That may not be an exact quote, but it is pretty close. My twenty-two year old daughter was commenting on the movie adaptation of the YA novel The Giver by Lois Lowry. She was at home for three days over Thanksgiving, taking a break from her doctoral work at the University of Chicago.
I thought I had a good idea arranging my Netflix queue so that the movie version of The Giver would be at our house over the holiday so that we could watch the movie together. It so happens that the December selection for the men’s book club to which I belong is The Giver – a definite departure from our usual fare. For instance, our January selection is The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Anyway, I was reading the book (now long finished) and watching the movie sounded like a good idea.
Not to my daughter’s way of thinking.
The Giver is one of her all-time favorites. With the exception of Harry Potter, The Giver holds a special place in her heart. I was surprised, though, about her unwillingness to watch the movie. She stood her ground, and only my wife and I watched it. For the record I thought the film version was pretty good – it certainly didn’t “suck” like her peers reported to her. She had no qualms about watching all of the Harry Potter movies, or seeing other films based on childhood readings (The Thief Lord, Hunger Games). But there is something about The Giver that struck her differently. This work represents something iconic to her and to many people who read the book in middle school.
I think I know why.
The fan base is evidently quite huge mostly because it is a frequently assigned reading for middle school kids. They love it for two reasons, I think. First, the book is accessible to a range of readers. Second, and most importantly, author Lois Lowry has masterfully connected with the developmental stage of pre- and early adolescence. This is the stage of life when the consideration of Big Ideas and Big Thoughts become possible. Abstract and hypothetical reason is growing by leaps and bounds at this age. The content of The Giver involves love, grief, the arbitrary nature of rules, the expression of feelings, and the struggle with the limits of vocabulary to describe deep emotions and cognitions. All of these are weaved into a dystopian tale that is simultaneously safe, heartbreaking, disturbing, and downright creepy. I think for many kids like my daughter, the themes of this work meshed triumphantly with the very struggles of the target age group. I think Ms. Lowry tapped marvelously into the mindset of kids at this age, and every word of her story resonates with them. That alone makes Lois Lowry a genius. And to have her fans hold their memories of the book close to their hearts a decade later has got to be incredibly rewarding.