leah Sottile & r & Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling & r & Whenever I finish a Harry Potter book, I close the back cover feeling fulfilled, optimistic and pleasantly -- not urgently -- anticipating J.K. Rowling's next volume.


But when I finished her latest, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, I finished, closed the cover, set it down and said, "Well, what the f-- is Harry going to do now?!" I seriously said that -- to my cat.


Because this is not the Harry Potter of Sorcerer's Stone days. In this volume, there's no more silly piddling with the Dursleys and no Basic Wizardry pissing contests with Draco Malfoy. No, this Harry Potter is older -- he's into toppling evil, getting chicks and destroying Death Eaters. He's like the Kid Rock of Hogwarts.


With a chilling prophecy fresh on his mind and the death of a close friend still warm, Harry now knows his destiny and fully understands his power. Harry's not just one of those kids who will use his education to make magic wands or run joke shops. He's a wizard fighting the terrorists of evil.


Now in his sixth year at Hogwarts, Harry runs across a former student's textbook, a chap named the Half-Blood Prince. Sounds suspicious? Of course it does, but you can bet your butter beer that Harry is the last one to think so. Tempted by the Half-Blood Prince's potion-making genius and unconventional spells, Harry fends off Ron and Hermione's cautions about the strange book -- which lands him in his stickiest situation yet. Next thing you know, he'll be popping speed for all-night study sessions.


So there's some heavy content, but this is still a kid's book. There's plenty of silly Quidditch matches and classroom ballyhoo. Fully loaded with testosterone, Harry and Ron aren't the little pink-cheeked lads they were before. They are looking to get (it) on. Really.


While the days of Harry's naivet & eacute; are long gone, Rowling is not writing anything that would be too shocking to kids here. Harry, Ron and Hermione have simply grown up alongside their fans. They are worried about their future, their peers and their place in the world -- and those are issues that can speak to any reader. But unlike so many real-life issues, at the end of this Harry Potter book, Harry is the only living hope that love and good will prevail. Gulp. That's not exactly like choosing whether to take the SAT and go to college.

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