Module 8: The City of Ember

The_City_of_Ember

APA Citation

DuPrau, J. (2003). The city of Ember. New York: Random House.

Summary

Lina has lived all of her twelve years in the city of Ember and she knows, like all the other inhabitants, that there is no way out of Ember. They are surrounded by the threatening darkness of the Unknown Regions. But things are falling apart in the city, even the generator seems to be failing and surely all will be lost if it does. When Lina and her friend Doon start trying to decipher an old manuscript, they begin to suspect that there are things they don’t know about their city. Things that the leaders either don’t know or are keeping hidden from the other citizens. Can Lina and Doon find a way out? Will any of their fellow citizens believe them? What kind of world, if any, exists beyond the City of Ember?

Impressions

I really like this book. The YA market is saturated with dystopian series today and yet this one doesn’t feel like a tired trend chaser. There isn’t an onslaught of Mad Max style settings. And yet, there is a clear desperation that mounts as the novel progresses. DuPrau keeps her characters brave but realistic. She sets up the mystery of the story expertly, complete with a enigmatic letter and winding, underground tunnels. She quietly raises the question of the corruption of power and the repercussions of citizens kept in the dark. She also addresses the responsibility of citizens in resisting the comfortable draw of ignorance. Once I reached the end, I couldn’t wait to find out what happens to these characters next.

Reviews

Sally Estes (Booklist, Apr. 15, 2003 (Vol. 99, No. 16))
Ember, a 241-year-old, ruined domed city surrounded by a dark unknown, was built to ensure that humans would continue to exist on Earth, and the instructions for getting out have been lost and forgotten. On Assignment Day, 12-year-olds leave school and receive their lifetime job assignments. Lina Mayfleet becomes a messenger, and her friend Doon Harrow ends up in the Pipeworks beneath the city, where the failing electric generator has been ineffectually patched together. Both Lina and Doon are convinced that their survival means finding a way out of the city, and after Lina discovers pieces of the instructions, she and Doon work together to interpret the fragmented document. Life in this postholocaust city is well limned–the frequent blackouts, the food shortage, the public panic, the search for answers, and the actions of the powerful, who are taking selfish advantage of the situation. Readers will relate to Lina and Doon’s resourcefulness and courage in the face of ominous odds.

Chris Carlson (VOYA, June 2003 (Vol. 26, No. 2))
When the builders of Ember planned the underground city, they provided a storehouse of goods for the residents’ survival and a power plant to supply light to the town. Now, generations later, the supplies are dangerously low, and the lights are beginning to flicker. Ember is a socialist society, where even jobs are randomly assigned to residents. Nobody knows what lies without the walls, and everyone is too frightened to find out. Although directions on how to exit the city were entrusted to the first mayor of Ember, they were misplaced until Lina, an orphan and descendant of that mayor, finds a torn and mangled paper. Lina enlists fellow twelve-year-old Doon to aid in putting together the pieces. They are surprised to discover the missing instructions. After the teens are falsely accused of illegal activities and hunted by the police, they decide to elude capture by following the directions and leaving Ember. It will not take readers long to discover that Ember is a city-size bomb shelter and that a whole other world exists outside its walls. While Ember is colorless and dark, the book itself is rich with description. DuPrau uses the puzzle, suspenseful action, and lots of evil characters to entice readers into the story. They will find the teen characters believable and gutsy. Part mystery, part adventure story, this novel provides science fiction for those who do not like science fiction. The end of the book hints at a possible sequel.

Use in Library

A little research project about North Korea. We will learn about a place where the government has kept their citizens in the dark about what is happening in the rest of the world and the devastating effects of doing so. We can reference an excellent account of escapees from North Korea called Nothing to Envy. 

Module 7: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

revenge of the girl

APA Citation

Eulberg, E. (2013). Revenge of the girl with the great personality. New York: Point.

Summary

Lexi has a great personality. And she’s sick of feeling invisible to the cute boys at school, even the ones who think she’s funny. It doesn’t help that her mom is obsessed with Lexi’s little sister Mackenzie’s beauty pageant career. Lexi decides to make some changes to her own appearance and things start to change when she does. The people in her life start to look at her differently, including cute boys, pretty bullies and her family. Will Lexi go back to the way she was before? What will happen when she is betrayed by someone close to her? Can Lexi get her revenge on those who have underestimated her without losing herself?

