Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Report: The Giver by Lois Lowry

When I was my son's age, my mom literally had to force me to go outside.  I wanted to stay inside and read.  She made me take my book and go outside on the steps to read.  I did that, and eventually started making friends with the neighborhood kids, and started playing street baseball, and Hide and seek, and basketball, and kill the kid with the ball, and all those fun street games.

I've been a very dedicated reader all my life, and when the book  The Giver by Lois Lowry came out in 1993, I was 29 years old, and I thought I was really into Young Adult Fiction.  Apparently not, though, as I missed it entirely, and I've since found I've missed hundreds of other books.  And this was a particularly bad miss, as it is a great book, and ended up winning The Newbery Medal in 1994.  It was also ranked in 2012 as the 4th best children's book of all time by Elizabeth Bird's Top 100 Chapter Book Poll.  (more books I've been meaning to read!)

(On an aside: It's a little bit of a fantasy that I'd like to make my 9-year-old child read only Newbery books.  I haven't even read them all (I just did a little count, and I've read 16 of the 412 books that have either won or been honored by the Newbery folks.  I better get cracking!).  Unfortunately, he's the kind of kid who loves his trash reading.

Don't get me wrong, I love that he reads, and through him I've read some really great stuff. He's read all of the Alex Rider novels, all of the Ranger's Apprentice novels, all of the I Funny novels, and all of the Harry Potter novels, as well as many others. Some of these he's read multiple times.  I have to force him to read new books, and when he does, he usually loves them.  I don't know if he's ready for Agatha Christie, but I get the feeling he is going to eat them up when he is.)

Some of the books my son loves.  (CLICK IMAGES TO SEE THEM ON AMAZON)

He's an inveterate reader, and for that I'm glad.  Even if he doesn't always read the books I want him to read (and it makes sense, seeing who his parents are. )  Right now he's refusing to read this next book, and when I do force him to read it  I'm sure he's going to love it!


Artwork inspired by The Giver. via Pinterest
Back to the Giver:  It's a utopian/dystopian novel, in which we follow a young boy named Jonas who lives in a Utopian society that celebrates equality and sameness... up to a point. The society is very ordered- at 8 you get a bicycle, at 10 you get your hair cut short, at 12 you receive your job- and when you are old enough you retire to the home for the Aged, until eventually you are Released.

Everybody turns age at the same time, and your peer group works together.  It's a polite society where apologies are mandated for even the tiniest infraction of the group. A group of Elders studies you and decides how you are best suited to help society in your job, and who your spouse should be, and eventually, when the people suited to be Birth Mothers deliver, who gets which child and what their name should be. It's a society that seems like it should be operating at peak efficiency.

But as you learn as you read further, things are not necessarily idyllic.  Boys and girls (and men and women) take pills every day to quell their "stirrings."  At a certain point, you realize that the Mother and the Father are not the biological mother and father.And when you get much further into the book, you realize that even the idea of color has been stripped away from the community's life.  Not color as in race, but as in color, red, green, blue, etc.  Whether this is done via drugs or via surgery is not necessarily clear.

As well, you realize that there are some other sinister elements.  There's a young baby who doesn't sleep well, and there's a fear that he might have to be "released."  At first it's unclear if "Released"  means sent to another community, but pretty quickly you get the foreboding idea that released is a euphemism for euthanized.  And the same with the elderly who get "released" as well.

It turns out there are sequels!
Check them out on Amazon
Our hero, Jonas, ends up being selected to be the Receiver of Memories, a special job that requires that he take in memories of the past times from the current Receiver, who is an old man. (And once Jonas becomes the Receiver, he becomes the Giver) Something happened 10 years before to the previous Receiver in Training.  And as Jonas starts to receive memories from the long past, he starts to realize that there's more to his society than meets the eye...

The book is so well written, and takes a simple idea and expands the hell out of it.  I love how there's a sense of foreboding from the first line, and we discover gradually things about this society without being told so much about them.  The version I read came with A Reader's Guide at the end, along with questions for discussion and an interview with the author.

Because of the dystopian element, this book has been on "The Challenged Book List" for a long time.

More excitingly, I just discovered that there are sequels!  She apparently wrote four books in this series.  (Although not exactly a quartet, there are four books set in this world, although they all follow different protagonists. ) Gathering Blue, The Messenger, and The Son Can't wait to read them!

There's also a 2014 movie! Featuring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep.  It didn't get great reviews, but I think it looks well worth seeing.  Except at the end of the trailer, the super high-tech flying machine seems a little too Hunger Games-ish.   Completely missed this one too! I now feel like I've been under a rock about this book.

Has your child read the Giver?  What did they think?  Please tell me in the comments below. I'm trying to build up a persuasive case to get my son to read it!

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