Posts Tagged ‘The Giver’

I was very pleased to see Son waiting for me when I got to work at the library last week, because it’s been on my holds list for months. Son is Lois Lowry’s much anticipated fourth book in The Giver series. Bookconscious readers may recall I read Gathering Blue and Messenger last fall to prepare for Son. In September 2011, I read The Giver because Lois Lowry’s reading that month at Gibson’s was one of the last I set up as events coordinator.

Son is mainly the story of Claire, the young Birthmother who bears Gabe, the child Jonas’s father brings home from the nurturing center at night in The Giver. Son begins around the same time the events of The Giver are taking place, and Claire refers to some of them. When Gabe is born, he’s delivered via cesarean and Claire is “decertified” after the difficult birth and assigned to live and work at the community’s fish hatchery.

It happens so suddenly that someone overlooks issuing Claire the pills everyone takes that suppress emotions. Claire misses her son, even though Birthmothers generally just produce children without giving them a second thought. She volunteers at the Nurturing Center where infants are cared for in order to see him and even though it’s not a familiar feeling, she loves him. And she realizes how strange it is that her parents did not seem to feel the same way about her, and that her co-workers at the hatchery also seem devoid of the feelings she’s experiencing.

When the climax of The Giver unfolds (I don’t want to give away spoilers) Claire decides to leave the community, escaping on a supply boat docked on the river. She washes ashore in a strange place which is bordered by the sea on one side and a cliff on the other, and has almost no memory of her life before or even what happened to the boat. She feels her loss but can’t identify it.

The people in this place live a much more primitive life — no electricity, no modern medicine. Alys, an elderly midwife and healer, takes Claire in. A crippled shepherd, Einar, befriends her as a fellow misfit in the village. Eventually she learns the story of his daring attempt to “climb out” over the cliff, and why he failed. When she begins to regain her own memories, Einar prepares her to climb out  so she can find her son.  I’ll leave it at that, so you can read for yourself what happens.

I like each of the books in the series because they are a rich literary feast for young people, brimming with Big Ideas — the nature of good and evil, the meaning of community and family, the way people should conduct and govern themselves, how our choices impact our world, the power of love. As in the other books, the themes of sacrifice and exile recur in Son, and the heroes’ gifts and how they choose to use them make the outcome possible. One could argue that although Jonas and Kira, Matty and Gabe appear to have supernatural or magical power, Lowry really just endows them with exaggerated versions of ordinary traits: attentiveness, empathy, compassion, wisdom, trust, thoughtfulness, understanding.  But Lowry never hits her readers over the head with this, or any message — her stories convey “big T Truths” without overt preaching.

I wish this wasn’t the “conclusion” as it says on the cover of Son, because I still have some questions. I’d especially like to know what becomes of Alys and Einar from Son (and the children of their village) but there are several other characters whose stories seem compelling. What about Gabe? He’s still young at the end of Son. And Claire, who experiences a renewal of sorts — what does she do with the rest of her life? Even if Lowry never writes their stories I am very glad that generations of readers will be able to let their imaginations explore the world she’s given them.

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October’s Mindful Reader column** ran in today’s Concord Monitor.  The “And” in the last sentence of my review of Wes McNair’s memoir is not my own. Typos happen. Anyway, I wrote about Carolyn Roy-Bornstein’s memoir Crash: a Mother, a Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude, Wes McNair’s memoir The Words I Chose: a Memoir of Family and Poetry, and Ruth Nemzoff’s Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family.

This weekend I read Gathering Blue after reading the New York Times magazine interview with Lois Lowry last weekend. I was thrilled to hear Lowry at Gibson’s last fall — she was one of the last authors I booked as events coordinator there. My family read The Giver together before her event, and Number the Stars is one of our favorites as well.

If you shake your head at the way dystopia is marketed to young readers today, pick up the books in Lowry’s Giver quartet (she has a new one, Son, out now). I can’t get over how humane, thoughtful, and thought-provoking her books are, and how beautiful. Even when there are harsh things happening, it’s not at a heart-pounding pace. There is no need to whip readers up to make a point about human nature. You don’t get a sense the author had movie rights in mind as the book was written.

And Lowry is just a very good writer. There is a loveliness to her words; somehow even plain sentences are quietly powerful. Gathering Blue isn’t set in the same place and time as The Giver but it does give a sense of being beyond (before? after? we’re not sure) our time. The society is very authoritarian and less orderly than in The Giver. Our heroine, Kira, is a girl whose mother protected her when she was born with a damaged leg. Most imperfect babies are left to die.

Kira has a gift – she is a talented embroiderer. When the book opens we find out her mother has died and she is threatened when she goes back to rebuild her home, called a cott, which was burned because of her mother’s illness. We meet a ragged little boy who is one of her only friends.

I won’t tell you any more because it’s best to let Lowry tell you in her own wonderful words. Give these books a try, especially if you have middle grade or young teen readers you can share them with. Lowry reminds us that dystopian doesn’t mean dumbed-down. I am not saying there are no other authors writing well for young people (Jane Yolen is, for example). But Lowry is remarkable.


