Monday, July 28, 2014

The Giver by Lois Lowry--Book-to-Movie Now Available on Blu-ray and DVD!

Lois Lowry's, The Giver. [1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     No sooner had my daughter arrived home from sixth grade telling me that her teacher was very mad at her because the book she had taken to read during the "free reading period," wasn't acceptable, then the phone rang. Answering it, I was surprised that my daughter's teacher was the one calling. She expressed great disapproval at my daughter's book saying it was inappropriate for a sixth grader to be reading a book that was beyond her grade level. 

     I asked her to please hold for a minute and then spoke to my daughter asking her to show me the book she was reading. I was somewhat surprised when she showed me the book and again asked her if she was sure this was the book the teacher was unhappy with her having. She assured me that it was the book. Going back to the phone the teacher again asked why I let her read a book inappropriate for her grade level. For a moment, I was dumbfounded at her disapproval of my daughter's book and my parenting. I composed myself, and told her I approved of the book. 

The book of which the tea-
cher disapproved because
of the dystopian themes.[2]
     I also told her that I had read the book when I had been in high school as part of my school curriculum. She said that it wasn't the book but my daughter's age that she was just too young. I told her that I know my daughter, and that though in sixth grade, she had been tested and was reading at high school level speed and comprehension. I told her that I permit my daughter to read whatever book she was capable of and interested in reading (of course, barring those which were sexually explicit). I told her my daughter didn't have to secretly check out books from the library and that she always showed me what she was reading. The teacher, in fury, hung up the phone. My daughter ran and threw her arms around me squeezing me tight. I told her not to worry, that her book was a good book and that I supported her reading choices.

The Newbery Medal. [3]
     Society and its views of dystopian society have moved forward since my daughter was in grade school. Young Adult novels abound with dystopian settings and themes; in fact, in 1993, Lois Lowry's book, The Giver was published and subsequently received the Newbery Medal (1994 by the Association for Library Service to Children)" In addition to the prestigious Newbery Medal, the book also receiv- ed the Regina Medal (1994), and the William Allen White Award (1996). [fn.1] [4]

At first blush, Jonas' community
appears idyllic with no pain,
war, or disease.  [5]
SHORT BOOK SYNOPSIS: Eleven-year-old Jonas lives in an idyllic community with his mother, father and sister. In this idyllic world, no suffering exists, no war, no disease, no pain. Jonas waits in anticipation for the December celebration where he would, with the other eleven-year-olds, celebrate the "Ceremony of Twelve." 

     Jonas will officially become an adult and receive his assignment in the work he will do as he grows into adulthood, and the training that will begin immediately after the ceremony. When the day arrives, Jonas--and everyone else--is shocked to learn he has been selected as the next "Receiver of Memory."

During his training, The Giver shows
Jonas a shocking recording of
an injection given to an infant. [6]
     When Jonas begins his training from a man who calls himself "The Giver," Jonas begins to see things in a different way than he did before his selection. Jonas begins learning the shocking and troublesome truths about the idyllic world in which he lives. He is confused and at first doesn't understand, but as time goes on and Jonas receives more and more memories from "The Giver," he tries to come to terms with his life and what it all means in this false community. Who really pays for the pain-free society in which he lives? Is it "The Giver?" "The Receiver?" or is the cost really laid upon the community at large?

MY FAVORITE QUOTE: [This quote is taken from the "Ceremony of Twelve," just before Jonas receives his selection as, the "Receiver of Memory."]
The quote I have selected as my favorite quote in the
book is a dramatic one that utilizes foreshadowing as
a literary technique. The reader is subtly appraised of
a potentially important part of the plot or story. Here,
the selection is also ironic in that everyone in the com-
munity strives to be the same, yet at the ceremony they
celebrate and "honor" their differences. Hmmmm! [7]
The initial speech at the Ceremony of Twelve was made by the Chief Elder, the leader of the com- munity who was elected every ten years. The speech was much the same each year: recol- lection of the time of childhood and the period of preparation, the com- ing responsibilities of adult life, the profound import- ance of Assignment, the seriousness of training to come...'This is the time,' she began, looking directly at them, 'when we acknowledge differences. You Elevens have spent all your years till now learning to fit in, to standardize your behavior, to curb any impulse that might set you apart from the group...But today we honor your differences. They have determined your futures.' [p.51]
     I really enjoyed this quote, and loved that the differences in the elevens-turned-twelves was what determined their futures--a wonderful foreshadowing of the changes to come! Jonas had something uniquely different about him, something that, in the end, would set him apart, entirely, from even the community. 

I like this idea. From a struggle to be "a part" of the community to a struggle to be "apart" from the community. Just reciprocally beautiful.