Impressions

I had the distinct desire to stand up and cheer several times while reading this book. I love Lexi and her cleverness. I particularly appreciate the messiness and complexity of Lexi’s life. Eulberg doesn’t hold back in portraying shame-inducing behavior, especially of Lexi’s mom. This lends a lot of authenticity to this realistic novel. The gut-wrenching scene when Lexi realizes her mother has stolen her hard earned money was particularly brutal. Teens will certainly relate to feeling betrayed by their parents, some to the same degree, some to a lesser. Either way, Eulberg does an excellent job of capturing the powerless feeling of teenagers. I love the way Lexi wrestles with her own powerlessness, tries at different methods of building her independence, fails and succeeds.

While I find the last several chapters to have too perfectly scripted speeches from Lexi, I adore the place she has arrived in her heart. And I wish I could write the following speech onto the hearts of teenage girls across the world…or at least go back in time and write it on my own at 14:

“All I did over the last few weeks was kill myself to get accepted by you and your friends. And to be honest, I didn’t really have fun even when I was. Maybe that’s because part of me knew that I didn’t belong. And you know, Logan, I really like you.”

“You do?” He grabs me hand.

“Yeah.” I take my hand away, “But I like myself more. I’d rather be single and myself than try to fit into a mold of a person that I’m not for a guy. I know that it’s not your fault that I did this, but I haven’t been happy, and I think the only way for me to truly be happy is to be myself by myself.”

Reviews

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2013 (Vol. 81, No. 1))
Comedy yields to an affecting drama when a witty but plain girl decides to get glamorous, with unexpected results. Lexi finds herself trapped in a seriously dysfunctional family as her morbidly obese mother pushes her little sister into the child–beauty-pageant circuit. At 7, Mackenzie appears to love it, but Lexi suspects it’s her mom who’s addicted to the pageants, spending thousands every weekend despite the family’s near-poverty. Lexi works and saves diligently to fund her dream of moving to New York. She pays no attention to boys despite a secret crush on Logan, the boyfriend of a teen-pageant beauty. Finally, her two best friends goad her into dolling up for school with the help of a pageant hairstylist and makeup artist, resulting in her immediate rise in popularity, and top dog Taylor, Logan’s best friend, asks her out on a date. Popularity proves double-edged; Lexi has difficulty with both her longtime friends and her feelings for Taylor and Logan. Eulberg writes what starts as a witty, fast-moving comedy and morphs it into an affecting drama, drawing cogent parallels between the pageant circuit and Lexi’s Dallas high school. In the final pages the author drives her message home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, an indulgence that is easily overlooked. Excellent comedy and drama.

Debbie Carton (Booklist)
Texan high-school junior Lexi is bright, capable, and funny. She is popular, but not beautiful like her seven-year-old sister Mackenzie, whose beauty pageant activities dictate the lives of Lexi and their single mother, who is obsessed with Mac s success. Lexi nurses an unrequited crush on classmate Logan and a desire to free Mackenzie from the pressure of the pageant circuit. When Lexi decides to glam herself up, she discovers firsthand that the world does indeed favor the beautiful. She also learns what s important to her, and it s not the shiny exterior that wins her male and maternal attention. Lexi s outrageous rebellion at a pageant will have readers both gasping and cheering. Although didactic, it s a fun read and marvelous revenge fantasy sure to engage most young women. Eulberg has an ear for teen dialogue and creates multidimensional characters that both embrace and defy stereotypes. Parents are flawed but human, and the only true villains are pageant administrators. Lexi’s romances resolve in the most positive ways possible, with kindness and self-respect. It may be a little too good to be true but it sure is satisfying.

Use in Library

This book would make a perfect book club discussion. I’d probably bring in some excerpts from writings of the excellent Caitlin Moran.

 

Module 7: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

outcasts

APA Citation

Konigsburg, E. L. (2004). The outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Summary

Margaret Rose’s summer starts off pretty rocky at a summer camp with some bullying fellow campers and an unrelenting director. Fortunately, she is rescued by her adoring great uncles who take her home to spend the rest of her summer with them. Soon, Margaret comes to understand that her uncles are also in need of rescuing. Their giant art installations they have been building in their garden for over forty years are being threatened by the changing neighborhood. Can Margaret help save her uncles’ art and home? Who will she find to help her?

Impressions

Margaret Rose is a delight. She is stubborn and smart and quirky as the day is long. She is adored by a band of eccentric adults who all come together to help her save her uncles. Konigsburg has a masterful ability to construct unique and multifaceted characters who had me laughing out loud while I read.

