My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Oh, Honey! Are you crying?”
My daughter nodded and sniffled as I sat down on the side of her bed and leaned over to hug her.
“Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
After a pause she said, “That book,” in a choked voice.
I knew she meant The Giver. We’d gotten the paperback as a freebie at her pediatrician’s office more than a year ago, and my 10yo had picked it up that morning and read the whole thing by bedtime, reading a bit here and there between her lessons.
“Oh, Honey!” I repeated. “It’s a pretty intense book, isn’t it?”
She nodded with her face hidden in my shoulder.
“Would you like me to read it tomorrow so we can talk about it?”
She nodded again. And so the next day, I read The Giver.
It was a quick read: engaging, emotional. I like the gradual way Lowry lets the story unfold and lets Jonas make the connections that he does. It’s interesting to consider both the good and bad things we might give up for safety, especially with all of the opinions right now about whether to take in Syrian refugees or not in the wake of the Paris attacks last week. The ending was strange to me. It was good, but it read like a short story ending rather than the ending of a novel. I’ll have to mull it over more to know what I mean; that’s just how it feels to me. It gives my daughter an introduction to the uncertainty of literary fiction.
I finished it late last night and am reviewing it before breakfast (when I should be doing my morning workout), so I’ve not had a chance to talk with her about it, but I’m really looking forward to it. It will be interesting to see what stands out to her about the book and what she thinks about the tradeoffs Jonas and his community made.
Update: My daughter and I talked about this during breakfast. What we talked about contains spoilers, so I’ve put the details in white text below. If you’d like to see it, select it with your cursor and it should highlight and become visible for you:
Okay, so she said the part she was crying about was when Jonas’ father released the twin. We talked a little about how difficult it was to read about the father talking in the same cutesy voice to this twin as to any of the other infants. It’s like death had lost all meaning beyond just a way to maintain order. We also talked a little bit about how it’s kind of strange that a community that puts such high value on sameness wouldn’t want twins who are the same—genetically at least—as you can get. Maybe the fear is that the twins would have a closer bond to one another than to the other members of the community and that would destabilize the community.
Then we talked about the ending and something happened that I didn’t anticipate: my daughter had read it completely literally. There was no ambiguity or uncertainty at all. She wasn’t surprised that there was a sled at the top of the hill. She hadn’t even considered that perhaps Jonas was just inside his memories as he was overcome by cold and hunger. There was no doubt that the lights and music were of a real city and that Jonas and Gabriel would arrive there when they got to the bottom of the hill. The only question for her was what their reception would be when they got there. “That will depend on what kind of people live in the city,” she said.
The biggest insight she had while we were talking: “Mom! I think the Ceremony happened on Christmas! That’s why there were lights. Actually, I guess it would have happened a few days earlier, so maybe the Ceremony was on the Solstice.”
That’s a connection I hadn’t made.
And maybe she’s right. Maybe when they get to the bottom of the hill, Jonas and Gabriel will be welcomed into a city of music and light just in time to celebrate Christmas. Although I still think that my reading of the ending is more likely, hers is less depressing.
After this conversation, she went on to comment on how well her little brother is reading now. “I wonder how old I was when I started to see words instead of groups of letters. You know, when I just knew what they said instead of having to sound them out,” she mused.
I wonder when the shift from literal thinking will happen for her, when she’ll just see the underlying meaning without having to think or talk it out. I’m kind of glad she’s not reading the ending of The Giver figuratively yet. I’m glad that there’s still room in her imagination for unambiguously happy endings.