Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Giver keeps on giving

(Spoilers within for The Giver and its companion novels, including Son.)

Son, the upcoming companion novel to The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger, has been on my mind since I read it a month or so ago, and since the ARC was just returned to me by a coworker who "can't bring [her]self to read it," I think it's time to get some of those thoughts out.

To start, I both love The Giver and respect it highly. Many novels published since owe it a major debt for the blueprint it furthered for dystopia as coming-of-age story. It was one of the first novels that made me ask really big questions: What does equality mean in a world where people have different needs? What would I be willing to give up to end the problems our world has?

Another notable aspect of The Giver, particularly for a novel aimed at about upper middle-grade/early YA readers, was the ambiguity of its ending. Maybe the Elsewhere Jonas saw at the end was a new place where people could experience life more fully, but in a story where "release" to "Elsewhere" meant euthanasia, it was just as likely that we were seeing Jonas's (and maybe Gabriel's) death. I wanted to believe the former; I had a feeling the latter was true. There was an exquisite anguish in not knowing for sure. I understood why standing alone was good for this particularly novel, but I remember hoping guiltily for a sequel, and I remember my reason: I wanted to know what happened in the community when Jonas released the memories.

Then came Gathering Blue and Messenger. Gathering Blue didn't give us much concrete information about The Giver's characters, but Messenger told us that Jonas and Gabriel were alive and well. There was some uneasy relief there; I cared about these two characters. But honestly, I cared more about the community; that was what I wanted to know more about.

Well, this October, Son comes out. The first third of the novel takes place back in the community during years when Jonas is there, and it sheds light on one of that society's most mysterious roles: that of Birthmother. If you left The Giver feeling curious about what you weren't seeing, that first third is very worth a read. The other two thirds are a good story, but what they show is mostly that the societies in this world are isolated and very different from each other. That's interesting and raises questions about how that came to pass. But I still want to know what happened in the freaking community when Jonas released the freaking memories.

It is a sign of The Giver's strength that I care this much some sixteen or seventeen years after my first reading. Sigh. I suppose there's value in not giving everything away.