Fun Fact: Katherine Applegate and her husband co-authored the enormously popular "Animorph" series books.
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Friday, January 8, 2021
Reviewing “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry has been on my list for a long time. But I have put it off. I think one reason is because it is such a significant book for its ideas and its precedence in dystopian literature for youth. I had to do justice to the teachers who required reading it and the children to whom it was assigned. And also, I wasn’t sure how to cover it properly. I didn’t read it as a child, but only as an adult. I couldn’t decide whether I enjoyed it all or just parts of it. So I let it sit. And then picked it up and read it again for fresh perspective.
Here is the warning: Spoilers ahead. I’m not just going to hint at the events and then say, “Go read this!” If you want that, you can read the back cover.
It’s a short little book, only 180 pages, and the messages aren’t complicated. When a civilization gives the authorities permission and power to make life fair, equal, safe, and predictable, the end result is that choice is taken away. And the unfolding of what that really means is why the book is gripping.
Jonas is an eleven-year-old boy in a family group. He has one little sister. That is what is allowed. It matches the available food supply and ensures a stable population. One boy and one girl. They have an enviable manner of relating to each other, the parents kind and nurturing, understanding and guiding. Jonas is nearing his 12th birthday, his coming-of-age ceremony, when he will be treated like an adult in the community. He will be assigned his job, the one he will do for the rest of his life. But he is worried. What if he doesn’t like his assignment? Soothing assurances that he will are very believable. His youth has been spent trying out all possibilities, and the elders have been paying close attention. Who wouldn’t want to have someone slot you into exactly what is right for you? Who doesn’t remember the agony of having to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up?” The reader accepts this. And continues to find out all the other choices that have been taken away from the people with the goal of peace and comfort and equality.
Spouses are carefully matched and then assigned. Their purpose is to become a family group. After the children are raised, there is no purpose to their union, so they each go their separate ways to live in community with other childless adults. The babies are likewise applied for and assigned. This situation ensures that there are no connections, no memories passed down through generations, as if the present is all there is.
At his (and all the other 12 year-olds) birthday ceremony, Jonas finds out that he has been selected for a very rare position, a Receiver of Memories, to eventually replace the current Receiver, who is old. These memories, his own plus the collective memories of the entire community only exist in his head, and he must pass them on to the next Receiver before he dies. The memories might be vital for important decisions the elders might need to make, though apparently being summoned for advice is exceedingly rare. When Jonas asks his name, what he should call him, the man replies, “The Giver.”
Over their sessions, Jonas learns about pain, love, death, beauty, and family, things that have been traded away in exchange for security and equality. He would like to share what he has found out, see if anyone else would rather have choices. But it is forbidden to speak of what he learns, and when he tries to carefully broach the subject, he is rebuffed. No one is interested in a seeing things a different way.
There is a sinister element that winds around their lives, clouded by a euphemism. “Released.” Such a pleasant term, such a good exchange for when it's time to give up life in the community. Or when someone just doesn't fit in. Of course, the reader knows what that really means, and Jonas’s turning point comes when he realizes it. And when it comes so close to home that he is horrified and repelled, he must act. He must leave.
It can be seductive to consider the offer of peace and comfort in exchange for control and self-autonomy. It can start small. And some of these exchanges are necessary for societies to function. If, after the tipping point, one could turn around and view what’s been lost, then perhaps they would protest, rebel and take back their free humanity. But if the memories are gone, if the experiences aren’t there, to remember what “snow” is, or “grandparents” are, then it won’t happen.
I wasn’t happy about the ending. There is no other way to interpret it than it is ambivalent. And of course we want to know, what really happened‽ (My favorite punctuation—the interrobang) There is apparently a sequel that seems to take care of that, but I think the most honest way of explaining an ending is to just use what is provided in the book. And if I had to pick the optimistic or pessimistic ending, I’m afraid I’d have to go with the sad ending. But you can choose the other if you wish!
I got this book at the thrift store. It was a school library discard with the pocket and the check-out card still in it. It was charming to see the signatures of all the children who had read it over a four year span.
Monday, January 27, 2020
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Thursday, November 14, 2019
The quaint interior illustrations, by the author, clearly show the time period the book was written.
It is interesting to me to consider how the style, feel, and content of children's literature has changed over the last hundred years. The whole "Life was simpler then, blah blah," is definitely one factor. Thimble Summer is well-written, and not boring, but the big climax of the story is the county fair, when Garnet takes her pig in to see if it will win a ribbon.
There are other gentle enjoyments of the story. Perhaps the one with the most tension to a modern-day mom like me is when she gets mad and takes off hitchhiking to a town some distance away, staying most of the day there. Of course, kids did that then. My own mother tells me about doing that when she was a kid.
Garnet's family are farmers. It was hot and the rains wouldn't come. The bills were coming though, and her dad was plenty worried if they could make it, if everything shriveled and there were no crops. While out playing in the creek with her brother, Garnet finds a silver thimble and feels that there might be magic in it. That night, the rains come.
That summer brings a lot of good things to Garnet and her family, a new family member, a new barn, adventures with her portly friend, Citronella. The thimble reappears later, but strangely is not referred to much during the story.
When I looked up the Newbery winners before and after Thimble Summer, I saw that the honor books bookending it were Ingalls Wilder's "On the Banks of Plum Creek," and "By the Shores of Silver Lake," which gives some context to the tale-telling of the era.
