The Giver by Lois Lowry

“Even trained for years as they all had been in precision of language, what words could you use which would give another the experience of sunshine?”

Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Life in the community where Jonas lives is idyllic. Designated birthmothers produce new-children, who are assigned to appropriate family units: one male, one female, to each. Citizens are assigned their partners and their jobs. No one thinks to ask questions. Everyone obeys. The community is a precisely choreographed world without conflict, inequality, divorce, unemployment, injustice… or choice. Everyone is the same. Except Jonas. At the Ceremony of Twelve, the community’s twelve-year-olds eagerly accept their predetermined life Assignments. But Jonas is chosen for something special. He begins instruction in his life’s work with a mysterious old man known only as the Giver. Gradually Jonas learns that power lies in feelings. But when his own power is put to the test – when he must try to save someone he loves – he may not be read. Is it too soon? Or too late?”

Review: This is my second time reading The Giver; the first was in a middle school literature class as required reading. I’m pretty sure this novel was my first experience with dystopian literature. In the intervening years, I’ve read many dystopian books, but The Giver still occupies it’s own special spot in my heart because it was my introduction to a genre I’ve come to love. To me and many others, The Giver remains a classic pillar of dystopian literature. That being said, The Giver has never been one of my absolute favorite novels. As evidenced by the fact that I’ve only read it twice now, it isn’t one that I’ve thought about much or felt a need to revisit. I think my primary issue with this novel is that I don’t really grow to care about any of the characters while reading it. The books that I love (and read again and again and again) are typically ones with comprehensive world building and strong characters. While The Giver does a decent job on the former, I believe it falls short on the latter. The character I felt most empathetic towards was actually Gabe, likely because of his innocence. Don’t get me a wrong, I like Jonas as a character, but my favorite Jonas moments are typically ones that include Gabe.

“Gabe?” The newchild stirred slightly in his sleep. Jonas looked over at him. “There could be love.”

I think The Giver conveys an important message and is captivating enough to make required reading fun. I hope it stays on school reading lists, but I also believe that there are other dystopian books that are more successful when it comes to creating dynamic characters.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: The Giver has faced ban significant challenges since its publication in 1993. Indeed, Lowry is no stranger to the banned book list, with the Anastasia Krupnik series also frequently challenged. While The Giver has never broken into the top ten most frequently challenged books per decade, it has achieved positions 11 (for 1990 – 1999) and 23 (for 2000 – 2009) according to the American Library Association. An article written by Ben Blatt for Slate included the following graphic, which breaks down the most frequent reasons The Giver is challenged compared to other books. The most frequent complaint – “unsuited to age group” – likely stems from the mature themes that are explored throughout The Giver, including topics like conformity and self expression.





BONUS BOOK: Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

“It’s kind of a curse, friendship.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family on their way to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg – a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena’s age. When the two girls’ lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and – in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured – a wise-cracking Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.”

Review: I spotted Egg and Spoon (a Russian take on The Prince and the Pauper) at my local library on a bookshelf full of fairy tale retellings. Given that I loved Wicked (which I read in high school) and After Alice (a more recent read), I thought Egg and Spoon would be a nice reintroduction to Gregory Maguire’s imaginative storytelling. Interestingly, Egg and Spoon is marketed as a young adult novel, but with almost 500 pages of extreme verbosity, I wonder if most young adults would actually enjoy this book. That being said, I was enthralled by this novel at the very beginning because of how whimsical and magical the story was. But once Elena and Cat switched places, the plot began to drag. If this book had been about 200 pages shorter, I think I would have been more engaged and maintained some of my initially positive feelings. In typical Maguire style, Egg and Spoon was filled with detailed descriptions,

“Around the windows, more carved trim: diamonds, lozenges of dark blue amidst others of yellow and Chinese red.”

colorful characters,

“A matryoska army, an immortal hen, a resurrected Firebird. You will think this a string of nonsense.”

and dry wit.

“Then they could be reunited. Live ever after, happily enough, not too happy – they were, after all, Russian.”

