Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Reader's Diary #94- Lois Lowry: The Giver (up to Ch. 8)

The Giver by Lois Lowry is apparently aimed at young adults. I'd like to think that at 29 I'm still young, but I'm pretty sure that's not what they mean.

Regardless, this book has won a gazillion awards (i.e., the Newbery, Boston-Globe Horn Honor Book, American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults- and Notable Book for Children, Regina Medal, Booklist Editor's Choice, and School Library Journal Best Book of the Year). People are always referring to Harry Potter as a modern classic- this book is probably headed in that direction as well. Needless to say, I just had to read it.

I'm only 59 pages in but I can definitely see what the appeal is. Maybe if I was constantly reading futuristic books, I'd feel differently. Even now I'm finding it hard not to draw comparisons to Ender's Game, 1984, or A Brave New World. But in a novel which has to use global references to explain what the future is, it would be next to impossible to be completely different. Look at 1984 and Brave New World, both were greats in their own right but both had a LOT in common. And besides this one is aimed at a younger audience- or is it?

According to the ALA, The Giver was one of the most challenged books between 1990-2000. Yet despite the fanatical ravings of why this book should be banned, I've yet to read anything I wouldn't personally let my own child read as a teenager. Granted I'm not even halfway through the book yet, but the worse I've read is about Jonas talking about yearnings he had for a girl in a dream. It's far from vulgar, and why shouldn't such topics be discussed? Are we going to ban Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl for her small bout of sexual identity confusion?

I also like the way it describes what I went through in adolescence: the realization that society is not always right and that we shouldn't necessarily swallow rules just because they're laid down by authority. I'm not advocating anarchy, but I do think books such as these could be a route to discussing such matters with young adults rather than waiting for a judge to lay the smack down on some teen for acting out unlawfully.

Back to the book itself. I'm absolutely loving it so far. I felt while reading Kevin Major's No Man's Land that it sometimes showed his background as a young adult writer because it lacked the psychological explorations of adult novels. The Giver has proven me wrong. A young adult novel CAN be psychological. Half the pleasure of this book is Jonas's thoughts and confusion, both with coming-of-age and his new role.

The other half of this book's pleasure is Lowry's futuristic vision. It's one of rules and roles. Happiness is a goal, but it seems to be a superficial happiness. For instance, after meals it is routine to discuss feelings the family members have had throughout the day. Assumedly this is meant as a cathartic sort of activity, but when it is forced becomes almost anti-cathartic. Lowry also has a knack for throwing in details of the world casually but still keeping the reader's interest in her version of the world to come. A favourite is the mention of Lily's stuffed toy of some fictional creature known as a "bear."


John Mutford said...

I've suggested here that The Giver is both a coming-of-age story and a futuristic novel. It got me thinking. Oh oh. The Cathcher in the Rye seems to be the benchmark coming-of-age story- that is, whenever anyone writes such a story now, people draw comparisons to The Catcher in the Rye. But what is the benchmark future novel (notice I'm avoiding the term sci-fi - I don't think they have to be the same- though Ender's Game certainly is)? I think it's a toss-up between 1984 or A Brave New World but maybe you have some other ideas. Fahrenheit 451 perhaps? Handmaid's Tale? Or something else? I'm not asking what you think is the best (necessarily), just what do you think is the quintessential futuristic novel?

Scotty said...

From one who reads futuristic novels consistently, I find I prefer Julian May and her Galactic Milieu series, or her futuristic prehistoric Saga of the Exiles. She demonstrates the next evolution of humanity while miring it deep in classic human politics and greed.

Robert Hiscock said...

For me, the benchmark is probably Brave New World but I really liked The Handmaid's Tale when I first read it.