Thursday, January 3, 2008

the giver's magic

My senior year of college I lived in an apartment of six girls:
  • me: an English/writing/poetry major.
  • Group Meeting: a dance major/education major (I don't mean "dance education"..she teaches elementary school).
  • Belle: a theatre major, serious and fun all at the same time, and also a fantastic costume designer.
  • Sally: a musical theatre major, she went on to children's theatre and puppet theatre. She's amazing.
  • the Brit: an exchange student from (duh) England, an "American Studies" major who in all actuality majored in parties. I don't think I ever saw her open a book, but we all adored her.
  • and poor Russell*: a chemistry major.
Poor, poor Russell. Amazingly, she fit in with the rest of us perfectly, not at all like you'd expect. And let me tell you, living in an apartment of "artsy" folk was fantastic. There might be an impromptu poetry reading, or a game of "Stump Sally" (you say a word and she sings a song with that word in it. I think we only stumped her once or twice at most), or a mini dance recital. Someone was always performing. I loved every minute of it.

At any rate, on to the story I actually want to tell. :)

One evening I was feeling a bit under the weather (turns out it was the start of a respiratory infection, but again, I digress), and since Russell was studying in our room I curled up on one of the couches in the living room. Sally, bored, wandered into the living room to find something to do. When I saw her I said, in a pathetic, little girl voice, "I don't feel good. Tell me a story."

Sally, the biggest performer of the bunch, immediately launched into a "once upon a time" type tale of a girl who was sick and asked for a story. She pranced around the room, acting out every part, and I giggled and cheered accordingly, an appreciative audience. When she finished I applauded while she took a bow (actually several, one for each character). She flopped onto the other couch, and suddenly looked very thoughtful and serious for Sally. She said, "I could tell you a real story, if you'd like."

"Sure," I said.

"I'll be right back," Sally said, on her way to her room.

She came back with a well-loved, dog-eared copy of The Giver, by Lois Lowry. She showed it to me and asked, "Have you ever read it?" I shook my head no, and settled into my pillow-and-blanket nest. I was more that a bit excited; I hadn't been read to since I was a little girl.

She didn't tell me anything at all about the book, she just started reading.

It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice. He had seen it both times. Squinting toward the sky, he had seen the sleek jet, almost a blur at its high speed, go past, and a second later heard the blast of sound that followed. Then one more time, a moment later, from the opposite direction, the same plane.

At first, he had been only fascinated. He had never seen aircraft so close, for it was against the rules for Pilots to fly over the community. Occasionally, when supplies were delivered by cargo planes to the landing field across the river, the children rode their bicycles to the riverbank and watched, intrigued, the unloading and then the takeoff directed to the west, always away from the community.

But the aircraft a year ago had been different. It was not a squat, fat-bellied cargo plane but a needle-nosed single-pilot jet. Jonas, looking around anxiously, had seen others -- adults as well as children -- stop what they were doing and wait, confused, for an explanation of the frightening event.

Lois Lowry
The Giver
page 1

I was caught up from the first. Just that one page told me that this was no ordinary community. The adults and children were frightened by an airplane. And December. Why was December frightening?

It was pure magic.

And it wasn't just the story, which was fascinating in itself. The magic was in the telling of the story, the reading aloud. Sally, a born performer, was a wonderful reader. I never had to wonder which character was speaking; I could always tell, just from her voice. She didn't do silly voices, speaking high and squeaky for Lily and low and gravelly for the Giver, but the subtle changes in her tone and inflection were spot on. (My husband says I read the same way. I don't know that I do as well as Sally, but I like to think I learned it from her.)

She read, and read, and read, for several hours. She stopped only a few times, once to get a big cup of ice water, once to refill it...and once for an inevitable break from drinking all that water. ;) She never complained. She told me she'd read the book over and over, but even so both of us were completely immersed in the story. And it was obvious she enjoyed reading out loud.

I won't tell you anything about the book, in case you haven't read it. But it is full of surprises. I couldn't count the number of times I gasped in shock or sadness or delight. There's one moment in particular (having to do with sight, for those who know the story) that left me dumbfounded. I almost cried for the people in this supposedly perfect community.

