Book Review: THE GIVER, by Lois Lowry

It’s the end of Banned Book Week!  And for this particular review, I want to explore possible reasons why Lois Lowry’s Newbery award-winning novel, THE GIVER, has been banned in many schools and libraries.  Just so you know, there are a number of SPOILERS in this post.

Now.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

Jonas is, in so many ways, a normal, twelve-year-old boy.  He is certainly a boy readers can relate to, even if those who read THE GIVER are female.  He teases his sister, plays games with his friends, rides his bike, and attends school.  But Jonas lives in an unusual community.

A few things you should know about Jonas’s environment:

  • Almost everyone in the Jonas’s community has dark eyes, though the color itself is unimportant.  No one (aside from The Receiver of Memories) can see in color or even knows what color is.  Color vision was one of the things that was given up in order to have “Sameness.”
  • Young people who begin to have sexual “stirrings” are required to take a pill that suppresses those feelings.
  • At the age of twelve, children, who have been watched by a career-selection committee, are told what their careers will be.  They begin to train.  Some careers (such as birthmother) hold very little honor, but all are considered essential.
  • When an adult desires to be married, he or she applies to be “matched.”  A council selects a suitable spouse for the applicant, taking into account all the important factors, such as disposition and intelligence when making their decision.
  • Every December, children who were born the previous year turn one year old, are given a name rather than just a number, and are given to parents who have been approved to form a family unit.  A family can have only two children: one boy and one girl.  If identical twins are born to a birthmother, the smallest of the twins is “released” to Elsewhere—a place Jonas knows very little about, but imagines must lie somewhere beyond the community.
  • After living in a form of retirement in the House of the Old, those who reach a certain age are “released.”
  • Anyone can apply to be “released” at any time.

For Jonas, none of the above is unusual—until he becomes the next Receiver of Memories.  Under the guidance of the old Receiver (whom I will refer to from now on as “The Giver”) and through a kind of memory transfer, Jonas begins to see in color, learns the pain and sorrow of war, experiences love, and even tastes snow on his tongue for the very first time.  He begins to see how truly horrifying his community is, because he is exposed to memories of how the world used to be before “Sameness.”  And when The Giver has him watch a video of his father (who is a nurturer of babies) “releasing” a new baby, Jonas is horrified.  He learns that being “released” means being killed, by injection.  In this scene, Jonas’s father acts in a way that I think any reader will see as shockingly callous.  What’s tricky about this scene is that we learn that Jonas’s father truly does not realize the wickedness of what he is doing.  In fact, Jonas only realizes it because of the training he is going through with The Giver.

I think what is so disturbing about THE GIVER is that the characters (aside from Jonas and The Giver) are all very content with their lives, though we, the readers who live in the real world, know they shouldn’t be!  We know that the “Sameness” the leaders of Jonas’s community speak of sounds too much like Hitler’s racist Aryanism.  We know that humans have certain inalienable rights.  Jonas’s world, which is so accepted by the characters in it, feels so unethical and corrupt to the reader.  We long for Jonas to get out of there!  It is a very bad place, and while many of the characters in the book don’t realize that, the reader always does.  There is never any question whether or not Jonas’s world is ideal.  So why has this book been banned?

I did a bit of research on the internet and found references to the book being banned because of the “stirrings” that are mentioned.  In my opinion, that would be a ridiculous reason for banning this book.  The references to “stirrings” are milder than mild.  I found other references stating that this book promotes euthanasia.  This book does not show euthanasia in a positive light.

I don’t believe this book should be banned.  I do believe that parents and teachers should read it with their children and be prepared to talk about it, because of its themes.  I also believe it should be given to mature readers who can handle intense or violent scenes.  As an adult reader, I was rather disturbed by the scene where Jonas’s father releases the baby.  It is an intense book, overall.  Jonas’s world is twisted and horrifying.  But there is so much to talk about when reading this book, and it is so well written!

*This post originally appeared on Bookshop Talk.

