Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I have to admit something kind of embarrassing here....until this year I'd never read The Giver.  This book came out when I was 13, and by then I'd skipped what little YA there was and was onto adult novels like Jurassic Park.  Since the movie is coming out, and because I needed to fill this gaping hole in my reading repertoire I decided that I would check The Giver out from the library and give it a go.

For those of you that don't know, The Giver takes place in what appears to be a utopic society.  There is no war, no famine, no pain, and everyone is the same.  At 12 everyone receives their position/job for the society.  The main character of the novel, Jonas, is chosen as the next 'Reciever of Memory'.  This is a special position which allows the person in it to live outside the rules of the regular society.  This person is allowed to ask questions, and even allowed to lie (something that is forbidden to anyone else).  The current 'Receiver of Memory' chooses instead to call himself 'The Giver' as he is slowly going to give Jonas all of his memories from before the time when everyone was the same.

Some of these memories are beautiful, some are terrible, but they awaken something in Jonas and he starts to question the society they are in, to rebel against 'sameness' and to want to be alive and to feel.  Jonas must then make a decision for his whole community.  Does he want to stay, and hold all the memories of before, or does he want to try to break free, and possibly break the entire community out of their same-ness stupor.

I am actually kind of surprised that this book won the Newbery Award.  It is so vastly different than Lowry's previous winner, Number the Stars.  I did really enjoy the book and I can see why it is used in classrooms and book groups because I can imagine that it would stir quite an interesting discussion.  The ending is somewhat open ended, and while I'd love to believe that the happier interpretation of events is the truth, I am including to believe the more pessimistic take on what happens with Jonas.

P.S. don't forget to check out the trailer for the up-coming movie:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Set during WWII, Lina is a regular 15 year old Lithuanian girl, until the night Soviet soldiers come to her house and take her mother, brother, and her away.  Lina is put onto a train with other Lithuanians then shipped off to live in harsh conditions at a Soviet work camp.  She has been separated from her father, with only a hint of where he is.  A talented artist, Lina attempts to send drawings to her father in hopes that he will know that she and her family are still alive, and that when this nightmare is all over he will be able to find them.

This novel is amazingly moving, and based on real events that very few people know about.  The action starts very quickly, as the novel opens with Lina and her family being taken.  You only get glimpses of her life before through Lina's flashbacks.  The author took trips to Lithuania and met with survivors of the Soviet genocide.  I tried looking up information on the setting so I could get a better handle on the book, but even at that I could not find much definitive information about the Soviet genocide.  According to the author's afterward, those who survived the work camps had to make it through at least 10 years there.  Once they were free they were under constant surveillance, and unable to talk about or relate their experiences to anyone for fear that they would be shipped back.

I am very glad that I read this book, I want to learn more about what happened to these people.  The author said that Stalin may have killed 20 million people during this time period, but we rarely hear about it.  The only thing I didn't like about this book is that I wanted more of an epilogue from the characters.  We get a short note from Lina that someone finds later on, but I want to read at least a little bit about her life after the end of the novel because it feels a little rushed and unfinished.