Monday, December 8, 2014

The Giver Quartet (The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, Son)

Title:  The Giver Quartet (The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, Son)
Author:  Lois Lowry
Publication Information:  HMH Books for Young Readers. 1993 (original publication of The Giver). 2014 (this edition). 784 pages.
ISBN:  0544340973 / 978-0544340978

Book Source:  The Giver was the selection for our book club this month. I read the entire quartet because I was so intrigued by the story.

Favorite Quote:  "If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things!"

The Giver Quartet, as the title suggests, is a compilation of four books written by Lois Lowry from 2003 through 2012:
  • The Giver (1993) is the story of a supposedly utopian society which prizes sameness and eliminates pain and suffering for most people. However, in doing so, it also eliminates joy and exacts a high cost for preserving uniformity. The price of sameness is kept safely hidden away from the masses. What happens when one person breaks out of the sameness mold and dreams of a world that can be different? 
  • Gathering Blue (2000) has a set of characters is completely distinct from those in The Giver. It is the story of a society in which the central issue is one of maintaining control and creating a future as envisioned by a few. What happens when some think to take the future in their own hands and create something different?
  • Messenger (2004) bring the characters from the first two books together. The stories start to overlap. This book is set in a society initially formed on the basis of acceptance, inclusion and caring for one's community as for oneself. Personal desires, however, take over and lead towards a closed society and selfishness. Can selflessness be found again?
  • Son (2012) brings the story full circle, tying together all the different elements and making a statement about what the future holds (no spoilers here). 
Although these are four distinct books written over almost a decade, I read them as one continuous story and, as such, am choosing to review them together.

Recently in a book store, I saw a advertising note for this book that reads "from utopia to dystopia". According to the dictionary, utopia is an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. The word was first used in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More. Dystopia is the opposite - an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. What is fascinating in The Giver Quartet is the dark and dystopian truths that underlie seemingly utopian worlds. The Giver was not the first book to describe a dystopian society, but these books do it beautifully, capturing the menacing reality that underlies a seeming peaceful surface. Not everything is as it seems. The question is who has the courage to reach into that dystopia and envision a new reality? And how? And at what cost? 

Lois Lowry won the Newberry Award in 2004 for The Giver. Awarded by the American Library Association, the Newberry Awards honors "the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." Interestingly, the book also makes the ALA's lists of "Best Book for Young Adults", "ALA Notable Children's Book", and "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000." The current book description on many bookseller websites calls the book "one of the most influential novels of our time."

Our local library has the books listed in the catalog under both the children's fiction and the young adult/teen fiction. Local schools have incorporated it into the curriculum anywhere from third grade to eighth grade. The book has also been banned by different schools and organizations. A wide range of placements, accolades, and criticisms confirm the depth of questions and discussion raised by these books.

One question often under discussion is what is the appropriate age for the content of the books? As an adult, I love the books. I love the ethical and philosophical questions they raise - the price of sameness, the dark underpinnings of a supposed utopia, the culling of society to protect its uniformity, the attitude towards anyone or anything different, changes that occur over time that take a society far from its original goal, and many more. These books leave me with a lot to think about.

I love the open endings, leaving a reader to decide which way the society goes. Warranted, reading all four together brings the closure as the differing elements of the story come together. The ending of The Giver is definitely not definitive and leaves the next step open to interpretations. That is one reason I read the rest of the quartet. I had my thoughts on what happens next, but I wanted to know where the story really went. Had I stopped at the first book, I would have long wondered about the ending.

The books do have some very disturbing images (read about "release!") that I would not see appropriate for an elementary school age audience. Middle school and high school, yes. Elementary school, no.

In her acceptance speech for the Newberry, Lois Lowry said, “The man that I named the Giver passed along to the boy knowledge, history, memories, color, pain, laughter, love, and truth. Every time you place a book in the hands of a child, you do the same thing. It is very risky. But each time a child opens a book, he pushes open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere. It gives him choices. It gives him freedom. Those are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things."

I am so glad that, as an adult, I opened these books and stepped into this "magnificently, wonderfully unsafe world."

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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