Wednesday, November 27, 2013

5 Questions with Lois Lowry

A while ago, I had the incredible chance to have an (email) chat with none other than Lois Lowry! I asked her a couple of questions about her Giver series, and she provided me with some eloquent answers. Here they are! I've also provided the links to the individual books of the quartet at the bottom.

HF: I feel that the Young-Adult-Dystopian genre seems to be inspired by The Giver series--it certainly was my first glance into that world. When you wrote The Giver, were you looking to find a new audience or access your existing audience in a different way?

LL:No, I never think about the audience when I am writing. I simply tell the story that is appearing in my head. I had no thoughts at all about dystopia, or science fiction, or fantasy. I was thinking about memory…how it works, how it affects us…when the boy appeared, with a story to tell.

HF: I was struck by the way Claire and her child were handled by the society in the novel Son. Does this reflect on your views about how circumstances could inform a woman's ability to keep her child or give him/her away?

LL: I had four children before I was 26, back in the late 50s and early 60s, so I know a great deal from experience of what a woman's/mother's role was thought to be at that time. And I have lived a long life since then, so I have watched cultural attitudes shift and change.  SON doesn't deal with a woman's right to keep or relinquish a child, but rather with loss….and what it night do to a woman to have a child wrested away. It ponders the question of state control over reproduction, and how that might affect the basic instincts of most women.

HF: When I read the part in The Giver about how the society rid the world of pain, war, discrimination and such, but at the same time taking away color, light, and real feelings, I felt that it was your way of saying evil is also part of human life. Do you think that this is true, and if so, is it a message that you think that young people will be able to hear?

LL: I think the juxtaposition of good/bad in the world is something that kids know and are familiar with from the time they are very young. Throughout history, art and music and literature have all arisen form  deep pain But there are parents, i think, who try very hard to keep that knowledge from children…hence, the challenging and banning of books that some parents find too "dark" or "troubling."  Yet fairy tales from earliest times deal with the existence of evil in the world.  Reading about things that frighten us is a way of preparing our responses…rehearsing, in a way.

HF: Your books in The Giver series are all about how children taking on roles that should really be done by adults. ( i.e. Jonas taking on the memories of the world, Kira holding the past of the world, Matty being a messenger for an entire network of villages, Claire being a mother at 14, etc. ) do you think that the children of this generation are growing up too fast?

LL: The world has become very complex and today's kids must prepare to enter it armed, more now than when i was young. And many political leaders of today—I suppose this has perhaps always been true—are self-absorbed and corrupt. In contrast, young people tend to be idealistic and uncorrupted. In these books, each of the protagonists you mention has a genuine desire to save and heal the world. I like the idea of the young uncorrupted hero/heroine taking on that challenge, and even the burdens that come with it.

HF: If you could recommend 3-5 books that young people should reads before they graduate from high school, which books would you pick?

LL: I would change my mind many times. But right now? I think every young person should read A Fort of Nine Towers, by Qais Akbar Omar, a memoir of growing up in Afghanistan which gives a  passionate and detailed portrait of  a culture we do not adequately understand.  Also: The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien  ("a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling")  My Antonia, by Willa Cather.  Dreams from my Father, by Barack Obama. and Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver. Everyone knows it. It's one of the most famous books of our generation. An amazing world of ethics and control is created by the talented Lois Lowry. This well-crafted story is one of my favorites, so I'd like to review it here.
       I first read this in the third grade, when I asked my then 14-year-old sister to give me a really good book, and she handed me this one. I started reading this book and I didn't stop until I was finished. (I mean, except to eat dinner, because everyone knows how hard that would be.) I even sat on the floor of our bathroom and read it when I was supposed to be brushing my teeth--maybe that's why I have braces. WHY DID YOU HAVE TO WRITE SUCH A GOOD BOOK, MS. LOWRY? But seriously. 
      For those of you who don't know, The Giver is about a future world where life is so controlled that people's partners, jobs, and even kids are chosen for them. Jonas, the main character is chosen to have all of the world's memories taken upon his shoulders. The story is about how he chooses to deal with this.    
      I recently re-read this book last year, when our whole grade was required to read it. (Since I had already read it in the bathroom earlier, I got to read #3 in the quartet, Messenger) I was amazed how well Lowry brought the character of Jonas together. He was so well written: just the right portrayal of that 12-year-old feeling of wanting to be older, but not really. I think that Ms. Lowry captured the way that a person on the cusp of "teenagerhood,"--a place where people will start to expect more of you--may feel, in a very interesting way. She created a complex world around that feeling. Jonas' job is to be the person who guides the leaders of his society with the memories of the entire world, so no one else has to have the negative effects of remembering things like war, pain, or even sunburn. But with this seemingly effective solution, comes the forgetting of things like climate, colors, love, or a boat sailing on a still lake. I don't want to ruin the ending for any young (or old, don't want to be prejudiced here) readers that still haven't read it, but I just want to say--you won't look at the world the same way after reading this book.