I much preferred Elena’s storyline over Cat’s, likely because I just couldn’t get on the Baba Yaga bandwagon. I appreciate the creativity it took for Maguire to craft such an eccentric character, but I spent most of the novel feeling like Baba Yaga was tiresome and overly nonsensical. I do have to commend Maguire on once again maintaining his unique style and creating another odd but often captivating book; in the end, however, Egg and Spoon wasn’t really my cup of tea. I have a few more Maguire books on my to-read list, including Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror, Mirror; I’m excited to see how those ones fit into my Maguire repertoire!




BONUS BOOK: A Game of Thrones, The Graphic Novel – Volume 1 by George R.R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, and Tommy Patterson

“My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind. And a mind needs books if it’s to keep its edge.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Graphic Novel, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Winter is coming. Such is the stern motto of House Stark, the northernmost of the fiefdoms that owe allegiance to King Robert Baratheon in far-off King’s Landing. There Eddard Stark of Winterfell rules in Robert’s name. There his family dwells in peace and comfort: his proud wife, Catelyn; his sons Robb, Brandon, and Rickon; his daughters, Sansa and Arya; and his bastard son, Jon Snow. Far to the north, behind the towering Wall, lie savage Wildlings and worse – unnatural things relegated to myth during the centuries-long summer, but proving all too real and all too deadly in the turning of the season. Yet a more immediate threat lurks to the south, where Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, has died under mysterious circumstances. Now Robert is riding north to Winterfell, bringing his queen, the lovely but cold Cersei; his son, the cruel, vainglorious Prince Joffrey; and the queen’s brothers Jaime and Tyrion of the powerful and wealthy House Lannister – the first a swordsman without equal, the second a dwarf whose stunted stature belies a brilliant mind. All are heading for Winterfell and a fateful encounter that will change the course of kingdoms. Meanwhile, across the narrow Sea, Prince Viserys, heir of the fallen House Targaryen, which once ruled all of Westeros, schemes to reclaim the throne with an army of barbarian Dothraki – whose loyalty he will purchase in the only coin left to him: his beautiful yet innocent sister, Daenerys.”

Review: I’ll admit, I am late in joining the Game of Thrones bandwagon. I’m also what one might consider a fair weather fan, as I have little interest in reading the books (based on what I’ve been told by friends who have read the novels) but enjoy the television series. I watched the first season of Game of Thrones four years ago, but largely forgot about the show until both of my current roommates convinced me to pick it up again. Given my decision, at least for the time being, to not read the books, I thought the graphic novel might be a nice compromise. Unfortunately, I was really disappointed in A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1. On the graphics side, I liked that the pictures were printed in full color but found that most of them were overly busy and cluttered. When it comes to graphic novels, I prefer a more minimalist approach.


Altogether, however, I had more of an issue with the text than the pictures. The font was extremely small and difficult to read, not to mention filled with typos. I’ve always known that Jaime Lannister’s name is spelled unconventionally (with the i before the m in Jaime) because it’s the same way we spell my brother’s name. Yet multiple times within the graphic novel, the name was misspelled as Jamie. This is just one example of significant typos I found throughout the novel. Having those errors make it into the final publication just reeks of sloppiness to me and quickly translates into a lower rating. For now, I’ll stick to experiencing Game of Thrones on the screen.




Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg


“a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills off Empire State out of the moon”

Genre: Poetry

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems was originally published by City Lights Books in the Fall of 1956. Subsequently seized by U.S. customs and the San Francisco police, it was the subject of a long court trial at which a series of poets and professors persuaded the court that the book was not obscene. Howl and Other Poems is the single most influential poetic work of the post-World War II era, with over 1,000,000 copies now in print.”