** Text of the column in case you can’t find it online:

Nothing is the same

Deb Baker

Monday, October 22, 201

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.7 million people suffered a traumatic brain injury annually. When Massachusetts pediatrician Carolyn Roy-Bornstein’s memoir, Crash: a Mother, a Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude, begins, she is in her kitchen, asking whether her son Neil’s girlfriend, Trista, would like cheese on her burger. After supper, Neil walks Trista home. They never make it; he becomes one of those 1.7 million.

A drunken driver hit them on a well-lit road. Trista died of her injuries. Neil’s life was never the same. As Roy-Bornstein writes, the crash is ”a line, like a crack in the glass, that carves time and events in two: those that occurred before the crash and those that tumble and falter in its wake. There is this one moment after which nothing is the same.”

Roy-Bornstein writes movingly of her family’s dislocating experiences after that moment. Even with her medical knowledge, Neil’s condition is unfamiliar. From the night of the accident to years later when she notices something he does and wonders, ”is this the injury, or is this just Neil?” their world has become unpredictable.

Toward the end of the book, when she writes about Neil’s struggles in college and adulthood, her medical career and the process of seeking justice, the story sometimes wanders. But this section is also poignant. To those who suggest her family ”move on,” Roy-Bornstein points out that Neil’s cognitive and psychological challenges are ongoing, so ”this idea of closure is fraudulent.”

She also explains, ”I don’t want to focus on what Neil might have accomplished without his brain injury. Instead I want to celebrate everything he has accomplished with it. Despite it. That is grace.” In the afterword she shares what she’s learned about TBI as a mother, doctor and advocate, and describes Neil’s life now. A tough but ultimately redemptive read.

Two more nonfiction gems:

The Words I Chose: a Memoir of Family and Poetry by Wesley McNair is a standout.

Fans of McNair’s poetry and essays know he is a warm, funny writer whose work is rooted in life experience as well as responses to ”the erosion of family, region, and nation” he’s witnessed. This memoir, which begins with his parents meeting and covers his youth and early writing career in New Hampshire, is a heart-rending narrative of emotional and economic hardship – the wells McNair has drawn from throughout his distinguished writing career.

After describing his lowest point as a college teacher barely making ends meet, a scholar and poet unsure of his strengths, and a father caught in his own parents’ patterns of strife, McNair relates how ”six liberating words” from Donald Hall – ”I am dazzled by your poems” – set him on a new course.

McNair made peace with his past, himself and his family and continued to write, with great tenderness and power, the poems that made his name in American letters. This book isn’t just the story of how McNair realized his gift as ”a poet who has been shaped from the start by the threat of things dear to me coming apart.” It’s also a story of the healing power of literature, art and ideas.

McNair writes with abundant humanity and clarity about connections he’s made in his work between ”the terror,” as he calls the difficult times he’s faced, and the upheavals in American life over the past several decades.

And for literature buffs and those dealing with their own ”terror:”

Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family by Ruth Nemzoff.

I’ve been a daughter-in-law for almost 23 years, so I didn’t think I’d learn from this book. But Nemzoff’s engaging style and practical tone drew me in and I found much to ponder. She examines perspectives of both parents and grown children (including siblings, a particularly interesting section), and sticky issues from cultural and religious differences to addiction, money, grandchildren, holidays, aging and more. Nemzoff reminds me of my grandmother, who often said if I wanted to make the world a better place I should start by always trying to be my best self. She advises readers not to expect perfect in-law relationships, ”to put a statute of limitations on slights,” to be consistently kind or at least civil, to have some perspective (including looking at your own behaviors and beliefs), and ”to take the long view of things.”

A wise, warm book well worth reading whether you’re a longtime in-law or are newly merging families.

New this month – also noted . . .

There are so many New Hampshire and New England authors and books, it’s impossible for me to cover them all. So when necessary, I will briefly note those I haven’t reviewed in depth. These books will still meet The Mindful Reader criteria: by an author from New Hampshire or adjoining states or set in or about New Hampshire, of interest to a variety of readers, and probably not well-known or widely publicized.

• Sermons In Stone: the Stone Walls of New England and New York, by Susan Allport, illustrated by David Howell. The Countryman Press has reissued this book, originally published in 1990. Allport is an engaging science writer who did meticulous research. Howell’s detailed ink drawings are beautiful and informative. In her preface to this new edition, Allport notes the increased interest in stone walls and the complexity of what she expected to be a simple story.

• Cover-Up: One Man’s Pursuit of the Truth Amid the Government’s Failure to End a Ponzi Scheme, by Mark Connolly. ”This book is not meant to be a definitive history of this fraud; rather it is to inform the reader about how it feels to be in the middle of a political storm,” writes Connolly, former director of the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation. He dedicates Cover-Up to his bureau colleagues and the victims of Financial Resources Management.

• When America First Met China: an Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail by Eric Jay Dolan. Dolan, the Massachusetts author of several books including acclaimed volumes on the whaling and fur trades, explores the roots of America’s relationship with China and how that story informs contemporary relations. Dolan writes of policies and personalities in government, commerce and culture, and the clash and cooperation that shaped our countries’ intertwined destinies.

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