Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Measuring Stick

There are certain books that I consider to be a measuring stick of the genre. The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series are my measuring sticks for children's books; THE HERO AND THE CROWN is my measuring stick for fantasy; ENDER'S GAME is my measuring stick for science fiction.

In thinking about dystopia, I realize I have two measuring stick: one for children's/YA dystopia, and one for adult dystopia.

For younger dystopia, my measure is Lois Lowry's THE GIVER. Although now a common middle school selection for required reading, THE GIVER hasn't always been this popular, despite the shiny sticker of approval on the cover.

THE GIVER is a much quieter book than I usually prefer, but it's still what I consider to be the ideal model of young dystopian literature. The government isn't a powerhouse Big Brother, but it is still controlling and selective about the information it releases to the public. The hero isn't a fighter--but he's still a rebel.

And the end of the novel is that mix of triumph and hardship: the hero wins, but the battle's not entirely over.

Any time I read dystopia, I compare it unconsciously to THE GIVER. Not so much in style and plot, but in the feeling I get when reading it. THE GIVER reminds me to question the world, and that's what I seek in dystopian lit.

In adult dystopian lit, I lean towards Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD. It, too, has a shiny sticker seal of approval, but my reason for liking THE ROAD and comparing other adult dystopia to it is the same as with THE GIVER: the end leaves triumph and battle.

[Spoilers ahead--not too spoilery, but still: highlight to read]

At the end of THE ROAD, there's a scene that people tend to either love or hate, where the author describes flashing fish in a river. It's an odd little end--we still have questions about the future for the boy, and we want to know what else will happen--but here's a short page and a half about fish.

But--in my opinion--this is McCarthy's way of leaving us with hope. Just like the fire the boy and his father mention over and over, the fish (which represent all of nature) are something that's true and permanent. No matter how bleak the world is, love and hope remain in the world. The world itself is the carrier of the love and hope.

So there you have it: my measuring sticks for dystopia. What are yours?

29 comments:

Jen said...

I think The Giver was the perfect selection. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I'm glad to see it's receiving the attention it should be.

I am learning a lot with your posts this week Beth thank you!

Alesa Warcan said...

Hmm... This was interesting post.

Wow, I'd be hard pressed to pick one, as it would depend on the kind of dystopia I'd be trying for...

Here are a couple obvious ones:
Make room make room, Brave new world, the chrysalids, Philip K Dick, 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Battle royale...

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I'm ashamed to say I haven't read either. But thanks to your suggestions I will add them to my TBR list.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I'd have to agree with both choices. THE GIVER came out when I was in college (I think? At least that was when I discovered it). I was in awe.

Just read THE ROAD a few months ago. Painful but thankfully redeeming. And it's Cormac, so the language had to be stunning.

I also love FARHENHEIT 451. I re-read it last year, and it still held all the magic it did in middle school.

Alesa Warcan said...

@Caroline: Ooh yeah! Fahrenheit 451! Excellent call!

salarsenッ said...

I like your measuring stick, Beth. I'm learning a ton. Thanks for passing on your experiences.
Sheri~

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I haven't read The Giver! But I have to say - I did read the The Road and it was a little depressing for me. I almost gave up half way, didn't want to walk through any more gray and lifeless landscape with ash. Brilliant writing though.
I'd have to say the Hunger Games really did it for me. Turned me on to Dystopian

Crystal Cook said...

I'm a mom to a little boy, and the Road was a very emotional read for me. For everyone I'm sure. But I absolutely loved it. The power of hope and the strength of the emotion between father and son are what shines through. Even amid the depressing landscape and depravity of the remaining citizens. It's all about hope, and love. It's my all time favorite book.

Cat said...

Sorry to contradict. I didn't like "The Road" at all - but that might have been due to translation. I didn't even get to the end before I gave it away. Maybe, I'll give the English original a try some day.

Jess (The Cozy Reader) said...

Yes, The Giver is one of my ultimate favorite reads and is what I compare other dystopia books to.

But for adult I'd go with 1984. That book was a beast of dystopia. The Road was a bit too depressing and had a lack of hope at the end even though your explanation makes sense.

The Hunger Games is currently one of the best dystopia books I've ever read. They are brilliant.

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, I love your taste in books. The Giver is wonderful . . . disturbing . . . a must-read.

And I gave you an award over at my blog if you want it. :)

janetsumnerjohnson.blogspot.com

Dan Rose said...

1984. How could I forget? My husband doesn't read a lot of fiction but this is a title we discussed for weeks.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I would be the wife of that husband in the last comment. Yeesh. Guess I didn't sign him out first!

Falen said...

The Road is one of a very few books that i wish i hadn't read. I was so depressed when it was done.
no thanks

Yan said...

I loved The Giver. Even after 10 or so years after reading it, it still haunts me,

Sarah Skilton said...

"The Road" was beautiful. I still remember a line from the beginning about the moon, and how it looked like mother circling with a lantern searching for a lost child. (paraphrased, obviously ;)

Slamdunk said...

I am not familiar with The Giver, but it sounds like a great read.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

I LOVED The Giver. Normally, I do not love pictures of people on covers. I don't know why. Especially cartoon ones, but this one called to me last year.

I picked it up and was glued to its pages until the end. So deep. So compelling. I loved it.

You picked a good measuring stick, my dear. I haven't read The Road, but I want to now.

B. Miller said...

I totally agree with your choice of The Road. I would also say the movie Dark City has a great example of a dystopia...

I gave you an award on my blog today. Hope you get a chance to check it out!

Myrna Foster said...

I haven't read The Road, but I loved The Giver. I agree with Farhenheit 451. Would The City of Ember be dystopia? It's been quite a while since I read it, but I remember liking it.

Carolyn V. said...

I haven't read this one yet. It sounds interesting. =)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great choice. I really enjoyed this book.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think you nailed it. I love The Giver. :-)

Demon Hunter said...

I love THE ROAD. And I bought THE GIVER but haven't read it yet.

Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut was a dystopian tale that I enjoyed as a teen.

Miriam S. Forster said...

I guess I have to take back what I said before about not reading dystopian lit, since you brought up the giver.

The GIVER is my all-time favorite book. I love everything about it, the gradual worldbuilding that reveals the flaws and darkness at the heart of the society, the careful language, the emotional impact in so few words...

If I ever write one book that good in my entire life, I will die happy.

Theresa Milstein said...

The Giver is one of my favorite books. It's quiet, and as you read the book, the power of it sneaks up on you.

I'd choose Ordinary People for children and Accidental Tourist for adults because they both deal with grief and the main character's place in their families. The protagonists both have to fight to break from the roles their families have put them in. They're both quiet and sad.

Jemi Fraser said...

I love, love, love The Giver. It's one of my favourite books. I read it aloud often to the kids in my class. They always adore it. It makes them talk, makes them think. Fabulous!

I haven't been able to bring myself to read The Road yet. I've read too much about it. One of these days...

I do love some of the other picks: Farenheit, 1984...

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

The Giver is a standout, whether it's for children or adults. It's simply a masterpiece. I keep bringing up The Handmaid's Tale for adults, because it is superbly written and the story is unforgettable.

Karen Strong said...

I think THE GIVER is a good measuring stick for the younger audience. I remembered when I first read it and how it lingered with me.

As far as adult, the one book that still haunts me is THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER by Octavia Butler.