After about 3/4 of the book I was getting tired and her voice was getting raspy. Also, it was nearing midnight, and in my state I needed sleep. Neither of us wanted to stop, but it was necessary.

Sally tossed the book to me. "Here," she said. "You can finish later."

I'm fairly certain the look I gave her was akin to the look I would give a person who suddenly sprouted two extra heads with purple polka-dotted hair. "No way! You have to finish!" Then, realizing she might have other things to do with her life, I added, "I mean, if you want to. Whenever you have time."

She looked flattered, smiled, and said, "All right. I'm not doing anything tomorrow night..."

Relieved, and realizing it sounded like we were making a date, I laughed. "Perfect."

The next night we finished the book. To be completely honest, I was a bit sad to reach the end, and not just because I wanted the story to go on (which I did). It was wonderful to be read to again. I've always loved to read, but to have someone else read to me was -- I know I've overused this word already, but -- magical.

I've read the book many, many times since then. Every time I read it I hear Sally's voice in my head.

This concludes the story of Sally (although there are other Sally stories, and I might tell them someday!)...but there is more to the story of me and The Giver. This post is already pretty long, though, so I think I'll finish tomorrow. :)

*These are all nicknames. And yes, "Group Meeting" was an actual nickname (which puzzled more than a few people). As was Russell. My nickname was also Russell...but that's another story. And the Brit; that's what we called her. That's how she introduced herself! She's quite a hoot.


  1. I love that book. Okay, I wasn't in love with the ending, but that's okay too. You know there are two more related books in the series right?

  2. Dawn...yeah, I know there are two more books. More like companions than sequels...anyway, more about the sequels tomorrow. :)

  3. Great story. I love that you had such a magical moment with a friend. We need to allow ourselves to stop and just enjoy as adults, too, I think.


  4. Is it that good for little kids when they get read to, I wonder? I think it's so important to read to children, no matter the age. I sometimes worry that kids today don't use their imaginations enough? Can they see everything in a story without the pictures? My mother used to read us everything, including books like Treasure Island, and we became part of the story in our minds. Sigh ... TV and video games are too rampant now I think.

  5. Haven't read it...but am intrigued now.

    What a fantastic group of roomies/friends you had/have. I'm envious! :)


  6. So ... do you trust the Giver? Or is he just using Jonas for his own nefarious purposes?

  7. bubandpie: This is one of the questions I ponder every time I read the book. His intentions are good, I think. He believes that the community needs what he wants to give them. And I also thing Jonas would have come to the same conclusions eventually, but the Giver certainly pushed him toward those conclusions.

    I don't want to say too much. Because I don't want to ruin anything for people who haven't read the book. I think one of the reasons that I was so taken with the book was I knew nothing at all about it.

  8. That is absolutely my favorite book in the whole world!! I've read it over and over again. I was so excited when I got to hand it to my 12 year old to read, and he loved it, too!! Great post, and amazing book!!!

  9. *sigh*
    College memories are the best, no?
    If I could re~live any time of my life, it would be it. Also, if I could go back, I'd appreciate what I had then, that I don't now.

    Thanks for telling me about the book. I've never heard of it but will add it to my list (on :)

  10. I was reading The Giver, on a picnic, when my husband proposed to me. I remember my stomach was in knots..and I can never quite figure out whether the knots were about the book or the impending reality that included planning a wedding with my mother.

  11. I am thinking the little man is lucky to have such a mama that will read such wonderful books to him. I am not familiar with the book but am going to find it...

  12. I'd never heard of the book, but you've certainly caught my interest.

    As a novelist, I know all to well how difficult it can be to engage the attention of a reader .....

    Great post ...

  13. Wow, great post. This was a really great story. I would love to be read to by someone like that. I love listening to audio books for that reason. Also, so I can do something else at the same time... Thanks for sharing this and I look forward to hearing the rest of the story. I'll have to check out that book!

  14. There is something so comforting about being read to. It is such a loving feeling. What a great friend you have. And what a great story you tell.