Book Review: GRACE, by Elizabeth Scott

I was very hesitant to read this book.  In fact, I checked it out from the library several times and returned in unread each time.  I just don’t do very well with violence, and violence is a major theme in GRACE.  Here’s a summary from Goodreads:

Grace was raised to be an Angel, a herald of death by suicide bomb. But she refuses to die for the cause, and now Grace is on the run, daring to dream of freedom. In search of a border she may never reach, she travels among malevolent soldiers on a decrepit train crawling through the desert. Accompanied by the mysterious Kerr, Grace struggles to be invisible, but the fear of discovery looms large as she recalls the history and events that delivered her uncertain fate.

Told in spare, powerful prose by acclaimed author Elizabeth Scott, this tale of a dystopian near future will haunt readers long after they’ve reached the final page.

I’ll agree with that last paragraph, wholeheartedly!  I can’t stop thinking about GRACE.  It was very beautifully written, if a little heavy on the paragraph breaks for dramatic effect (There was so much drama–not melodrama, but real drama–in the story that I didn’t think the many punchy paragraph breaks were necessary.).  The story is so compelling, and the characters are amazing, if not entirely likable.  They don’t even like themselves, so I doubt Scott meant for them to be “likable,” really.  GRACE takes place on a train, but there are a lot of flashback-type scenes that take you from the train, as a reader.  The book is loaded with thought-provoking material that leads one to think of real-world politics, past and present.  But GRACE doesn’t feel preachy, at all.  Like Terry Pratchett’s NATION, it examines humankind and human thoughts and human needs and human actions in a gloriously make-believe setting–but one that feels real.

The Goodreads summary says that Grace “refuses to die for the cause,” which is technically true, I guess, but I think it would be far truer to say that she CHOOSES not to die for the cause.  She chooses to live rather than to die a suicide bomber.  It is, to me, a fear-driven choice, and not at all the confident type of choice the word “refuses” calls to mind.  Grace learns so much about herself in the moment she chooses to live.  And she learns so much more about herself as she reflects on that moment while riding the train.  This book is so character-driven.  You really get into Grace’s mind, and she becomes someone so complex.  And Kerr–wow!  Another very complex character.

I suggest this novel to anyone who enjoys Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES and sequels, and to anyone who enjoys less graphically violent dystopian novels, such as Joelle Anthony’s excellent debut novel, RESTORING HARMONY.  I normally don’t review books that I see as PG-13 or R-rated (because I don’t normally read them), but I would give GRACE a PG-13 rating for sure.  There is no offensive language, but there are lots of references to violence and sexual activity, some more graphic than others.  The theme of this novel is incredibly intense.  For that alone, I would suggest that young people (16+) read this novel with a caring adult.  It could lead to some majorly awesome discussions.

*A special thanks to Alexa at Not Enough Bookshelves for persisting in recommending GRACE to me.

Guest Interview — Joëlle Anthony

Publicity Blurb from Joëlle Anthony’s Website:

RESTORING HARMONY

The year is 2041, and for sixteen year old Molly McClure, her life now is pretty much the same as it’s always been. She was only six when The Collapse of ’31 happened, ending life as the world’s population had known it. For grown-ups everywhere, the changes in their daily routines since The Collapse are a constant source of anxiety and worry. Not to mention bitterness at what they feel they’ve been cheated out of; abundant food and goods, ease of travel and communication, and financial security.

In Molly’s opinion, adults spend way too much time talking about the good old days. Sporadic electricity, bicycles, horses, solar powered tractors, sewing, cooking and farm work are all Molly’s ever really known, so she doesn’t waste a lot of energy worrying about what things used to be like. Life after The Collapse is just normal for her. At least until she finds herself forced to leave the comfort of her home and small island in British Columbia to travel down to Oregon.

What starts out as a quick trip to the United States to convince her grandfather to come back to Canada and be the island’s doctor, turns into a rescue mission, a test of Molly’s strengths, ingenuity, and sheer determination. She faces an unknown world where people are hungry, desperate, and sometimes even ruthless. But she also meets many helpful people, makes new friends, and is tested in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Will a farm girl like Molly survive in this upturned world? Will she be able to return with her grandpa in time for him to help her ailing mother? And just how much will she have to compromise to succeed in getting back to British Columbia with her grandparents?