She also manages to draw clear lines between right and wrong and still make us smile with the characters on the bad side. I got such a kick out of the whispering lawyer neighbor, Gwendolyn, who asks Margaret to feed her sourdough starter while she is away.

“Geoffrey and I thought we’d like to stay in Arizona a few extra days as a little vacation, but we need someone to take care of a little something for us. Will you?”

I wondered why a grown woman would say little so much, but I nodded yes.

Konigsburg also has characters making abrupt changes, like the camp director softening and the cabin mates coming to help Margaret in the end. She manages to pull this off without artifice or stuffiness and that is truly impressive.

I want Margaret to be my best friend. I love her bristling courage and her pithy witticisms. Her voice will not soon leave the heart of any reader, child or adult. She certainly had me muttering, “I prefer not to” and grinning for days.

Reviews

Jennifer Mattson (Booklist, Dec. 15, 2003 (Vol. 100, No. 8))
Dumped at summer camp while her parents travel abroad, 12-year-old Margaret Rose Kane, whom readers first met as Connor’s half-sister in Silent to the Bone (2000), opts out of activities by quoting Melville (“I prefer not to”) and is quickly labeled “incorrigible.” When her two doting, elderly uncles whisk her away from the hated camp, she blissfully anticipates helping to build and maintain “the towers,” sculptures her uncles have constructed in their garden. But Margaret soon learns that yuppie neighbors want the 45-year-old towers demolished. Appalled, she and a network of warm, smart, slightly kooky adults, characters as markedly Konigsburgian as the precocious urban preteen herself, hatch an ingenious plan to prevent the “cultural Armageddon.” Konigsburg yields too much of the stage to adult characters and their views on creeping homogenization and suburban sprawl, and many readers will never feel fully convinced by Margaret’s quirky erudition. But this intelligently structured, humorously told, and richly observant story weaves two cliches of middle-grade fiction–the David-and-Goliath scenario and the bad summer camp experience–into a bracing, contemporary tall tale. Readers will root for Margaret’s success, admire her determination, and applaud her abhorrence of conformity wherever she finds it.

Jamie S. Hansen (VOYA, June 2004 (Vol. 27, No. 2))
An incomparable author takes a wise and witty look at some large issues such as bureaucratic tyranny, the nature of art, and the freedom of the individual. Readers will cheer Margaret’s efforts to save the towers, because even those without credit cards and driver’s licenses can “change future history.” Konigsburg creates a novel that is astonishing in conception and flawless in execution, a glorious mix of slapstick and heartbreak that will remain in the reader’s mind and heart.

Use in Library

I’d like to lead a makers space project for this book. Using found objects, construct a tower or other piece of art.

 

 

 

Module 6: The Day the Crayons Quit

crayons

APA Citation

Daywalt, D., & Jeffers, O. (2013). The day the crayons quit. London: HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Summary

Duncan’s crayons are fed up! Each color has a complaint, a reason for quitting. Duncan finds out that orange and yellow aren’t speaking to each other because of a debate over the true color of the sun which has turned ugly. Blue is plain worn out and pink just wants a chance. How can Duncan make this right? Will he and his crayons reconcile? Will Duncan ever color again?

Impressions

This adorable book is simply delightful. The childlike font and illustrations are charming to adults and relatable to kids. The simple lines, especially on the faces of the crayons are perfectly expressive.

beige

Poor Beige!

Personification is not a new device for children’s books, certainly. However, using an art tool as a character with feelings is such a delightfully clever use of the device. I also like the subtle message that workers deserve to be heard and have power they can exert if they see a need that should be raised.

Reviews

Thom Barthelmess (Booklist, Jul. 1, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 21))
Duncan s crayons are on strike. One morning he opens his desk looking for them and, in their place, finds a pack of letters detailing their grievances, one crayon at a time. Red is tired. Beige is bored. Black is misunderstood. Peach is naked! The conceit is an enticing one, and although the crayons complaints are not entirely unique (a preponderance centers around some variation of overuse), the artist s indelible characterization contributes significant charm. Indeed, Jeffers ability to communicate emotion in simple gestures, even on a skinny cylinder of wax, elevates crayon drawing to remarkable heights. First-class bookmaking, with clean design, ample trim size, and substantial paper stock, adds to the quality feel. A final spread sees all things right, as Duncan fills a page with bright, delightful imagery, addressing each of the crayons issues and forcing them into colorful cooperation. Kids who already attribute feelings to their playthings will never look at crayons the same way again.

