Reading Circles – The Giver {Part 4}

In prepping for these posts, I have to read these chapters quite a few times, and I still never fail to get sucked in, shocked, and horrified, no matter how well I know what’s going to happen next. How does Lowry do that? Let’s continue our investigation, shall we?

So last week, we read chapters 11-14, with an eye towards plot development and the revelation of important themes. What stood out to you as a reader?

For me, one of the more interesting devices authors can use (and one I try to play with in my own writing) is how our understanding of what came before changes upon the revelation of new information. For example, if you’ve read the Harry Potter books, the character Severus Snape seems categorically cruel to Harry…until you find out he loved Lily, and every thing he ever did was done in memory of Harry’s mother. That was such a profound revelation, it just blew my mind and changed how I read Snape’s character and everything he had done before.

Lowry does this to me with the notion of color. When I first began reading the book, I had a vague sense of a colorless world, though she never says the world is in black-and-white. But then we discover what those flashes are that Jonas sees: it’s the color red! And suddenly I realized that the world had seemed colorless in my head because Lowry had never used color as any descriptor of the world. Like Jonas, the reader is unaware that the world lacks color until confronted with the first mention of color, and suddenly we realize what we’d been missing this whole time.

Another part I love in this section is how Lowry develops the conflict in all kinds of ways. She does not just content herself with revealing conflict in angry thoughts or discussions between Jonas and The Giver. Conflict is manifest in the memories Jonas asks to receive: memories of pain, loneliness, and grief. It is manifest in how he acts towards others as well: arguments with his friend Asher, awkwardness with Fiona, physically hurting his sister. It spirals out in a myriad of complex ways.

And I love how she uses paradox (like how being the Receiver is both honor and burden) to create poignant moments. For example, when Jonas decides to soothe Gabriel by giving him the memory of a sail. It is an act of sweetness and kindness, and altogether dangerous at the same time.

What themes or plot devices did you notice?

*     *     *

We’re getting towards the end here! For this week, let’s read chapters 15-19. Let’s continue our focus on plot, but also pay some attention to character development and growth. (Of course, if you do notice other writing devices that strike you as useful and informative, please do feel free to share!)

So, as you read, maybe think about:

* What does Lowry do to continue escalating the conflict?

* How is Jonas changing? What personal growth does he experience? Do other characters change as well?

These questions might seem a little “no, duh,” as they are a bit easy to point out as readers. But they can be among the more difficult concepts to activate as writers. It’s a trick and a talent to keep conflict and tension unflagging, to raise new and bigger conflicts as older, smaller ones are resolved. And sometimes, we can forget that personal growth and change in the main character (and even secondary characters) is a point of central importance in books. Your characters MUST change because of their experiences. The question is: how do you orchestrate this change and reveal it in a fashion that seems natural and not clunky or contrived? It’s not so easy as it looks.

And one final thing to note. Do you remember how we had a Point of No Return in the beginning of the book, where Jonas is inevitably sucked into conflict and cannot go back to life as before? This Point of No Return marks the end of Act I. If we split this plot into three acts, Act II is the one we’ve just been reading, where conflict thickens and we see the deeper development of important themes. Well guess what? There is another Point of No Return! This one marks the end of Act II and catapults us into the denouement.

So: what is the new Point of No Return?

Thanks for joining in! Have a great weekend!


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