Lois Lowry: The Giver (1993)

The Giver

Publication date: 1993

Pages: 180

Word count: 43,617

Ages: MG 4 – 8

I wanted to read Lois Lowry’s The Giver for ages. Not only because it was a Newbery Medal winner but because it has become one of the great MG classics and has even been made into a movie.

The Giver was written at a time when dystopian novels were not as common as today and so I was particularly curious to see how it would compare.

I must say, I enjoyed reading it but found it very short. One of the central questions is resolved but a lot is still open at the end of the book. That’s not surprising as it’s the first in a series.

The central character is eleven-year-old Jonas, who lives with his mother, father, and younger sister. We soon learn that they are not his biological parents, nor is his sister his biological sister. Families like we know them do not exist. There are chosen women who give birth to children, and the family units, composed of a man and a woman, chosen for each other by the elders of the society, can request one of these children.

The first half of the novel introduces us to Jonas’ world. At first the reader thinks that it’s more perfect than our world. There are no conflicts, no pain, no overpopulation, no struggles. Old people are cared for until they are released. People are assigned wives/husbands and jobs. Each year the kids are granted something new, learn something new. The twelfth birthday is a milestone and Jonas is just about to turn twelve. It’s the most important birthday because this is when the children are told what kind of jobs they will have. They will spend the next years in training and then, until their old age, they will keep the same profession. All the children are, understandably, nervous. Jonas is no exception. The birthday ceremonies are huge and everyone participates.

The way this book is told, everything prepares the reader for a big bang. We know that Jonas will probably not be assigned an ordinary job but something special. It would spoil the book completely if I said more. Just this much – because of his special assignment, Jonas gets to look beyond the surface of his world and learns what the ominous word “released” means. He discovers that his world is far from perfect and that stability and peace come at a high price.

As is often the case with books like this, it’s hard to say meaningful things without spoiling the book. But I hope I made you curious and you’ll pick this up. It’s well-told, suspenseful, and very thought-provoking. It addresses so many topics, topics that are common in dystopian novels, but also topics and challenges our contemporary society faces. I’m really glad I finally read it and can’t wait to watch the movie. Will I pick up the next in the series? I’m not sure. Although I liked it, I found it a bit dry.

Alice Hoffman: Nightbird (2015)

Hoffman Nightbird Book Cover

Publication date: 2015

Pages: 199

Word count: 40,777

Ages: MG 8 – 12

I’ve always been a huge fan of Alice Hoffman’s novels for adults but so far I’ve never read any of her books for children. Nightbird was the first. What a lovely, lovely book. I still pick it up and reread passages. I loved the setting, the rich, evocative descriptions. And the story. It is one of those books I didn’t want to end.

Twig lives with her beautiful mother in Sidwell, Massachusetts. They live in a farmhouse, outside of the village, where they grow pink apples. Her mother is a baker who is famous for her pink apple pies and lavender honey butter. Twig and her mother are outsiders in the small town. By choice. They are hiding a secret. A long, long time ago their family was cursed by a witch who lived in Mourning Dove cottage. The cottage has been abandoned until this summer when Julia and Agate and their parents move in. Twig’s mother doesn’t want Twig to become friends with the girls, who are about her age, but Twig’s been lonely for too long. She disregards the warning and, unintentionally, sets in motion a course of events that endanger her family and reveal their secret.

The lovely description and story would have been enough for me to love this book but the many wonderful messages made me love it even more. It explores the fate of outsiders, the “making” of monsters and the importance of preserving our flora and fauna.

To give you an idea of the lovely writing, here’s a passage from pages 47/48:

Instead of walking home on the road, where the Hall girls might catch up with me, I went through the Montgomery Woods. People said there were still bears in Sidwell, but I’d never run across one. I had spied raccoons and skunks and foxes, and I’d run across moles, which were shyer than I was, and boisterous turkeys. I must have looked like a twig to them, too, because they all ignored me.

Even though the Montgomerys had bought a huge section of the woods, aside from the old estate where they vacationed sometimes, it was still wilderness all around, no different than it had been hundreds of years earlier. Streams of lemony-yellow sunlight drifted in between the branches. There were ferns and swamp cabbage growing in the boggy places, stretches of watery land that were so darkly green they looked black. I found some bushes with thin fairy branches filled with wild raspberries that had ripened early. I picked some to bring home to James, and kept them in my pockets on the way back. I made a loop-deloop around the owl nesting grounds.

I know that I didn’t do this book justice. It sometimes happens when I like a book a great deal. I just can’t find the right words to convey how much I love it. It’s a wonderful book for anyone who loves an uplifting, warm, magical tale, told by a gentle, endearing character.