It’s Monday, and here’s what I’m reading: November 12th., 2012

Monday YA Round Up
It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts

It’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe 

    Perhaps it was just coincidence, or perhaps it was by some  invisible design, but the two books I had set aside to read last week (the week hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast and brought screeching winds and darkness to our New Jersey suburb) were both perfect to read by candlelight to the music of rain and wind.  

     First, I had completed reading Lois Lowry’s  The Giver, Gathering Blue and Messenger so that I was ready to begin the last of the cycle: Son.  Here, Jonas’ story comes full cycle in the most satisfying, perfectly conceived way.  The power of that character, Jonas, and the story of The Giver itself, is quite remarkable.  I had first read it with my oldest daughter when she was in fourth grade, and then we read it every year as a book club selection in my sixth grade classroom – so the book is one I know deeply. Even so, I pick it up with the same joy and anticipation every time, and love being immersed in Jonas’ quest to discover truth and then find a way to fulfill it.  
     Son is the story of Claire, selected by the community to be a Birthmother.  The story, told in three parts,  begins with Claire’s struggle to give birth to the child; blindfolded and in terrible pain, she knows that something has gone wrong and that both the child and she have fallen short of the community’s expectations – their standards of perfection.  Transferred to the fish Hatchery after her “failure,” Claire finds herself drawn to her child – to hold it, to care for it, and to love it.  Whatever she feels, she knows, is contrary to everything her community has taught her to think and believe to be true.  But Claire’s own faith in her instincts leads her to believe in this love, to know that it is good.  At first, she finds an ally in her son’s caretaker, but then the boy’s “failure to thrive” puts him in danger of being “released.”  Just as Claire is seeking desperately for some way to rescue her son, he vanishes from the community – spirited away by a boy by the name of Jonas, a Receiver, just like his namesake from so many years ago.  Claire’s own escape from the community and her quest to find her son takes forms parts two and three of Son.
     Beautifully written, with sections that are suspenseful and intense, I found myself completely enveloped in this book – it was as powerful a reading experience as The Giver.  And, like the first book, this one had me thinking about society and rules and conformity as well.  Without giving away the ending, I can  say that Son ended exactly as I’d hoped – the resolution was unexpected, brilliant, and completely satisfying.   
I know that my kids will feel the same way abut Son.  Like The Giver, they will feel that it is a book they can think about talk about and even feel changed by.  In fact, this is what Lowry herself seems to think, as evidenced by this interview in which she says:

 Early on I came to realize something, and it came from the mail I received from kids. That is, kids at that pivotal age, 12, 13 or 14, they’re still deeply affected by what they read, some are changed by what they read, books can change the way they feel about the world in general… I think writing for kids is profoundly important.

Here is Lowry again, on the subject of books, writing, and her Giver quartet:

The second “storm  book”  I read was Karen Hesse’s newest, Safekeeping:

The jacket copy for this book reads:

Radley’s parents had warned her that all hell would break loose if the American People’s Party took power. And now, with the president assassinated and the government cracking down on citizens, the news is filled with images of vigilante groups, frenzied looting, and police raids. It seems as if all hell has broken loose.

Coming back from volunteering abroad, Radley just wants to get home to Vermont, and the comfort and safety of her parents. Travel restrictions and delays are worse than ever, and by the time Radley’s plane lands in New Hampshire, she’s been traveling for over twenty-four hours. Exhausted, she heads outside to find her parents—who always come, day or night, no matter when or where she lands—aren’t there.

Her cell phone is dead, her credit cards are worthless, and she doesn’t have the proper travel papers to cross state lines. Out of money and options, Radley starts walking. . . .

Illustrated with 50 of her own haunting and beautiful photographs, this is a vision of a future America that only Karen Hesse could write: real, gripping, and deeply personal.

“Haunting” and “beautiful” are two perfect ways to describe Safekeeping.  The new America Radley finds herself  journeying through, is disturbingly familiar, and the premise of the story is not entirely far fetched.  In the opening chapter, Radley waits for her parents at the airport, and surveys the scene:

Everywhere I look there are  uniformed patrols.  Their steely scrutiny unnerves me.
An eerie quiet fills the terminal.  The only sound is the nearly muted commentary on FOX news.  Everyone stares at the screes, watching the same clips of vigilante groups wandering like packs of dogs, frenzied looters racing through electronics stores, round shouldered police interviewing shocked bystanders.
My fellow travelers sit or stand, staring, mesmerized by the images. No one speaks.  

It is this new America that Radley must journey through, from Bedford through the border to Canada, where she can safely hide and wait until it is safe to return home.  Along the way, she befriends another displaced soul, Celia, who she must protect and find a way  to heal.  Hesse punctuates each chapter with arresting black and white photographs which allow a visual history of Radley’s journey – we see where she is physically even as we understand what she is going through emotionally.  I loved this aspect of the story, it made Safekeeping an even more powerful reading experience.
I am not sure this dystopian novel is one that most of  my sixth graders will be ready for, but I know of a handful who will love it….and I know that a number of my ex-students in the grades above will be lining up to  get their hands on my copy of the book as well.


7 thoughts on “It’s Monday, and here’s what I’m reading: November 12th., 2012

  1. Hi Tara, I can't wait to read Son, but must read a few others first, although I did purchase it. Safekeeping sounds wonderful & reminds me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I hope it's not that bleak, however. Leave to to Hesse to add the photographs. What a wonderful idea. Again, I'm so glad you & yours are okay, & that reading was a pleasure by candlelight.

  2. I am so thankful for your post and I am thrilled that you had two perfect books to read. I thought of you often as I watched the news and so many old oaks that had fallen. I am glad you're okay! Thanks for your comments on my blog – always love when our paths cross.

  3. Oh these are all such lovely lovely books Tara from authors that I love with all my heart. I think you already know that our website's name came from Lowry's second installment in The Giver series, 'Gathering Blue' so the books do hold a very very special place in my heart. I haven't seen a copy of Son yet here in our library but I shall hunt it down, until I get my hands on it. Karen Hesse has been a favorite ever since I read Out of the Dust. It was also such a thrill to see her being given an award during the Children's Lit conference in Simmons College in Boston this June. She has a gentle quiet air about her. I am assuming that this is one of her newer books. Will also look for it.

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