The Bookshelf, by Rebekah Hall
The way Lois Lowry’s The Giver is continually singled out as a stand-alone novel will never cease to amaze me. On page size alone, it certainly qualifies as a novel, but the funny thing is that the content simply isn’t enough. When you read a story, you expect an introduction, maybe a little interesting stuff on the side, a beginning rising action early on, a climax toward the middle-end-ish area, and a finish. The Giver moves at a leisurely pace and easily gives you the first two requirements; and it continues on that stroll until it tosses a climax at you from nowhere and ends so abruptly that you’re not even sure what just happened. It doesn’t feel like you finished a book; it feels like you just finished a few chapters.
However, if it’s treated as if it really is only a few chapters, then the problem disappears. The best way to look at it as a novel, and frankly, the only way to bestow upon The Giver the justice that it deserves, would be to combine it with its two sequels, Gathering Blue and Messenger. By doing that, you get the rest of the picture that is so jarringly cut off in The Giver, and the three together easily fit as one volume when put together.
On a whole, they all revolve around a somewhat undefined post-apocalyptic world, with each book describing a different major aspect of it. In The Giver,it’s a supposed, but heavily controlled, utopia; in Gathering Blue, it’s an obvious dystopia; and Messenger, the piece that connects those two stories, depicts the village built by the outcasts of the two societies.
Technically speaking, there is no overarching plot. Books one and two develop main characters, Jonas and Kira respectfully, and book three introduces them to each other, but who would consider that a continuing plotline? What makes The Giver trilogy curiously unique is that, not only The Giver, but all three books are extremely brief. That fact alone again emphasizes the need to see all the books as one, but even then the reader needs to understand that they’re three short episodes bound together by a common theme.
Of course, being brief isn’t something for a series to be ashamed of. Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopia novels are hugely popular right now, and it almost seems as if it’s a necessity that they be very drawn out and overly dramatic, like Susanne Collins’ The Hunger Games or James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, The Giver trilogy focuses only on the small and the abstract, or for lack of a better word, the “momentary”. So, for instance, the first book, The Giver, is simply about the moment when Jonas finally accepts that his utopia is truly evil and that he has a choice not to participate in it. It is not about how he perhaps starts a secret organization to overthrow this evil government and saves the world. As far as The Giver is concerned, that is entirely beside the point. In the same way, all Gathering Blue is about is that moment when Kira realizes that she is not the helpless victim that she has always made herself out to be.
In the long run, it’s a style that sounds nice in theory, but in practice it has a few issues, or at least in this case it does. Employing the general idea of the abstract into a novel is all fine and good, in its proper place, but when it’s used in so many story details that you lose count, it becomes just plain irritating. If a story introduces something as weird as a forest that apparently has feelings and a mind of its own in a supposedly real world, not-fantasy, environment, it would follow reason that the story would explain it at some point; the trilogy, unfortunately, never does. Again, this goes for other strange things throughout the story as well, brought into the story without any kind of origin and seemingly no purpose in the end.
Despite its faults, though, there are parts that the trilogy pulls off brilliantly. Even though it has its annoyances, the writing is extremely addictive. The characters are a bit stilted in the first book, but that area gets better as the trilogy progresses. All three contain some sort of romantic element in them; while it’s rather awkward and bizarre in the first book, and downright flat and implausible in the second, the third book hits just the right note. The relationship between the book’s protagonist, Matty, and Jean is sweet in its simplicity and moreover, there is actually a chemistry between them that makes sense, which is particularly unusual. When they want to, the books can show off a surprising amount of depth, with potent observations about suffering and beauty that a lot of authors wouldn’t even begin to dwell on. In the end, it’s those moments that, despite its failings and irritations, make the trilogy worthwhile in the long run.
Rebekah is a senior in high school who loves reading, writing, or anything that contains a story and a puzzle. She runs the review blog “And a Sweet Sound it Made” – http://www.andasweetsound.blogspot.com