Hope Morrison (The Bulletin of the Center for Children s Books, September 2013 (Vol. 67, No. 1))
One day in class, Duncan went to take out his crayons and found a stack of letters with his name on them. What follows is a hilarious epistolary tale wherein each crayon, in childlike printing on lined paper, shares something with Duncan. Some feel overworked ( Gray crayon here. You re KILLING ME! I know you love Elephants. And I know that elephants are gray . . . but that s a LOT of space to color in all by myself ), some feel underappreciated (writes Beige Crayon, The only things I get are turkey dinners (if I m lucky) and wheat, and let s be honest when was the last time you saw a kid excited about coloring wheat? ). Some crayons are caught up in disputes (Orange Crayon and Yellow Crayon both insist they are the true color of the sun, as evidenced by pages from coloring books that Duncan completed), while others have entirely unique issues ( It s me, peach crayon. Why did you peel off my paper wrapping?? Now I m NAKED and too embarrassed to leave the crayon box ). Each spread includes a reproduction of the actual letter (written in crayon, of course) on the verso, facing an appropriate composition such as a childlike crayon drawing or a colored-in page from a coloring book. The crayons themselves, with deceptively simple line and dot faces, are rich in emotion and character, and it s entertaining to consider each crayon s representation in light of the voice in its letter. While potential lessons in inference, point of view, and persuasive writing abound in the crayons letters, this is guaranteed to see just as much use for being just plain fun.

Use in Library

Let’s play with personification. Write a story and/or draw a picture about what an item in the library would say if it could talk: pencil sharpener, clock, desk, etc.

Module 5: Looking for Alaska

Looking-For-Alaska

APA Citation

Green, J. (2005). Looking for Alaska: A novel. New York: Dutton Children’s Books.

Summary

Miles is starting his first year at a boarding school and makes several friends, including a girl named Alaska, with whom he falls in love. He also takes a class on religious studies and begins asking himself some big questions. In the meantime, his new friends teach him to smoke and pull pranks and what it means to be growing up. The story is split in half: before and after a tragic event that leaves all the characters forever changed.

Impressions

This Printz medal winning novel has joined the ranks of great coming of age novels, often compared to A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye, to name a few. This specified genre is such an important one for our canon. Looking for Alaska does this genre proud. Green expertly creates characters we feel as if we know and even recognize ourselves in them. Miles wrestles with philosophical concepts about meaning and what happens after death. What happens to Miles at school provides a figurative journey, certainly, but Green manages to keep his characters’ voices real even among the deep and lofty matters.

Miles finds no easy answers and his grief over the loss of his enigmatic and magnetic friend has a heavy and painful realness. Neither he nor his friends find the solid answers they seek. But in the seeking, he finds that there is hope.

“When adults say, ‘Teenagers think they are invincible’ with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.”

Review 

Carol Kellerman (KLIATT Review, March 2007 (Vol. 41, No. 2))
This poignant coming-of-age novel won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award. Up until the day Miles Halter starts at the Culver Creek Boarding School, the 16-year-old feels that his life has been a friendless nonevent. He has memorized the dying words of almost every famous individual whose last words have been preserved. Seeking what Rabelais called the Great Perhaps, Miles meets a whole new set of teens and the captivating Alaska Young, beautiful, intelligent, bold and caring–the image of every teenage boy s fantasy. In a few short months, Miles learns as much from Alaska as he does in his classes. But tragedy strikes and life as they knew it will never be the same.  Green, a commentator on National Public Radio, writes with great good humor and has a deep understanding of the highs and lows of adolescence.

Paula Rohrlick (KLIATT Review, March 2005 (Vol. 39, No. 2))
Geeky, friendless Miles, whose hobby is collecting famous last words, goes off to boarding school in Alabama seeking new experiences, the “Great Perhaps.” He certainly finds them: his roommate, known as the Colonel, introduces him to pranks, drinking, and most important of all, Alaska–lovely, messed-up, unpredictable Alaska, on whom Miles develops a huge crush. The friends hang out, sneak smokes, and plot revenge on the rich, preppy “Weekday Warriors” who attend the school but return home to party on weekends, and on the school headmaster, the Eagle. Miles finds a class he loves, Religious Studies, and everything at school is going well until the terrible night Alaska rams her car straight into a police cruiser. Accident or suicide? Miles doesn’t know, but he is devastated, and he and the Colonel try to make sense of what happened to Alaska and cope with their grief. A final glorious prank in her honor helps them to come to terms with her death. In this first novel by Green, a young commentator for NPR who admits having attended a similar boarding school, the spirit of Holden Caulfield lives on. Not very much really happens, up to the point ofAlaska‘s fatal crash, but the characters and the witty dialog are engaging, and Green makes the setting and Miles’ emotional conflicts feel very real.

