When I was in elementary and middle school I was the level reader snob that competed in an annual competition called “Battle of the Books.” For thos unfamiliar, BoB as we affectionately called it, was a competition where students had the entire school year to read a list of 20 or so books, or as many of them as they could. Then they would compete in a team against other schools in their district by answering questions that always began with “In which book…” Three points if you could correctly identify which of the 20 books and the author the questioned event came from. Two points if you only got the title correct or answered the question after the first team didn’t give the right answer. The team with the highest cumulative total of points at the end of the day wins. It’s basically a wet dream for library rats who have a penchant for trivia.
Battle of the Books is responsible for me discovering many of my childhood favorite books, some of which are sitting on the book shelf next to me because I couldn’t bear to part with them even during a 3,000 mile move away from my parents’ house. Ella Enchanted, Lily’s Crossing, Trumpet of the Swan all top the list. And then there was The Giver. The Giver is a book by Lois Lowry (Number the Stars) set in the future when humans have created a way to eliminate suffering by basically suppressing all basic human emotion. People are assigned their role in the Community when they are 12 years old and are to accept it without question. When Tobias is assigned to be the Receiver of Memory he learns the truth about human history and how to feel – and it begins to make him question things in the Community. Soon his probing begins to unravel the very fabric of the existence he’s known his entire life.
I was in 4th grade when it was first put on the list. It’s insane now to think about reading that book at 9 years old considering how it grapples with death, sex and that bit at the end (spoiler alert) about forced abortions. I read it again in middle school when my ability to comprehend the underlying messages of the book was a little more advanced. I re-purchased it recently when I heard they were turning it into a film. The trailer for that film premiered today:
The Giver’s message is more opaque though. It’s hidden in the memories that Tobias receives from his mentor. The fact that the first half of the film isn’t shot in black and white and then transitions to color as Tobias learns more about the Community’s shared history is a big red flag. That’s a huge part of the novel – that being emotionless may lead to a more colorful life but also a grey one. As Tobias starts to fill in the colors, that’s also how he begins to find the truth. The trailer seems to focus more on the adventure aspect of the book – which is really only the last couple of chapters. Can you really show Eric from True Blood killing babies to a young adult audience and maintain a PG-13 rating? Are you going to be able to do it in a way the depravity of this way of life despite it being founded in the name of human preservation? Despite my high hopes with actors like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep backing this, the fact there’s an alien like space ship chasing Tobias to close out the trailer doesn’t make me that optimistic anymore. (Did I mention that Taylor Swift is making a cameo in this movie? Yeah, that’s a thing.) It seems to me that film companies were just trying to cash in on the Young Adult angst craze making crazy tons of money at the box office these days at the sake of great literary works of art.
The movie junkie in me is hoping that they do it right. The cautious book nerd is saying don’t take any chances – read the book first.