Review: My experience with (and exposure to) poetry is fairly limited, as exemplified by the fact that I’ve only reviewed one other book of poetry on this blog and it was A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein. With that in mind, I doubt I was able to fully understand everything Ginsberg wanted to convey in Howl and Other Poems, but I could certainly tell that he was talented. Howl and Other Poems contains eleven poems: “Howl”, “Footnote to Howl”, “A Supermarket in California”, “Transcription of Organ Music”, “Sunflower Sutra”, “America”, “In the Baggage Room at Greyhound”, “An Asphodel”, “Song”, “Wild Orphan”, and “In Back of the Real.” My favorites were “Howl” (of course) and “Transcription of Organ Music.” Part of the reason I find poetry frustrating to read  is that I never feel like I fully “get” what poems are about. In that sense, I chose my favorites from Howl and Other Poems based on my ability to understand what Ginsberg wanted to convey and the overall lyricality of the poem. Within “Howl”, I loved the iconic lines (“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”), but I also really appreciated other parts of the poem.

“suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark’s bleak furnished room”

“Transcription of Organ Music” was my other favorite largely due to the cadence. I oftentimes find poetry difficult to read because the phrasing feels disjointed in my head, but something about this poem was very readable.

“the closet door opened, because I used it before, it kindly stayed open waiting for me, its owner”

In the end, my three-star rating for Howl and Other Poems largely reflects my lack of exposure to (and, unfortuntely, interest in) poetry. I’ll leave the merit of this one to be debated by the experts!

Reason for Ban/Challenge: As mentioned in the Book Jacket Synopsis, Howl and Other Poems experienced almost immediate backlash after Ginsberg’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, released it to the public in 1956. The book was challenged due to perceived obscenity, given that the poems openly discuss sexuality, drug use, and other “unsavory” topics. A historic court case, in a which a conservative judge determined that Howl and Other Poems was not obscene, likely contributed to the notoriety and immortality the book would go on to gain. Today, Howl and Other Poems faces remarkably little censure compared to other novels on my banned book list.

P.S. While researching the fascinating history of Howl and Other Poems, I came across this great “Howl” animation! It’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.





BONUS BOOK: Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Doug Holgate

“It is a beautiful irony that the greatest queen we’ve ever had is the first to take off her crown.”

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Adventure, Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers’ leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity.”

Review: I really enjoyed Iko as a character in the Lunar Chronicles series because she brought some much needed levity to each of the  novels. For that reason, I was excited to hear that Meyer was creating a graphic novel featuring Iko. There was a lot to like about Wires and Nerve, including the illustrations and storytelling. I loved seeing what each of the characters was up to, especially Cinder and Cress, who were always my favorites. Unfortunately, however, I found it difficult to care about Iko’s storyline. In reading the Lunar Chronicles series, I grew accustomed to Iko being part of the Cinder-Iko team, and now that she is an autonomous character I find it hard to feel as invested. I am fairly confident that I know what Meyer will do in subsequent Wires and Nerve graphic novels, and I just can’t wrap my head around it. Wires and Nerve is a fun read, and I may have felt a bit more positively about it if I’d read it when I was going through Lunar Chronicles withdrawal a year ago. But in my opinion, this novel is not as successful or engaging as the other Lunar Chronicles books.



BONUS BOOK: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

“I can’t blame him for trying to take someone’s arm off. I mean, the man reached into his cage, and that cage was all the bear had in the world.”

Genre: Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Everyone thinks they known Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen.’ But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Since her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything. Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his own brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone. Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game – which lands them in group counseling – Libby and Jack are both angry, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

Review: Based on the book jacket synopsis, Holding Up the Universe sounded… iffy. But I wanted to give this book a try for two reasons:

1) I’ve been fascinated by face blindness (prosopagnosia) since I first learned about it in an undergraduate psychology course seven years ago, and Holding Up the Universe is the first fiction book I’ve found that has a character with prosopagnosia.

2) I’ve read Niven before, and while All the Bright Places had its flaws, it’s the first book that made me cry in a really long time.