This was a decently good book, and it would be enjoyed very much by a reader who doesn't demand action-adventure and has an interest in some bygone ways.
I got this used at the thrift store for about 2 bucks.
Saturday, July 8, 2017
What a mysterious title! And what sad (thoughtful? dreamy?) expressions on the two girls, rendered in a soft, yet stark black and white cover illustration! And what are they doing, sitting on a roof? I picked up Getting Near to Baby, by Audrey Couloumbis off the book rack at the thrift store and bought it. I let myself find out only that the family's baby had died, and then I began reading it.
Willa Jo is already on the roof as the story begins. Little Sister has already followed her up there as the morning breaks, and folks begin to discover them perched up there. Willa Jo tells this in her own voice, letting the story unfold gradually. She has a lot on her mind. She and Little Sister have been sent to stay with their Aunt Patty and Uncle Hob for a while after Baby died. Their mother was affected to the point she had difficulty caring for them, and Aunt Patty swooped in to take the two sisters in.
But Aunt Patty and Willa Jo are at odds from the beginning. They are both brash with strong personalities. Aunt Patty is not only trying to navigate having two children suddenly living with her, but she has never had children and doesn't always know to relate. Willa Jo is frustrated with suddenly having so much control over her own life taken away, such things as having to buy and wear new clothes she hates and having her aunt try to manage her new friendships. And underneath it all is the deep sad minefield of Baby's death.
How did Baby die? How can the family come together again? Can they help each other through this? And why did Willa Jo decide to go on the roof and hang out?
Finally, near the end of the book, we have Willa Jo's complete narrative of the event that led to Baby's death. And the reader understands why they are on the roof. Through the filter of Willa Jo's words, I did not care much for Aunt Patty. But that is the way it is when you have one side and that persons feelings influence all the description. When Willa Jo grew in her understanding, Aunt Patty became a more sympathetic figure. And it didn't hurt when Aunt Patty finally joined the girls on the roof!
In this book, I especially enjoyed the pages spent on Willa Jo's growing friendship with the neighbor girl and her eccentric family. I appreciated how firmly she was able to claim her own friendship in spite of Aunt Patty's strong disapproval.
Don't let the inherent sadness in the topic put you off this book. It is worth reading!
I paid about 2 bucks for this at Goodwill.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Sometimes I wonder how it is that the same authors win the Newbery Award multiple times. Are they champions in the world of children's literature? Are there actually just few writers of children's literature? Is there a familiarity with these names in the higher reaches? I don't know enough to make a guess. But if you are familiar with the interesting and excellent Newbery Winner, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1959), then you are familiar with Elizabeth George Speare, who also wrote this award winner, The Bronze Bow.
The first time I started to read this book, I was put off at first by realizing that it was a story about young people interacting with Jesus and his ministry. I put it away for awhile while I examined my feelings about a book of this nature being part of the Newbery Award platform. I had to consider how I would feel if it were about the origins of Islam, promoting that way. Or, like The Cat Who Went to Heaven, a clear pitch on Buddhism. I didn't want to dismiss it, just because it might belong to the category of propaganda or tracts. It did win the award, after all. So I picked it up again and dove in.
Daniel is a young man, 18 years old, who has chosen to live a life in hiding, in the mountains with Rosh and his band of zealots. He has a sorry past of pain and loss at the hands of the occupying Romans, and he has turned his life over to revenge and hate, and future glory when they overthrow the hated overlords and Israel reclaims its land and autonomy. He looks to Rosh as a father figure and is proud and grateful when give the chance to participate in raids against traders on the road. We are allowed to see that Rosh is an uncouth and selfish leader, who cares nothing for the men in his band except what they can do for him. But Daniel is blind to that.
After Daniel makes some friends from the town, while they were out exploring the hills, he begins to spend some time down there. He visits the hut of his grandmother and sister, Leah, who is suffering from mental disorder from the earlier trauma to their family. He stays, he goes, he comes back; he can't stand to be there, but he feels guilty for not being there for them. He develops his friendship more deeply to the pair he met in the hills, and then enters into intrigue and spying and plans for revenge and helping to bring about the revolution, trusting in Rosh to carry through on his part.
Daniel hates the Romans, deeply. Stupidly deeply. Spitting at them, insulting them, seemingly not able to control his actions. Hate and anger, anger and hate. Selfishness. Mean to his sister. He's nice at times, but is so selfish he cannot care for her or her needs beyond a pretty low bar. Jesus is kind of a sidebar to the story, really. You just get a brief inclination of what he was all about. But it feels that the story is leading to a redemption of Daniel and his awful nature, even if that nature is mixed in with sincere concern for Jewish freedom. He struggles a little with some of the ideas Jesus has communicated, such as loving your enemies and his coming kingdom, but manages to shrug most of it off.
Even though Jesus is a real person in this book, he has been cast in a mystical glow, as he speaks and heals the sick. You will have guessed already that Daniel is indeed redeemed and changed from his former self, but unsatisfyinly so. I did not like the character. He did not have my sympathy, especially for the way he treated his family, and for his rage and surliness. I could have invested more of myself in the story if I had been allowed to see more of his change of heart, his reactions to self-revelation, his regret over past actions. But the author waited until the last couple pages to handle that, and I only know Daniel's character as the young man I spent 250 pages getting to know and dislike.
Bought this book at the thrift store.