Everyone in the community struggled to
obey all the precepts of their age groups.
The struggle to conform was ongoing.[9]
ABOUT THE DYSTOPIAN NOVEL: First, a word or two about Dystopian novels, in general. At the beginning of the book, The Giver, it appeared too good to be true. A community where no pain existed, no unemployment, no war, no crime, just peace and sameness. However, we soon began to see a community in which people were controlled to the extent they had little individuality, were given pills to prevent passionate emotions, and "released" if they didn't fit into the community [...a euphemism for death.]. 

    DYSTOPIAN SOCIETIES are those societies that have qualities of being somewhat undesirable, harmful or perhaps unpleasant. The unpleasantness is usually due to a dramatic decline in society, for example, an apocalypse. In our book, The Giver, the decline had come before the present time, war, death, fighting, disease, etc. prompted people to give up their uniqueness and individual liberties to attain peace, and oneness. However, harmful or unpleasant side-effects of the dystopian society usually result.

     Characteristics of a Dystopian Society: Propaganda is used to control citizens; Information, independent thought, feelings and/or freedom are restricted; a "figurehead" or concept is worshipped by the citizens; Citizens are under constant surveillance (just like in our novel, today, The Giver), Citizens have a fear of the outside world; sometimes citizens live in a dehumanized state; the natural world is banished and distrusted; Citizens conform to uniform expectations--individuality and dissent are bad--again, just like in today's novel, The Giver; and the society is an illusion of a perfect utopian world--or wants to appear so.
Not just Social Class and Race,
though--it can be by ability, gender,or
anything else that divides people; in
The Giver it is age and aptitude [10].
     Stratification of SocietyHallmarks of literature utilizing dystopian structure in a book's plot usually includes the stratification of society. In Brave New World, Aldus Huxley created groups called Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons); in Divergent the groups were called Amity, Erudite, Dauntless, Abnegation, and Candor.

     In this book, The Giver, Lois Lowry creates groups based on a person's age: ones, twos, threes, fours, fives, sixes, sevens, eights, nines, tens, elevens, and twelves (who are considered to be adult) and finally the elderly or old (and retired persons). Every year the rules change for each age group, for example, at one year old you get your name and a family, at eight, like Jonas's sister, Lily, the child gets an "identifying jacket" with pockets and smaller buttons as well as being required to start doing volunteer hours; nine-year-old girls can remove their "childish" hair ribbons and put them aside, and all nine-year-olds got their bicycle. Moreover, once assigned a place in society after the Ceremony of Twelve, your career is yours permanently, supposedly assigned to your best abilities--like fish hatchery attendant, recreation assistant, birth mother or "Receiver of Memories," like Jonas.

Gattaca is a dystopian novel centering on controlling
population through the citizen's identity. The
small print at the top of this graphic says,
"There is no gene for the human spirit." [11]
     Family is also a critical piece of dystopian society. The government seeks to destroy or control social interaction by exerting rigid controls on the family. In The Giver, you must apply to be married, and even if approved, your spouse is selected for you; you are only allowed two children; moreover, birth mothers never see their children. The children are taken away and assigned to a family requesting a child. Individuals must report their dreams every morning, and when old enough to develop "stirrings," you must begin taking a daily pill to suppress the "stirrings" that you are feeling.

     Other hallmarks of dystopian novels (and movies) which use PROPAGANDA TO CONTROL CITIZENS of society through use of the following: Politics and Government (The Hunger Games); Economics (see, V For Ven- detta), Psychology (Brave New World) Religion (see, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Handmaid's Tale and A Canticle for Liebowitz), issues of Identity (see, Gattica), Violence of fighting, war, or other oppression (see, Judge Dredd, Mad Maxx, or The Running Man), Corporate Control (Minority Report and Running Man); Bureaucratic Control (Brazil), Science (Blade Runner), Technology (R.U.R.; I, Robot; The Matrix; and Terminator), and finally, Environmental issues [concerning pollution, not enough food, etc.] (see, Logan's Run, Avatar, Soylent Green, and Wall-E). It can be seen in other famous dystopian novels as follows: Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Farenheit 451 (of course, there are many, many more. This is just a small sampling.). [13]

The Book of Eli, starring Denzel
Washington, utilizes a 
dystopian setting. [14]

     Undoubtedly, since novels (and movies) following dystopian themes are so popular and prevalent in society, right now, we will visit this issue again in the future. Because dystopian themes are seen in everything from television shows (like The Walking Dead), to video games (Fallout) (as well as novels and movies), I'm sure we will be looking at dystopian themes in new novels as they are written and come into the publishing and reading world. Until then, I hope this quick little nutshell version of dystopian society helps you to appreciate this genre of literature more.

