The unique experience of growing up alongside a character in a book is something I often take for granted. I mean Harry Potter, of course. Let me explain.
I read the first three books when I was 12. The much-celebrated fourth book came out when I was 13, and I was at the local bookstore the minute it opened on July 8th, 2000. (That date is forever etched in my memory.) I awaited each successive book with a mixture of eagerness and anxiety - eager because I knew the next one would be great, anxious because I was terrified of which characters would die next.
You could say that those books punctuated my teenage years. I grew up alongside Harry. I experienced so many transitions - many, I think, even compared to most people's teenage years. Friendships and relationships came and went, of course. I went from a public junior high to a private boarding school. I experienced the deaths of several people I loved very much. It's interesting that death is such a prominent theme in the Harry Potter books, because in my late teens it became prominent in my life as well. And I can't neglect to mention that through that loss I became a Dharma practitioner. But through everything, the books were there for me.
When the seventh and final installment, the Deathly Hallows, came out in summer of 2007, I was 20 years old. It was a rough summer, as it involved the death of someone I loved and the most painful breakup I hope I'll ever have to experience. (It was like a death, slow and painful, but then I was reborn.) The book encapsulated every emotion I was having at that time - the pain, the loss, the grief, but also the courage, the humor, the affirmation of life that comes when you've endured so much and realized you were stronger than you ever knew. I took all that to heart.
Now, more than ten years after the first book came into my hands, all that is still with me. Those formative years are so important. What those books gave me will be with me the rest of my life - I have no doubt about that.
My fiance and I both bemoan the fact that our children won't experience the Harry Potter books as we did. It can't be helped. We belong to that lucky bunch of now-20-somethings who grew up with Harry. I can't speak for all of us, but I know that those books have influenced my life and my self more than I can ever know.