Best books to read in college: ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling

By on April 14, 2014

By Sammie Hill–

On the surface, The Casual Vacancy tells a fairly simple story. Following the death of a beloved city councilman, the small English town of Pagford must recover from their loss and elect a new city council member. However, what J.K Rowling truly creates in her first adult novel is an examination of what it means to be human.

Addressing issues such as class, self-harm, rape, politics, abuse and more, The Casual Vacancy introduces its audience to a multitude of characters, from high school students to a drug-addicted single mother. Throughout the novel, Rowling exposes these characters’ thoughts, emotions, secrets, aspirations, doubts and more as they strive to heal from their town’s loss, fill the city council seat, and navigate their way through every day life.

Solidifying her status as a masterful storyteller, Rowling engages and intrigues her audience from start to finish. While the novel may not feature magic in its plot, magic nevertheless resonates from Rowling’s words, her empathetic exploration of human nature, as well as the characters and community she creates.

The Casual Vacancy reveals that every individual becomes who he or she is for a reason. The decisions people make and the behaviors they exhibit stem from their experiences, their desires, their fears and their insecurities. Rowling reminds us that everyone—from promiscuous teenage girls to successful, coveted doctors—has an important story to tell.

The depth of the novel’s characters reflects the complexity of all human beings; for example, we learn that Krystal, a high school student we initially judge as obnoxious and confrontational, basically assumes the role of parent when she goes home, protecting and caring for her little brother in an otherwise neglectful environment. Parminder, the beautiful doctor and object of envy from other women in the town, fails to recognize her own daughter’s cries for help and need for parental acceptance. Thus, Rowling demonstrates that people consist of so much more than we initially realize.

As college students, we often pass judgment on our peers, simplifying people into narrow labels such as “slut,” “nerd,” “prep,” “queer,” etc. However, The Casual Vacancy refutes the idea that people are that simple.

Instead, the novel reveals that people are complex, the culmination of everything that has happened to them throughout their lives, shaped by experiences and sorrows and accomplishments and mistakes. The Casual Vacancy shows us that no matter what path people choose to take in life, every human being matters.

Thus, this novel not only bewitches audiences with its captivating plot, complex characters and exploration of sensitive issues, but also instills in its readers a sense of compassion that promotes kindness rather than callousness, empathy rather than hostility, and understanding rather than judgment.


Image courtesy of

About Sammie Hill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *