Just keeps giving…

The Giver (The Giver #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book took me two days to read – on a weekend where I was INSANELY busy. I would have finished this in a day – no question. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a powerful story, a natural precursor for younger readers before they tackle something like 1984 or Brave New World.
Jonas lives in a society where everything is pleasant and calm. Parents do not have their own children – they have to apply for them and if approved, they are given a child. There are women who have the children of course, but they are the dregs of this society – chosen at 12 as “procreators”, they bear 3 children each and then they work as labourers for the rest of their lives, never knowing their children. The old all live together and, at a designated time, they are “released”.
When a child turns 12, they are assigned a station in life. This is similar to the reaping in The Hunger Games (although that is arbitrary) or the assigning of groups in Divergent.
When it comes time for Jonas to be assigned, he is singled out and declared The Receiver. This is a high honour and Jonas discovers there have been only a few Receivers. The new Receiver is sent to work with the current Receiver, who then becomes The Giver. The Giver holds within his mind all the memories of the people. Emotions, history, sensory events, colours – the Giver has them all and gives them to Jonas, who will eventually become an advisor to the Council.
When he starts to learn the true nature of some parts of his society, Jonas is appalled. He is frightened, but most of all he is angry. He cannot share this with anyone except The Giver, because he is sworn not to share what he has learned. It is his burden to bear alone.
I do not want to divulge too much, because the impact of this book should not be diminished, but as Jonas learns more and more he discovers exactly what his father does in his job, and what some of his friends are trained to do in theirs and he knows something has to change.
Together, Jonas and The Giver plan to bring their world to its knees, but life, as it always does, intervenes.
I really enjoyed this book. Lowry’s prose is engaging and evocative. She is very good at making the reader exist in Jonas’s skin, which is no mean feat.
I look forward to seeing the film to see how well they handle some of the content – I have my suspicions it will be somewhat watered down. I hope not.
If you have not read this book before, pick it up before you see the movie.
For Readers 12 and up.

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A garden of delights

Tom's Midnight GardenTom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novel was required reading for my Uni subject, Narrative Theory. I had never read TMG, and I was surprised I hadn’t even read it as a child – because it is considered a classic and is a much-loved book, especially in the UK.

I have to be honest, while this is a great story as far as plot goes, it might have trouble finding an audience now. Tom and his life seem very old-fashioned. He is sent away from the family home to avoid catching the measles – a concept that is foreign to me, even as a child of the 60s, and would certainly be very strange to children nowadays.
So, I will disregard the “now” time setting of the story, and instead focus on the narrative itself.
Tom, a ten-year-old boy, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle whilst his younger brother, Peter, recovers from a bout of the measles. Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan have no children of their own, and live in a flat on the first floor of a building belonging to Mrs Bartholomew. Tom thinks he is in for a pretty boring time, with no garden outside or much to play with.
One night as Tom lays awake in bed, he hears the grandfather clock downstairs strike thirteen. Curious, he goes to investigate. Unable to find a light switch he elects to open the backdoor to let some moonlight in so he can read the face of the clock – and discovers there IS a garden, and it is beautiful.
We soon realise the clock has somehow opened a doorway to another time – a time where a family lived in the house, with servants, and children who played there. Tom befriends a strangely dressed girl named Hatty and over the course of many nights they become close. Sometimes Hatty is Tom’s age, sometimes older, but Tom is always the same.
Slowly Hatty begins to turn away from Tom, as her interest is caught by a young man named Barty, until one night he runs out of the door and to his dismay the garden is gone.
This timeslip story is an allegory about the nature of childhood, and the mechanisms of growing up. Tom is a boy hanging on to his childhood, resisting growing up, and Hatty is a girl embracing growing older.
I found the ending of the novel very satisfying without being trite – which in my experience is unusual for novels of this era. This story does not talk down to children – it gives them credit for being smart enough to work out what is going on and when the conclusion comes, it is restrained and moving.
I do know children who would enjoy this book, but like any book for children, you would need to pick your audience for this one.
The best part is that I would be happy recommending this story to any child from about 8 upwards. It is magical, historical, romantic and suspenseful – what’s not to like?