Sunday, August 31, 2014

I don't have the precision of language for all the feelings I'm feeling.

I have seen the Giver movie.

I can't bring myself to call it just The Giver. The Giver is a book, one that's meant a lot to me back and back and back. Back to, probably, early 1993, when an ALA-active family friend with access to this amazing thing called advance copies told me that Lois Lowry had a new book, very different from my beloved Anastasia books, and I agreed that the idea of suddenly seeing color without knowing what it was sounded fascinating. Back to my first reading, when I got to feel more informed than the characters as I figured out what information they lacked that was second nature to me. Back to the first time I reached the ending, when I realized agonizingly that maybe Jonas died and maybe he didn't, and either way, we weren't going to get to see what happened in the Community after Jonas released the memories. ("I hope she writes a sequel," I said to my mom. "Some books are better left on their own," she replied.) Back to the eighth grade essay I wrote about some of the big questions The Giver raised, something to the effect of, "The only way for it to be fair for people to be treated exactly the same is for them to be exactly the same." Back to my agony when sequels did appear and were interesting but didn't answer my questions about the Community's fate, and my further agony when early buzz about the movie made it look horribly commercial, and later buzz made it look not so bad.

Yeah. When I finally watched the first lines, I had more with me than two lovely viewing companions and a box of Junior Mints. But I was determined to give the film a chance.

The first few lines didn't do it for me. First-person narration has its place, but in this case, a Jonas apparently speaking from the future told us way too much. One of the best things about encountering this story in its original form is that Jonas doesn't know much about his world, and the reader gets to figure everything out. Still, the first half of the movie got some things right. It sped through a lot of revelations (um, maybe explain the Community's stance on twins so it can be knocked down?). But character ages aside, it preserved a lot of the important details of the Ceremonies. Jeff Bridges was perfect, and so, by the way, was Emma Tremblay as Lily. The emphasis on Jonas's love for Gabriel was just right, even if it had to fight for screen time with other things being emphasized.

Beyond that, the movie took some interesting directions. It made Fiona a completely different character - an interesting character, just not Fiona. Ditto the Chief Elder and Asher and Jonas's mom. The last third was an exciting action sequence with characters making exciting choices, but the action-packed parts were their own story, not The Giver's.

That's the thing about The Giver: it basically established the modern formula for YA dystopia, and in its relative simplicity, it raised lots of possibilities for stories of people attempting utopias and, well, dissing them. Remember the recent tidal wave of dystopian YA novels? Lots of people explored those possibilities and came up with new, if related, stories. Matched, for instance, is in many ways essentially The Giver with romance. The Giver is not.


I should add that as of a week and a half ago, I'm approaching the children's book field from a new angle, one I'm very excited about. After four and a half years learning a heck of a lot as a children's bookseller (whatever else I might say about the Giver movie, I know it will bring the book to lots of new readers), I'm now an editorial assistant at The Horn Book. I don't know exactly how this blog will evolve, but as always, opinions expressed here are my own.