To read a book for the first time is to make the acquaintance of a new friend; to read it a second time is to meet an old one.
-- Selwyn Champion

Tunnels: The Next Harry Potter?

Have you heard yet? It might be the "next big thing"! A new book out of England has been released with plenty of fanfare and is finding new fans here in the States.

Way back during the summer of 1998, I read about a book that was having great success in England. It was a children's book, but it was making waves even among adults. I rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble and found the book sitting quietly on a table of new releases. There were no other readers, children or adults, clamoring around the table. While waiting in line, I saw no other customers holding a copy. It was, at the time, just another kid's book. I took it home and read it and knew I had lucked onto something special.

On the first day of school, I took the book to school and told our school librarian she should probably order some copies. By the end of that 1998-1999 school year, it had become the book to read. That book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

After reading the book Tunnels, I felt a similar urge to tell people about it. I read it in one weekend, even though it is a long book and, as I have often said, I don't read fast. I couldn't put it down. It was exciting, adventurous, and, I thought, well-written. When I got to school on the Monday after reading it, I told my students and our school librarian (again). I even used the words, "the next Harry Potter." Now, I'm not so sure...

I still really like the book (you can read my review) but I don't think it will be another phenomenon like the Potter series. After proclaiming it, I googled "tunnels next harry potter" and found hundreds of articles discussing this very idea. I didn't read any of them because I wanted to come to my own conclusion, which is this: Will Burrows is no Harry Potter.

For one thing, the HP books tell a complete story that begins with Sorcerer's Stone and concludes with Deathly Hallows, but each book is also a complete story in and of itself. Tunnels is more like "The Spiderwick Chronicles" in that it seems like this first book is just the first chapters of a much larger story. As such, it is less satisfying than a "stand-alone" book.

Also, Harry Potter is a more likable protagonist. While Will Burrows is very interesting, I found that I was a little put-off by him. His best (and only) friend is his friend only because they are both misfits. While it is true that real friendships often start that way, there must be something more, something deeper that develops for it to become a true friendship. I didn't see that happening with Will and Chester.

Finally, the level of writing is not on par with J.K. Rowling's. As Ms. Rowling progressed through her series, I could totally see her writing improving, and by the end she was a master at description, but she wasn't too shabby at the beginning, either. Some reviewers of Tunnels didn't care for the authors' writing. Publishers Weekly said it was "encumbered by verbose and flat descriptions", but I thought the descriptions were interesting and appropriate. However, I do not think the writing was as good as that found in the HP series. I think the reason for this is that Ms. Rowling understood the power of emotion and human (muggle or magic) relationships. She put that to use in her writing. Her descriptions and action sequences read well because of the emotion behind them, not just the excitement. As much as her story was about wizardry and conjurations, the real story was about people. In Tunnels, the story seems to be about the tunnels and how exciting it is to be in them.

Ultimately, I think Tunnels just doesn't have enough (reading) magic to become a Harry Potter-like phenomenon. It is, however, a really fun read!

(Last modified:04/06/2008)

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