THE YA CONTROVERSY:     Some reviewers and bloggers are totally against YA (young adult) novels, in general, as reading material for adults. Apparently, the view is held that adults should be "embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children." [15] I feel quite differently about the matter. I have loudly proclaimed from day one of my blog posting that any kind of reading is wonderful. 

     I want to encourage everyone to read, not just children. Personally, since I'm beyond my YA years, I choose YA books every now and again to keep my spirit young. And...parents especially, should know what their children are reading--parents NEED to stay abreast of the most current trends in literature for their own children's sake. For other adults, if your tastes don't run to YA literature, don't read it--find something to read that you enjoy! That's what you should do in any event. 

     Personally, I choose to mix it up; I read YA, but I also read comics and graphic novels, I read classical literature, romance, Pulitzer-Prize-winning novels, non-fiction and historical, militaristic sci-fi, fantasy, biography, self-help, spirituality, psychology, horror, non-fiction, etc. I read them all. I think it makes me a more well-rounded person with a more flexible and agile mind. I simply find all this looking down one's nose at any given genre to be both snobbish and short-sighted. I am not embarrassed in the least. 'Nuff said.

     Second, YA books are, indeed, written for the teens. The difference in YA versus adult books is that the story is all about the teenage perspective. Teenagers are not adults and have not learned the critical thinking skills that mark adulthood, nor should they be expected to try and read from an adult perspective. Teen readers plunge themselves into the emotional life of the protagonists--in part, teens are learning empathy and gaining understanding of how to handle problems, deal with life situations, and what mistakes to avoid (among other things). I know some adults who might benefit from reading YA fiction. 

I deeply admire teens for how
they live passionately! [18]
     Even adults that have grown into an adult mind and experience a more critical perspective and analysis of reading material can learn new things and, as I mentioned, above, keep their spirits young at heart. To learn that teens, while they may not read with the adult critical mind, are people, too, with cares, desires, and a willingness to learn about life and grow into the people they are becoming. That teenagers deserve to be admired and applauded for their interest in reading, growing, and becoming more, is something they truly deserve. 

JONAS AND THE GIVER: Told entirely from third-person narrative, we are put into the perspective of the 11/12 year-old-boy, Jonas. We have no others injecting thoughts or information into the story. This tends to help make the experience of reading the story immediate, present, and intimate. Lowry's us of simple language helps us to regress down to Jonas's age to see things simply, and uncritically--choosing, instead, to trust the adults in his life, namely, his parents, and the elders, until he learns that he should not trust them. The language is instrumental in conveying the powerful concepts contained in the novel.

The climax is the pivotal point in the book, followed
by falling action and resolution. [19]
     The Climax of the book is a heartbreaking scene when disillusionment is complete for Jonas as The Giver plays a video of a newborn child being euthanized by Jonas's father--whose role in the community is that of a nurturer. Jonas realizes that all the people whom he has known who have been "released," have been killed, not transferred to other communities; their bodies then dumped down a chute like so much refuse. Jonas and the Giver then resolve to change the situation.

The rules are drummed into the children,
year after year. Jonas soon learns that
he must break some rules to effect
the change that's needed. [20]
 Rule Breaking: In this strictly-run com- munity full of laws and expectations, we also see rules broken: (1) When Jonas's father gets permission as an exception to the rules to bring home the baby (Gabriel) for additional nurturing; (2) when the nines (9-year-old children) teach their younger siblings to ride a bicycle--everyone turns their head in blindness at their violation of that law; (3) Jonas's father breaking a rule to obtain the name of the baby (Gabriel); (4) Jonas's father permitting the family to break the rule of calling the baby by its name before it had officially been named, such; (5) Jonas's father admitted knowing his assignment (Nurturer) before it was given at his Ceremony of Twelve.

     Children who see adults condone rule-breaking are subtly influenced to believe that they, too, may break the rules and get away with it. It may be one way adults, unknowingly, are fostering a rebellious child.

The first splash of color for Jonas, the
red apple, puts me in mind of the
movie, Pleasantville, where the first
splash of color was a red rose. [21]
     After Jonas begins receiving memories from the kindly Giver, he learns to see colors, feel joy, and even love for the first time--and also pain. He experiences sledding in the snow, death on a battlefield, and the physical pain of broken bones and injury. He also is shocked to learn that he has been given permission to break certain rules, like lying and rudeness. Jonas's "mind reeled" as he realized that other Twelves, other adults, could have received the exemption from lying--how often had he been lied to?

     Symbolically, Jonas's father, The Nurturer, seems to nurture a son conditioned to break rules. Jonas cannot live in the oppressive and feelingless society. Moreover, the society doesn't seem to recognize that the "Releasing" of the elderly, young, misfits, or failures, as a horror that harkens back to Nazi-like practices (e.g. youth camps, extermination of undesirables, etc.).

