Imagine that you are in your late seventies, and - although you had a rich career as an English teacher - you have only a superficial concept of what the Newbery Medal is, probably because most of your teaching experience has involved senior high school students.
Your son, himself a teacher of sixth graders, is discussing THE GIVER with you, sharing the enthusiasm of both him and his students for the novel. In order to introduce you to his world of children's literature, he orders a copy for you. Your daughter reinforces his sentiments, going so far as to lay claim that she and her family (all discriminating readers) thoroughly enjoyed the novel.
Amazon downloads your Kindle copy. You are intrigued by the countless memories of a lifetime carved in the face of the old bearded man on the cover. You begin to read.
Having recently joined an audio book club, you realize instantly that this is a book better appreciated through a visual absorption. Some common words are capitalized, for example, and this distinction would be lost in a narrator's presentation. Also, as language itself is extremely important in the book's community - the children always being corrected if they do not use the most accurate words possible - the typography (ellipses and italics come to mind) is crucial, and a case can be made for the value of visual as opposed to aural.
It's a slow start. The unidentified aircraft seems out of place in the December sky, and it quickly loses significance as part of the necessary exposition. As the characters, and environmental, sociological, cultural, and governmental functions are revealed, you wonder when the action begins. Too many bicycles neatly placed in their designated ports, too much repetition, so many meals eaten at precise times with no mention of what is being eaten, endless references to routine and sameness, and always community, community, community. A disturbing sense of ennui skitters across your mind. Why all the accolades for THE GIVER?
Continue imagining that you are committed to completing the book for the sake of respecting your children, although it does occur to you that father, children, and grandchildren are not on the same page ... or even in the same book. On and on it trudges. No chapter titles - just a red 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 ...
Seven, or the end of seven to be more word explicit, is where the action begins. The author suddenly jolts you into the so-called "rising action." Finally it has begun, and - in spite of your age - you are pulled into the world of children's literature and a darned good story about an age of dystopia.
You run a literary marathon and finish the rest of the book without stopping. Your son said it would be like this, and it's nice that you continue to respect his intelligence, but you're not too certain of the reliability of your own. You really didn't give Lois Lowry or her book or her talent a chance. To be fair, you should have reread the first few chapters before continuing.
But something's not right. You liked the book, and were caught up in the terrible truths of the community, and were right there with Jonas and little Gabe through the final chapters. Yet a certain satisfaction is missing. You almost feel like saying, "So? It was good, but I've read better books."
Imagine then the memory of a bruised ego. You're a retired teacher, for crying out loud ... sort of a Giver yourself. To save what you can of self-respect and stave off complete humiliation (your son said, "Can't wait to talk about it!"), you do a computer search, checking out Wikipedia and a few good book review sites. And you make sure that your paucity of the Newbery Award is rectified. You even reread the opening chapters, which, of course, at this point changes your entire perception of the novel.
THE GIVER deserves the Newbery, and probably more, if for no other reason than the claim that its underlying theme - the giving and receiving of love- is the key to finding true happiness in this life. Even though the book burners have managed to establish this book as inappropriate for young readers (according to the American Library Association's list of the most "challenged" books of the 1990s), THE GIVER continues to remain on countless other lists - those of middle school suggested reading titles. The book is taught even in higher level grades.
Maybe it's good to stay in your own community and be happy in your own ignorance... sometimes.
But just imagine if ...