Tuesday, July 05, 2011

In which I am blessed to receive The Giver

now finished: The Giver by Lois Lowry

I am no longer the only person in my social circles/tax bracket who has not read The Giver. See, this is what happens when you are a thirtysomething who has spent an awful lot of time a)with twentysomethings b)working in bookstores. You realize that there is some book that slipped into the young adult repertoire while you were in college leaving behind childish things, a book that became a modern classic while you were diving into Plath, Sartre, and the like.

For me, that book is The Giver. When I hear Lois Lowry, I think "Of course! My girl Anastasia Krupnik!" Alas, Anastasia has apparently been usurped by dystopian Jonas as Lowry's most famous contribution to literature. Goodreads tells me that the book was first published in March 1993. Yup, I was sitting in a freshman dorm room. Even Brian read The Giver in school. He's only a few years younger than me, but clearly during those few years The Giver did its thing. I'm pretty sure I never saw a summer reading list during my Borders career that didn't include either The Giver, The Things They Carried (I haven't read that either), or both of those books. Even my sister read it a few years ago! She basically stopped reading when she started reproducing, but one day at her husband's school, with the kids being babysat somewhere, she had down time in his office while waiting to accompany one of his choirs, and she picked it up and read it in an afternoon. I don't think there has ever been a book that Brian, my sister, and droves of teenage Borders customers from three different U.S. states have all read that I have not read. Seriously.

Therefore, when I happened upon a copy here at our monthly Andong book swap, of course I snatched it up, knowing I could quickly read it, get it checked off the list, and even give it to one of my middle or high school students at Avalon and not have to have it take up shelf/suitcase space. I read it in two days, of course. And now, what you've all been waiting for, surely: what did I think about it?

Well, it was fine. I know, not terribly enthusiastic, am I? I'm not trying to be anti-YA or anti-dystopia, but I'm not quite going to salivate endlessly about this one. However, I did like it. One thing I really like about it is that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. I can absolutely see what it has become the perennial middle/high school book. I could probably talk about the themes and characters and plot revelations for days just by myself, let alone with a class and a teacher.

I think three main strengths of this book are:
  • A bold, philosophical idea: that society would envision a "perfect" world as one without emotions and choices, and what this says about the necessity of evil.
  • The slow revelation of the full import of this philosophical idea. For example, you kind of enjoy the first family dinner talking about whether anyone had a feeling that day, or when they report their dreams. But then later you realize it's totally creepy why they're doing it.
  • The steady pacing.
Some have criticized the book for being heavy-handed or propaganda-like. I don't see it. I didn't think it was perfect, but I thought it was interesting and it pulls you along smoothly enough, despite some rough patches when you realize what's happening to people who are "released." I for one would have preferred a clearer ending, because I think every author wants to have the "Oooooh, did (s)he or didn't (s)he?" ending, but not every author earns it.

Anastasia! Are you reading this? I want to know what Anastasia Krupnik has to say about Jonas.

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