Books That Changed How You Saw Fiction

This is in response to a post from John Wiswell’s blog. I knew this was going to be too long for a comment.

I read The Giver for the first time in 6th grade. I got it from the library. At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of science fiction or fantasy. I read a few, but mostly I looked for mysteries, ghost stories, horror, historicals and classics. In fact, for a while in 6th grade, I read only award-winning and classic children’s books. And by award-winning, I mean books that won the Newbery award.

That’s because at the tender age of 11, I was frustrated by too many books and decided I needed a better way to find good books than randomly browsing the library shelves.

In retrospect this practice feels a bit snobbish. 😉  But it was how I discovered The Giver by Lois Lowry. The Giver won the Newbery Award in 1994.

The Giver isn’t the first science fiction book I read. But it’s probably the third or fourth. I remember finishing it and thinking: it needs a better ending. On the other hand, it is probably the first dystopian book I ever read.

The ending of The Giver did not satisfy me. I wanted to know: what happens to the boy now? Did he just leave? How could he care for a small child? How will he live? What happens to the village?

I may have written an alternate ending to The Giver. Something about the boy and small child living by themselves in the woods, like in My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (another Newbery award winner book). 😉

Years later, in high school, I remembered the book and took it out again. By this time, I was writing my own stories and trying to figure out why they sucked.

This time I positively amazed at the way Lois Lowry showed how the characters only saw in black and white. One character sees a red apple and can’t figure out what the color red is. How Lois shows that, how she ends it and hints at frostbite, I was just blown away. It did a lot to clarify the whole show-not-tell thing for me.

I don’t know much The Giver did for my growth as a reader, but it helped me grow as a writer. I’ve read the subsequent books, Gathering Blue and Messenger, but they aren’t as magical to me as The Giver.