Find out in RESTORING HARMONY by Joëlle Anthony, from Putnam Books for Young Readers

I’m so excited to host Joëlle Anthony today!  Besides being a wonderful friend, she’s a terrific writer.  Her debut novel, RESTORING HARMONY, is a unique dystopian adventure that will keep readers turning the page.  I’m one of the tail-enders on her blog tour, so I’m especially proud to say that I have “the best interview question [she’s] ever seen” on this interview!  :)  Read on… (And yes, Joëlle often has deer in her yard.)

K:  Give us one word that describes you.

J:  Blessed.

K:  What part of speech (adjectives, pronouns, adverbs…) could you do without in writing, and why?

J:  Wow, ummm…are you an English teacher? This is a hard question! What I can’t do without, but apparently I try to, are commas. And yeah, that’s grammar not speech exactly, but it’s the best I can do before coffee!

K:  If you had endless resources for exactly 24 hours, but the money went away after that, what would you do with that money?

J:  Ooohhh, this is a fun question. I think if you only have a limited amount of time, the best thing to do would be to use it locally. There are about a zillion charities and organizations right here on the island that could use a boost. Of course, they’d probably have to have five or six meetings before they could accept any money, so that might not actually work!

K:  What is your favorite gift to give?  To receive?

J:  To give – it doesn’t matter what it is, but I love to surprise people. So it can be big or little, but if it can be some sort of surprise, then I’m really into it. As far as receiving, well, getting anything unexpected in the mail is my favourite kind of gift. I actually have dreams about opening the mailbox and finding it stuffed with all kinds of packages I wasn’t expecting from friends and family. These are great dreams! I guess no matter how you look at it, it’s the element of surprise that I like.

K:  If you could go back in time to tell your 15-year-old self anything, what would you say?

J:  “Study harder in French class, and don’t give it up in college. You’ll always wish you could speak French and someday you’ll live somewhere where you can and you’ll be sorry you were so lazy.” Here on the island I know quite a few people who speak French. I couldda been a contender if I’d just stayed after it.

K:  If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be?

J:  Well, I like to think of myself as something simple and zen like Vanilla, but I go a bit crazy like everyone and sometimes I’m one of those sundaes with too many toppings.

K:  Do you have any phobias?

J:  I have a fake phobia. While I’m perfectly capable of catching spiders and putting them outside (my parents made us do our own spider relocation from the time we were little), I usually yell and scream for my husband. Mostly because it makes him laugh.

Actually, I do have one – I’m pretty terrified of heights.

K:  Do you collect anything?

J:  Oh, man. The thing I learned about collections is if you do have one, don’t tell anyone because people are intrinsically generous and helpful. Once I had a couple of fans – you know, the old fashioned type that open up – and I told people and in a few years I had over a hundred of them. I currently MIGHT have a collection of vintage handbags, but I have ALL that I need (five) – unless you want to surprise me with one in the mail. That might excite me.

K:  If you could have any talent in the world (or in a made-up world), what would that be?

J:  I would be able to sing. And it’s pretty safe to say, that would have to happen in an made-up world.

K:  What is your favorite article of clothing?

J:  A 1950’s bright orange coat with a silky embroidered lining.

K:  What is the personal history of your name (where did it come from, are you named after anyone)?

J:  I was named after the French model in a Bryl Cream commercial that was showing in the year I was born. My dad either had the hots for the model or the name, either way, he insisted, and instead of Kirsten (Mum’s choice), I got Joëlle. I really love my name. It’s technically of Hebrew origin.

K:  In a battle between pirates and ninjas, who do you see winning?  Why?

J:  This is the best interview question I’ve ever seen. I do think the ninjas would take the pirates. They’d only have to kick out one leg from under the pirates instead of two.

K:  What foods comprise your favorite meal?

J:  I love a good Caesar salad followed by something very, very hot (temp-wise) and cheesy and salty…like maybe a béchamel veggie lasagna. And even though the Italians don’t eat bread with pasta, I like garlic bread with it. Crème brulee or tiramisu to finish – with tea. Yummm…it’s not even eight o’clock in the morning when I’m doing this interview and I could eat all that right now!

K:  Do you have any author advice you’d like to share?

J:  Actually, I answer this question all the time, but honestly, I think it’s funny anyone even asks me. I mean, I’m just swimming along with y’all trying to figure out where I’m going and how to get there myself!

Thanks for having me!

K:  Thanks for joining us, Joëlle!