I discovered Diana Wynne Jones when I was in high school. At the time, there really wasn't a huge YA section in the book store, so choices were pretty limited. Nowadays, YA is booming and it takes up far more space than it used to.
I sometimes had a hard time finding something wonderful in the YA section at the time, which is why I turned to a lot of adult fantasy and science fiction. But one day my eyes caught on the collection of work by Jones, and I began picking up titles off the shelf. I believe, that on that day, I picked up not only Howl's Moving Castle, but also the first two books in The Dalemark Quartet, and some of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci. I ended up loving them all and went back for more.
Howl's Moving Castle, however, is fantastic. It has been a bit since I have read it, but I reminded of how wonderful it is because of the film. The glorious Miyazaki had a hand in directing it (other films include "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke") and I loved every minute of it, even if it was different than the book.
Sophie is a girl who believes that she is unattractive and plain. She worked in a hat shop until the Witch of the Waste came in to purchase a hat. Unhappy with her service, the witch turned Sophie into an old woman. Sophie leaves and finds her way out to where the wizard Howl has his castle. In a series of events, Sophie moves into the castle and finds her way as a part of Howl's craziness.
During all of this, Sophie has to learn how to overturn her own curse...as well as fix Howl and the others living in the castle.
The first time I read this, I fell in love. I mean, it had all the elements I loved in a fantasy-originality, a wizard, a fire demon who is pretty funny, and a little romance. It was a story that was perfect for my age and one that I cherish. I am so glad I read it when I did, and that I discovered Jones at a young age. I had the opportunity to love her and cherish her as a young adult. I think that had I read this when I was older, I just wouldn't have loved it the same way.
I will say that I also loved the film, even with the story being slightly different. It was similar enough to the book in the right ways that I could love it as well. The beautiful animation and soundtrack didn't hurt either. They made a beautiful story pop from the screen.
This is probably one of those novels that solidified my love for the gentler tones of YA fantasy and science fiction, and one that reminds me that when I can, I am going to return to that world.