     Finally, to save Gabriel (an angelic little child from death), Jonas steals him and leaves the community, fleeing into the unknown. Jonas must draw upon his own courage and resourcefulness to evade search planes with heat seeking devices, face the cold and freezing weather with the small boy he carries as a symbol of the welfare of his whole community.

     Jonas places Gabriel next to his skin to warm him, becomes a Giver and gives Gabriel warm memories to help him survive. Like the first Giver (the old man whom he has grown to love), Jonas has moved from being a Receiver to a Giver. His hope is to save the child and the community by giving (releasing) back the memories he received from the Giver so that the community members can once more have feelings. The ambiguous ending does not reveal how this is to be accomplished.

THE MOVIE: As I indicated in the title of this post, the book-to-movie is coming to theaters on 08-15-14, so if you are reading the blog post the two weeks before the movie, you still have time to read the book before the movie comes out. For your pleasure, check out the trailer from YouTube. [24]

     Directing the movie is Philip Noyce; cast as Jonas is Brenton Thwaites, Jonas's father is Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes as Jonas's mother, Emma Tremblay as Lily (Jonas's sister), Jeff Bridges has been cast as The Giver, Taylor Swift as Rosemary, Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder, Odeya Rush as Fiona, and Cameron Monaghan as Asher. Writing Credits go to Lois Lowry (Book), Michael Mitnick (screenplay) and Robert B. Weide (screenplay).

     I sincerely hope the adaptation of the book to movie is successful. This wonderful books deserves nothing less than to be successful.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS AND RATING: The movie's MPAA rating is PG-13; I would, likewise, rate the book the same--as the book's target audience is for those students of middle school. For all the above reasons, I rate this wonderful book 4.5 Stars out of 5. 

     Thank you for joining me this week as we looked at Lois Lowry's wonderful novel, The Giver. Please join me next time as I review another new book. Pick up any book this week (or e-reader) and read for a while. Please don't forget to share, post, tweet or pin this blog post so others will be able to have access to the information about Lois Lowry's wonderful book. My love to you all!

Until next time...
A double white Rose of Sharon. [26]

...many happy pages of reading!



fn. 1 In addition to the above-listed awards, the American Library Association listed it in the "Best Book for Young Adults," the "ALA Notable Children's Book," and as "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000." It also garnered attention as a "Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book," as a "Booklist Editors' Choice," and a "School Library Journal" Best Book of the Year. Additionally, the National Education Association named The Giver one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children," as well as being named one of the "Top 100 Chapter Books" of all time [2012 poll by School Library Journal.]" [for sources, see #4, below, in REFERENCES.]

[1] "The Giver." Retrieved 07-25-14.
[2] "Farenheit 451." Retrieved 07-26-14.
[3] "Awards and Prizes: The Newbery Medal." Retrieved 07-27-14.
[4] "The Giver: Awards, Nominations and Recognition." Retrieved 07-27-14.
[5] "Idyllic-Under Development." [graphic image] Retrieved 07-27-14.
[6] "Australian expert...on...drug." Retrieved 07-27-14.
[7] "Foreshadowing." Retrieved 07-27-14.
[8] "When to use A Part." Retrieved 07-27-14.
[9] "Dystopia." ["Do Not Disobey" graphic] Retrieved 07-27-14.
[10] "Stratification." ["Stratification" graphic] Retrieved 07-27-14.
[11]"Gattica." [poster graphic] Retrieved 07-27-14.
[12] "Word of the Week: Propaganda." [graphic image] Retrieved 07-27-14.
[13] "Dystopia." [Examples of Dystopian novels/movies] Retrieved 07-27-14.
[14] "The Ultimate [Lightweight] Bug Out Kit." [The Book of Eli] Retrieved 07-27-14.
[15] "Against YA." Retrieved 07-28-14.
[16] "The Literary Exploration Challenge." [graphic genre image] Retrieved 07-28-14.
[17] "Callous Snob Are the Words That Come to Mind." [quote image] Retrieved 07-27-14.
[18] "Keep Calm Because You Rock." Retrieved 07-28-14.
[19] "What Was the Climax of The Giver?" Retrieved 07-28-14. 
[20] "Style Architectz." [learn the rules...graphic] Retrieved 07-28-14.
[21] "First Splash of Color." [Pleasantville] Retrieved 07-28-14.
[22] "Lies, Damned Lies, and Newspaper Reports." Retrieved 07-28-14.
[23] "Check out these powerful character posters for The Giver." Retrieved 07-28-14.
[24] "The Giver Official Trailer #2 (2014)." Retrieved 07-28-14.
[25] "My Final Rating for Healthy Affiliate." Retrieved 07-09-14.
[26] "Pictures From my Garden." Retrieved 06-18-14.