Hello, Happy Wednesday! How about a little book review? It’s certainly been a while.
A couple of days ago I spent a few hours subbing in a seventh grade English class, and the work they were doing was Q & A for the short, sweet, impactful novel The Giver by Lois Lowry. I had forgotten to bring along my own book that day, and after my eyes got tired of crocheting this gray shawl you see the beginning of here, I decided to pick up the teacher’s hardback copy and read it for myself. It’s only 179 pages long and geared toward tweens, so I zipped right through it. (Normally I’m a studious and meditative, meaning pretty darn slow, reader.)
Friends, it’s a great book for several reasons. Fellow bibliophiles in my life have recommended this to me before, but it just kept falling off my radar. Do you ever think that certain books cross your path at just the right moment, maybe just when you need them most or right when you are perfectly receptive to the message, whether you realize it or not? Such is the case with The Giver. I may have read it nearly a decade later than everyone else; but it sank directly into my heart in the most wonderful ways. And I had the pleasure of tossing around reactions with about eighty students, hearing what they thought and seeing the joy of reading in their faces. Jackpot.
The Giver is part fantasy and part a telling of very simple, relatable human nature. It’s a unique coming of age story that explores societal functions in a way I have never before seen. The author manages to build pretty good characters and plot rapidly, succinctly, and with skill that leaves you wanting much more. (An update on that later.) She uses language artfully but doesn’t smother you with adjectives and prose. She paints pictures neatly, effectively, with great sensation. I loved every page. Do you know how sometimes a book hits all the best high points and only explores the most valuable depths? No dry spells of reading stuff you later decide was unnecessary? That is how The Giver works. Lowry could have made every chapter much more thorough (meaning, painstakingly detailed), but she seemed to know when to quit or when to pull back. It was was refreshing. So that is why I enjoyed it as a reader, and as a prospective writer I took lots of cues from her.
As for the message that landed with such timeliness in my heart, it’s about kids who have lived out their childhood and are on the brink of adulthood, the knife’s edge of what’s next and how do I fit into this society, the world at large? What’s my function now that bike riding and recreation and freedom have come to an end? Our oldest is on this exciting and possibility-rich precipice right now, so the connections dazzled me. I was close to tears a few times while reading.
The story also explores the power of choice making, the dangers and risks of individuality, and the beauty of it all. It drives home the horrible fallout of something they call “Sameness,” or what I think of as social homogenization. There is also some touching on hot-button issues like weather control and euthanasia, which I thought was interesting. Mostly, though, it’s about the people.
Another theme that weighs in is the immeasurable power of memory. Collective memory, really: the wealth of emotion and wisdom we all enjoy by keeping our past close at hand and living in ways that show we have learned from history, both immediate and distant. Collective memory is written as a painful but necessary element in the new society, an irreplaceable gift. But history and memory are carefully guarded, sequestered from the general public because feeling it all is so uncomfortable. They’ve forgotten how to cope with it. Then, together with physical sensation, the feeling of things seems to be the vehicle for experiencing Love. When a character actually tastes loss and grief, inconveniences scrubbed out by the new, pristine Sameness, he finally feels the depth of Love.
It’s amazing. I couldn’t stop thinking about the duality of hurt, the balance in life between pleasure and pain. About how it is so clearly the dark times that make us appreciate the light, and how absence makes the heart grow fonder, etcetera.
I also thought of Finding Nemo, which pops into my Mother Brain more often than I care to admit. Remember the part when Marlin confides that he just doesn’t want anything to happen to his son? And then Dory, in her simple wisdom, wants to know why on earth he would want that? Yep.
In fact, the word love in this new society has become so generalized that it is nearly obsolete. Now, of course, we mention this once in a while to each other, right? We joke about how we love Tex Mex and we love the color turquoise, but yes we also love our grandparents and best friends. And wow we really love coffee and books and amazing husbands. The word itself, at least in American English, is diluted to the point of needing context every time we use it. So the author’s point is driven home well. But she also prompts lots of thinking on how to help each other cope with pain and difficult memories. She makes it clear that it is leaning on each other that siphons off grief, and maybe she even meant to say that physical touch was a necessary ingredient.
I could talk about this book all day long and into the night and might even try to convince my book club, those ladies who haven’t read it yet, to snap it up so we can tackle it as a group. The Giver is so short but so deep and beautiful! Have you read it? What did you think?
- What was your take on the Releasing ceremonies?
- What did you think of age twelve as the time in life to choose your path, or have it chosen for you?
- If society were to choose your career or vocation for you, what might be chosen, based on what people know/observe about you? And how happy would you be?
- What did you think of physical touch as it related to pain relief and memory sharing?
- How close do you think we are to Sameness in different parts of society now? What are the risks and rewards?
- What did you think of the book’s ending??
Oh that’s right! The ending. I was stunned and felt a bit empty when I read the last page. Luckily a talkative little girl in class was happy to trade thoughts at the exact moment, so I didn’t go quite insane. She assured me that the author received such feedback for more story that she has since written this one volume into a series called The Quartet. I cannot wait to find those and soothe my curiosity.
And do you know what I discovered while poking around the internet for the author’s contact information? She is also the creator of the Goonie Bird books! Our youngest loved these in grade school. Very happy memories. So now Lois Lowry has touched my heart twice this week, once for each of my babies, now young women.
Okay, three cheers for sudden book finds and enlightening seventh grade days! Thanks for stopping in, friends. Have the best Wednesday ever.
Back and back and back…
~Lois Lowry, The Giver