Weird life announcement: I just read The Giver for the first time. It was as delightful as I expected for a book that is so widely read and regarded (except for the number one review on GoodReads and the psychopath who wrote it).
My initial take is that this is what more Young Adult literature should be- a reading level that can capture kids of many ages (and the vast spectrum of reading abilities at those ages) and a powerful story that could match the depth of any ‘adult’ literary work. There was no kowtowing to youth, no author trying to sound hip by mentioning iPhones, or writing the story in a gimmicky way, the main conflict did not involve love in an overdramatized and oversimplified fashion (I just recently read a YA where when the guy did something and the girls knees shook, THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN) that marginalizes boys and girls by putting them in cliched boxes even when the author chooses tropes that try to break the boundaries of those boxes.
Instead, Lowry- imagine this- writes well to those who can only understand so much. When reading Lowry, it feels like she could have chosen to be a writer of the most serious of literary fiction but instead chose to do something infinitely more difficult, scaffold young people into that world, through quality children’s lit/YA/whatever name you use for it.
The message of The Giver aside, it makes readers think about deep topics. Obviously, as with any book, we could boil it down to a concept that seems simple, like individuality, which is an overused theme in young adult literature. But The Giver’s theme cannot be explained adequately by any concept so simple. Sure, that is a part of the theme, maybe the ‘main’ theme, but as with any good book with a solid meaning, the theme and main idea of the book have tendrils that escape the neat confines of ‘individuality’ and attach themselves to other ideas that youth and adults wrestle with.
For example, America is becoming more aware of the importance of the collective memory of a nation as we confront the story we have told ourselves about America over the past two hundred years and the selectiveness in which we tell this tale. I began thinking about this a lot when I read Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, where he wrestles with the buried past of a nation built on the bones of those killed to make that nation.The Giver, in no small way, adds to that conversation. The Giver and the Receiver act as pseudo-historians for the other people in town, holding onto the truths that make their world messy so that those people can live in an uncomplicated and ‘perfect’ world, unhindered by that which makes them feel too much.
This sanitized world has parallels to the one we live in. Where being overly patriotic can get you pidgeon-holed as a right-wing nut job, where being too happy with your American Dream can get you chastised for not being mindful of the have-nots of the world, and where pointing out systemic issues created by those in power will get you labelled as ungrateful and scolded for playing the victim card.
In our increasingly decadent society, we are tightening the boundaries on that which we are allowed to feel. We speak about this as ‘polarization’- our inability to come together on anything, plus our sorting and separating on every issue in the most extreme way. But what is polarization if not the inability to talk about how we feel with others, and a lack of language that allows us to find common ground. Our polarization is due in large part to how often we don’t listen to the emotions of those across from us while we tell them why they should or should not feel that way.
This is no way for a society to live, as Jonas found out. When a country, or any place, does not share in the highs of their joys and the burdens of their lows, they do not bond, and they do not lift each other up. And the burden of those memories, the good and the bad, fall on the isolated few who have come face to face with that history, the good and the bad, but have no one to share it with.
I thought about that when I read The Giver. This book meant for 12-year-olds made me think about the same concepts as a Nobel Prize winning author.
We do not have to write down to young readers. That is not what reading is for. Reading fiction is supposed to stir us, make us uncomfortable, get us to think about other ‘me’s going through lives dissimilar from our own. Lois Lowry got that, and I love her for it and the exorbitant impact it has on our young readers. Let’s keep pushing in that direction.
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