Thursday, January 3, 2013
I've read The Giver a number of times over the years. I can't remember when I first picked it up or what drew me to it but I don't think it was assigned in school like it often is now. I did read a lot of Lois Lowry books as a kid but I feel like I didn't read The Giver until I was older. It's a strange, unsettling little book. Before The Hunger Games, before Insurgent, before any of the intense dystopian YA novels out today, The Giver was published. Unlike those other novels, it doesn't concern itself with a major, often violent, uprising. The novel is way more subtle. The writing is simple, deceptively so. The reader catches glimpses of the controlling society, but nothing in the world is fully explained. Jonas, the main character, is a 12 year old boy who is assigned to act as the Receiver of Memory, one who holds the memories of the past world, before the society converted to "Sameness". Jonas' world is irrevocably changed by receiving the Giver's memories. He plans to escape from the community and is helped by the Giver, but bring with him a young child named Gabriel, who had been staying with his family for some time. Gabriel was considered to be a child who failed to thrive and was going to be "released", aka killed by lethal injection because he was too difficult to manage. Jonas escapes with Gabriel and the book ends abruptly, although the end hints that they arrive at a safe place.
I learned through my students a few years ago that Lowry had later written two sequels to The Giver: Gathering Blue and Messenger. These books are only loosely tied to The Giver; they clearly take place in the same world but in different communities. Jonas appears in both as a secondary character called Leader, as does Gabriel, known as Gabe, who is just a young boy. I enjoyed both stories, but they didn't have the same power as The Giver had to me, probably because I only read each one once and not over and over like the original book. I have very vivid memories of moments from The Giver that are indelibly carved into my brain, like scenes from other books that I've read multiple times, like A Wrinkle in Time.
Anyway, I borrowed the newest and last book in the quartet, Son, from my school's library. The start of Son was interestingly set in the same community that Jonas fled, during the same period of time. Claire is 14 years old, two or three years older than Jonas. At her 12 year old ceremony, she was selected as a Birthmother. Girls who are birthmothers are artificially inseminated (fascinating for someone going through advanced reproductive stuff like I am) and birth three Products. These Newchildren are then brought to the Nurturing Center for a year (where Jonas' father worked) before they are given to their family units. However, something goes wrong when Claire delivers. This is never made clear; it appears that the baby is fine, but something went wrong with her. Rather unceremoniously she is assigned to work in the hatchery, helping to raise fish for the community. She is bored by this job and confused about her feelings for the Product that she birthed. Unlike others in the Community, she does not take pills to suppress her feelings and hormones. It seems that in the rush to remove her from her role as a Birthmother, she was not given pills to take. Claire becomes consumed by thoughts of her child. She learns that she had a son and what number the child was assigned (50 children are born each year). She manages to volunteer at the Nurturing Center and bonds with her son, whose name she does not even know.
Over the year, she gets to know the nurturer who is Jonas' father and even learns a bit about Jonas as he is assigned to the Giver, although he only appears in the periphery of her world at this point. However, Jonas' escape from the community with Gabriel propels her to action. She flees onto a ship with some traders from Elsewhere, but a storm leads to her being tossed into the ocean and found by a tiny little community that appears to be stuck in the Middle Ages (no electricity, handfasting ceremonies, etc.). The village's world is harsh. The men fish, but besides that, sailing away by boat is too dangerous and there is an impossible cliff blocking their way out of the village. Claire is taken in by the local healer/midwife and begins to experience life outside of the Community, learning colors, animals, even love. She does not remember her past life due to the trauma of being shipwrecked (or washed overboard; I don't remember if there was mention of what happened to the ship).
Claire eventually remembers her past and her son and begins to train to climb the cliff under the guidance of a young name named Einar. Her training takes years, but eventually she is strong enough to climb out, difficult as the journey is. However, she isn't quite strong enough to face what she finds at the time.
The story shifts then to 15 year old Gabriel, who is building a boat to leave his own village. Jonas is no longer the Leader, but he is married to Kira from Gathering Blue and is the father to two young children, one of who is named Matthew, presumably after Matty from Messenger. Gabe notices an old woman watching him often. He longs to find his own mother, which is the impetus behind his planned journey.
Eventually Jonas, Gabe and Claire's story lines intersect as Gabe has to fight the evil of the Trademaster from Messenger to get everything that he had hoped for in his life.
Like the other books, Son ends abruptly, but quite hopefully for all characters. I don't know if I would read this whole series as many times as I did The Giver, but I found the end fitting. There isn't a lot of world-building. There are so many questions I have about the world as a whole, but those answers will never be forthcoming and it's more important to focus on the themes of each book - in this one, love and sacrifice are the key themes. The Giver quartet is definitely different from the action packed dystopian YA novels so prevalent to the market today but, though quieter, this series makes more of an emotional impact in a lot of ways than those other books. I think I'm going to use both The Giver and The Hunger Games for an elective on dystopian literature this winter. Should be fun!
NY Times Review
Geek Mom Review
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