Why I Read It: This is another childhood favorite that I decided to revisit.
My Rating: 5 stars
Summary: Set in a world that is clearly a parallel/futuristic version of our own, The Golden Compass is the first in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The main character, Lyra, is a normal eleven-year-old girl, being raised (parentless) at Jordan College in Oxford, England. Her life changes when she observes a presentation that she wasn’t meant to see, and she is sent on an exhilarating, oftentimes dangerous journey across Europe and into the Arctic, trying to discover the truth behind the disappearances of children that have been plaguing the country, and the mysterious “Dust” that she keeps hearing about.
My Review: This is such a good book, and is one of the best examples of how Young Adult/children’s fiction doesn’t have to be dumbed down. Pullman clearly respects his readers, regardless of how old they are, and doesn’t shy away from big words and bigger themes. I remember appreciating that when I first read it (when I was maybe 10) and I certainly appreciate it now. This is smart writing, plain and simple, and at no point did I think to myself “Wow, this is clearly a kid’s book” (which often happens when I read fiction aimed at younger readers, regardless of how good it is). This isn’t just a good children’s book–it’s a good book, period.
Lyra is easily one of the best female YA heroines of all time. She’s smart and savvy and snarky (whoa, check out my alliteration) and totally bad-ass. And she’s realistically flawed, which is really wonderful. She’s not perfect, and I loved that. Instead, she’s a real girl: stubborn and rash and reckless. She’s up there with Hermione and Alanna in my book in terms of heroines to look up to (so, the best of the best). It’s strong female characters like her that helped me become a feminist/cool lady, and I can’t thank Pullman enough for creating her.
The story itself is really engrossing and the world Pullman has created is incredibly well-developed, with its own mythology and history and societies that feel grounded in reality and very believable (despite the fantasy elements of the plot). I love that Pullman sets very high stakes for his characters; his villains are truly scary, and Lyra’s safety is never a certainty. Also, this book really sets up the rest of the trilogy well, laying the groundwork for bigger mysteries and adventures and deeper exploration of complex philosophical/moral issues.
Should You Read It: Absolutely. Like I said, this is a very good book, and one that any adult can enjoy despite its designation as a children’s book.