Use in Library

While this book would make an excellent book club/ discussion book, maybe instead or in addition we could do some research on famous last words. Use someone’s last words as a starting off point for creative writing. Another idea is to read some excerpts from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed and compare perspectives on grief.

Module 5: Darius and Twig

darius and twig

APA Citation

Myers, W. D. (2014). Darius & Twig. New York: Amistad Press.

Summary

Twig and Darius are best friends. They have different interests and talents. Twig is a runner and Darius is a writer. Both high school students, they support each other and struggle against bullies, their rough neighborhood and not enough money. They both hope to win scholarships for college. As Twig’s racing career picks up, he faces new challenges in the form of corruption and his abusive uncle. Darius isn’t sure he has what it takes to be a real writer. Will the challenges of their everyday lives keep them from being who they really want to be? Will they lose themselves? Can they help one another find a way out?

Impressions

I loved this book. Myers creates characters who seem very real. He tells a story that is ultimately about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity, but he does this without triteness or nostalgia. Twig and Darius are real people living in a real place. They both want to be good people, but neither is a saint. Neither is trying to be anyone’s hero. I love that Myers makes the character development about pursuing the best versions of themselves, not necessarily about attaining it. I also appreciate that there isn’t a tidy ending, but a somewhat open ended one, plot wise. Myers shows his brilliant storytelling in managing to give readers a feeling of closure regarding his characters without tying anything up in a bow.

“If you get over once, I mean if you really get over the way you did in Deleware, and the way you did against Jameson, you have to know that there’s a best Twig somewhere in you, and you just got to find a chance for him to do his thing. It doesn’t have to always be about running.”

“Maybe it’s about having somebody like your nonrunning, nonflying, and nondancing butt around to keep reminding me about a best Twig.”

I think this kind of open endedness is very important when it comes to books for teenagers. This age group leans heavily toward the dramatic and the dualistic. Myers has a way of not promising his readers that things will always work out or happen the way they might expect. And yet, his writing offers hope and encourages readers to ask themselves what kind of people they want to be. This is a wise and  inspiring novel.

Reviews

Amy Wyckoff (VOYA, June 2013 (Vol. 36, No. 2))
Growing up in Harlem surrounded by bullies who thrive on picking on anyone smaller, Darius and Twig know they are lucky to have each other. This pair has a vision for their future, but with scarce resources and few adult role models, they cannot see a clear path to getting out of Harlem and moving on to college. Darius has a passion for writing but is searching for a voice all his own. Twig is passionate about running, and he is determined not to give up his track dreams, even when his overbearing uncle tries to guilt him into working in the family store. Darius and Twig prove that they have not become heartless, like those around them, when they help a local bully in a time of need. Their actions lift them above their surroundings and show they can soar higher, just like Darius s alter ego, Fury, a peregrine falcon. This is the story of best friends who push each other to overcome the current barriers of their lives in the inner city. It is not a surprise that Myers has written another standout novel for male teens. This encouraging text may inspire teens who feel trapped by their surroundings. Darius and Twig have goals for their future, and they see them through, despite the odds against them. Told in Darius s voice, the prose is poetic but concise. This would be a worthwhile addition to any middle or high school media center or public library shelf and would make a valuable book for discussion in a middle school classroom.