Holding Up the Universe alternates between Jack’s and Libby’s perspectives. I expected to like Jack’s chapters more given my interest in prosopagnosia. Unfortunately, I found it very hard to believe that Jack could actually suffer from prosopagnosia without anyone, especially his family, noticing that something was wrong. I was also very frustrated with most of Jack’s subplots, including his girlfriend drama and father’s affair. None of the characters had appropriate reactions to the revelation that Jack’s dad was having an affair with one of Jack’s teachers, making the whole affair subplot feel like an afterthought that was introduced to stir up trouble and make the reader pity Jack. As it turns out, Libby Strout was hands down the best part of Holding Up the Universe. She was funny, strong, and endearing; I was rooting for her from the getgo. I vastly preferred reading her chapters and particularly liked the portrayal of her relationships with her father and friends. Whereas Jack’s subplots did little to make me care about him as a character, Libby’s were well written and actually made me feel what Niven intended.

“In the hospital, I held her hand until my grandmother came in, and my dad, and the rest of my family. All of them sweet and loving and brokenhearted, but none of them like my mom. Not even all together. They didn’t begin to add up to her.”

I actually think Holding Up the Universe would have been better without Jack; his romance with Libby felt very insta-lovey, they had no real chemistry, and he didn’t add much to the novel overall. With that in mind, Holding Up the Universe is a just okay book. But I do think a lot of young women could benefit from reading about Libby Strout.




BONUS BOOK: A Mother’s Reckoning – Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

“Life is full of suffering, and this is mine. I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born. But I believe it would not have been better for me.”

Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In a matter of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives. For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horrors? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently? These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing up her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and countless interviews with mental health experts. Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown, Charleston, and Oregon college shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.”

Review: I don’t remember what I was doing on April 20, 1999. I would have only been 7 years old, after all. In contrast, Sue Klebold remembers exactly what she was doing. She remembers waking up, saying goodbye to her son, Dylan, and going to work. She remembers getting a phone call from her incoherent husband about a shooting at Columbine High School. And she remember waiting in the driveway of her house while police officers and bomb squads searched the premises. For Klebold, and countless others, April 20, 1999 will live on in painful infamy. A Mother’s Reckoning is her attempt to share what she’s learned in the years since Dylan helped carry out one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. Much of the first half of the book is dedicated to describing Dylan’s upbringing as a beloved member of a four-person family. The events of Columbine are presented in full detail about halfway through the book, and the rest of A Mother’s Reckoning is spent trying to understand why Dylan did what he did. If Klebold’s goal is to prove to the reader that her and her husband Tom, while imperfect, were loving, affectionate, and attentive parents, then she succeeds. After reading A Mother’s Reckoning, it is clear that Dylan’s mental health issues and eventual turn to violence were largely shielded from his parents. This, as Klebold points out, is what makes Columbine so terrifying; even if someone is brought up in good circumstances, they can still make terrible choices. While captivating as a whole, I did have a few  issues with A Mother’s Reckoning. Stylistically, I felt like Klebold was quite repetitive at times. She would introduce events or stories early on, and then repeat them with slightly more detail in later chapters. This made the timeline confusing. Much of the book was dedicated to considering the role Dylan’s declining mental health played in the massacre. Given what psychologists and counselors have told Klebold, Dylan was the depressive, suicidal counterpart to Eric’s psychopathic aggression. Without each other, the Columbine massacre might have been avoided. The information on mental health is an absolutely critical component of understanding what happened, but I felt like a piece of the story was missing because Klebold didn’t really discuss how Dylan and Eric got the weapons that they used in the massacre. In my opinion, that is a really important component of what happened, and speaks to the broader gun control issues in the US. These things aside, A Mother’s Reckoning was eye-opening and impossible to put down.


As with A Stolen Life, I find it unnecessary to rate A Mother’s Reckoning. I do believe that many people would benefit from reading this book, as it dispels a lot of myths about the Columbine shooting and also emphasizes how subtle the signs of mental illness can be. This book really made me empathize with the family members of mass shooters. After all, they not only have to grapple with losing a loved one, but also with the devastating actions that that loved one took. It’s an impossible burden.