Well you already know which series I will be drawing from, but I imagine my specific choice will be (in the immortal words of Emma Watson) con-truh-VUH-shull.
Furthermore, an astonishing amount of spoilers will follow so if you have not read the Harry Potter series please leave my blog this instant and proceed to the nearest bookstore/online purveyor of books and purchase a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Philosopher’s, if you’re British. You have a lot of reading to do.
My favorite book of the Harry Potter series is number five: Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix.
Why this particular volume? The one loathed and reviled by so many, found utterly tedious by others? The one in which Harry spends 75% of the book brooding like a pissy teenager? It’s simple. This was the book where the training wheels came off.
First of all, Harry is a pissy teenager. In this book he is fifteen years old. I found it refreshingly honest that no matter his reputation, destiny, or calling; Harry was going to mope around and feel as unappreciated and out-of-control as any other teenager. He actually was unappreciated, the people who made such a fuss about him being the-boy-who-lived had suddenly turned on him in their determination to believe that Voldemort couldn’t be back. His moodiness and sudden bursts of anger in this book may not be cute or noble, but they are incredibly honest.
Secondly: Dolores Umbridge. This is the first time J.K. Rowling provides an immediate threat both utterly loathsome AND willfully cruel. Quirrel was pathetic, Lockhart was merely a nuisance and the heir of Slytherin just Ginny Weasley possessed by a book, Sirius turned out to be friend rather than foe (and Pettigrew is twice as pathetic as Quirrel), Alastair Moody/Barty Crouch appeared to be a friend until the last act. Voldemort is loathsome and cruel but still kept at bay by family magic and Hogwarts magic. Umbridge is real, she has it out for Harry, and she is a deeply entrenched bureaucrat. She is a nasty piece of work and impossible for Harry to vanquish because he is still a child, and she has the authority of the Adult Conspiracy* behind her.
Thirdly: The training wheels really have come off. This book marks the first time that Harry has to face a villain without Dumbledore close at hand, or a powerful magic he doesn’t understand to intervene. Harry has to step up to the plate, fully relying on himself (and Hermione and Ron of course). With the strength of his community behind him he builds a team competent in defense against real dangers, right under the nose of his adversary. He gets his first kiss. He defies a vengeful authority to do what he knows is right. His team is put to the test. He discovers his destiny. He suffers his first devastating loss.
Sure, people had died in earlier Potter novels: Harry’s parents, Cedric, Professor Quirrel. But if we’re being honest, none of these people were particularly near or dear to Harry. He never got the chance to know his parents, and though the loss of them forever changed his life it’s a lot like an old war wound: incredibly painful when it rains, but by and large something he’s learned to live with. It is a fact of his existence more than an event. Professor Quirrel was a “bad guy”. Shocking, but not necessarily emotionally traumatic. Cedric was maybe a friend, more of an acquaintance, a rival for Cho Chang’s affections. The scariest part of his death is that it could so easily have been Harry’s (Cedric was just as innocent as Harry is, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time).
Sirius, on the other hand? Sirius was family. Loved. A trusted advisor and confidante. Losing a loved one is an exquisite and unique form of pain, and Harry is smart enough to know that Sirius is likely to be only the first of many. His death is also a sort of warning to Harry, of the danger in letting his emotions lead him (something he was giving in to more and more throughout the book).
Beyond all of that there’s Luna Lovegood, Professor McGonagall practicing a little civil disobedience, Snape backstory, Fred and George’s last stand, learning about what the adults are doing to prepare for Voldemort, Harry’s horrible Valentine’s Day, learning that Professor Trelawney is legit…
That’s why it’s my favorite.
*for more on the Adult Conspiracy, I recommend the works of Piers Anthony relating to Xanth.