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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*The Golden Compass, Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition (His Dark Materials, Book 1)* by Philip Pullman- young adult book review
Also by or about Philip Pullman:

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2)

The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3)

Lyra's Oxford

The Magical Worlds of Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass, Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition (His Dark Materials, Book 1)
by Philip Pullman
Ages 12+ 432 pages Knopf October 2006 Hardcover    

Inventive young adult books are certainly nothing new. After all, young readers (or adults who enjoy YA novels) can choose from wizarding students, dragons and all kinds of magical worlds and fantastic creatures when selecting their reading material. So when a YA book is considered especially inventive and creative, it’s certainly saying something.

The Golden Compass, first in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, stands just a bit above the others when it comes to creativity. Set in a world not unlike ours, The Golden Compass follows the adventures of Lyra Belacqua, a plucky orphan who lives on the campus of a college and spends her days running around with neighborhood kids, learning sporadically from the scholars and getting into trouble. Sounds pretty ordinary, right? It may seem so, until you take into consideration that while Lyra’s world may seem like ours, it’s profoundly different. Every human being spends his life in the company of his daemon—an animal who is connected to his or her soul and who can never be more than a few feet from them. The daemons share their thoughts and make their lives complete. Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon, is like all children’s daemons and can shape-shift at will (a trait that fades as the human reaches adulthood).

In addition to the daemons, Lyra’s world also differs from ours in profound ways. It’s a world filled with witches, armored bears and ‘dust’, a substance that Lyra is unsure of but that will surely change her life as her uncle searches for it and leads Lyra on an adventure to the frozen and frightening North. This adventure will also lead her to the ‘gobblers’, a group of people who are kidnapping children and taking them to the North to perform horrifying experiments on. As Lyra makes her way North to bring her uncle a strange device (the ‘golden compass’ of the title), she will discover much about her family, the world she lives in, and herself.

The Golden Compass is a riveting story, mostly because the reader wants to know what Pullman will come up with next to populate his fascinating world. Lyra’s journey is certainly a thrilling one and one that will easily fill a number of subsequent novels. It does have its drawbacks, though. Few of the characters are sympathetic, and the reader will find it difficult to relate to any of them, even the brave (but somehow not endearing) Lyra. In addition, the book is quite dark and scary at times without the frequent levity and humor that lighten up other YA books. Some scenes are downright gruesome and may even be unsettling for adults to read.

Despite these detractors, The Golden Compass is a well-written, interesting and wildly original book. As the first in a series designed to grab the readers’ interest in order to hook them on the rest of the books, the novel certainly succeeds. Hopefully Pullman will be able to develop his characters more (especially Lyra) in subsequent books. If he can, “His Dark Materials” will be a series that goes down in YA fantasy history.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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