Karen Coats (The Bulletin of the Center for Children s Books, June 2013 (Vol. 66, No. 10))
Darius is an aspiring writer, Twig a rising track star, and together they are seeking a way to transcend the limitations their community seems to want to put on them. Twig s family, for instance, wants him to work at his uncle s bodega rather than train and compete, and Twig himself is sometimes ambivalent about what he wants for his future; running offers him a way to sort out his feelings in the present, but he s not sure where and how he wants it to take him into his future. Darius watches the people in his neighborhood and tries to make sense of the complicated feelings that he and Twig have about who they are and who they want to be through the use of various metaphors that he uses in his stories, including an ongoing narrative about a falcon named Fury with whom Darius identifies. Not sure if he himself is raptor or prey, he must cope with bullies who seem determined to trample his spirit and constrict his future. At first, there is more exposition than action here, with a fair amount of introspection and description from Darius about his backstory with Twig and the mundane events of their daily lives as well as the rage and helplessness Darius feels much of the time. This is Walter Dean Myers, however, so the plot gains urgency with some urban violence, and all that exposition becomes thematically relevant to Darius actions as well as his insights into why people, including him and his best friend, feel and behave the way they do. Through it all, a strong and simple message emerges about the way good friends can anchor each other through storms and spur one another into positive futures even when the present seems bleak.

Use in Library

This novel would make an excellent book club/discussion for preteens and teens.

 

 

Module 4: The Giver

the giver

APA Citation

Lowry, L. (1993). The giver. New York: Random House.

Summary

Jonas has been waiting for the day when he is assigned his role in the community. He’s surprised when he’s assigned a job he didn’t know existed: the Receiver. He has been used to a life without pain or surprise. Now he’s being trained by the Giver to hold all the memories of his community. His future is a lonely and painful one, but he is learning more about life than anyone else in his community can imagine. Will Jonas be up to the job? Will he crack under the pressure? Or will he do the unthinkable?

Impressions

Lowry’s Newbery winning novel resonates strongly with young adults. Her dystopian world leads readers to question what makes us human and what makes us free. I certainly understand its appeal, especially to middle and high school students. Dystopian novels offer a good-versus-evil message, usually with a protagonist faced with a tough choice with only one real option.

I liked The Giver. I liked the way Lowry took something as intangible as the relationship between joy and pain and brought it down to earth in a way that is accessible for young adults. There are times when the morality of it all gets a little heavy handed. However, on the whole, I think this is a valuable novel for kids to grapple and discuss some important philosophical questions.

Reviews

Laura M. Zaidman (The ALAN Review, Fall 1994 (Vol. 22, No. 1))
Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, Lowry’s thought-provoking fantasy challenges adolescents to explore important social and political issues. The Giver trains twelve-year-old Jonas as the next Receiver of Memory, the community’s receptacle of past memories. This seemingly utopian society (without pain, poverty, unemployment, or disorder) is actually a body- and mind-controlling dystopia (without love, colors, sexual feelings, or memories of the past). In an exciting plot twist, Jonas courageously resolves his moral dilemma and affirms the human spirit’s power to prevail, to celebrate love, and to transmit memories. From the book jacket’s evocative photographic images–The Giver in black and white; trees in blazing color–to the suspenseful conclusion, this book is first-rate. Just as Lowry’s Number the Stars (which received the 1990 Newbery Medal) portrays the Danish people’s triumph over Nazi persecution, The Giver engages the reader in an equally inspiring victory over totalitarian inhumanity.

Roger Sutton (The Bulletin of the Center for Children s Books, April 1993 (Vol. 46, No. 8))
The future society in which Jonas lives is benevolently, but totally, controlled. Babies are birthed by anonymous Birthmothers, then adopted by couples who each raise no more than two children. Sex is repressed, thanks to a pill each citizen of the Community is given upon reaching puberty. Vocations are assigned by the Committee of Elders when each child reaches the age of twelve. While all these strictures are staples of science fiction, author Lowry, new to the genre, must be credited for the calm simplicity with which she describes Jonas’ community. Like B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two, it seems a peaceful place, where its people have been so seduced into its protections that they don’t think to question the alternatives. But Jonas, who much to his surprise has been assigned the important job of Receiver, the one who holds all the memories of the past for the community, learns that security may mean less than total fulfillment. The novel takes a didactic turn when Jonas, through the elderly Giver, begins to receive memories of colors, Christmas, family warmth and deep unhappiness. All these losses have already been implicitly rendered, and spelling them out turns story into sermon. When Jonas learns that his tiny foster brother Gabriel is to be Released (killed) for his failure to thrive, he runs away with the baby-a tense escape, the first real action in the story, but unfortunately it’s the conclusion, and a closing ecstatic vision leaves readers thinking that Jonas and Gabe have either died of exposure, or have headed into a new life, one that might be detailed in a sequel. Lowry could go a lot further with the intriguingly cool world she has created, but the present novel feels too much like a scene-setting introduction. Ad–Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area.

Use in Library

This book would make an excellent book club/discussion.