Break on Through to the Other Side, or On Finishing a Sad Book

For a long time now, our house has been the site of Abandoned Book Syndrome (ABS, if you're feeling compelled to create acronyms, as I am) because let's face it: sometimes things get a little too intense. It started with Little Women, when Diana would read all the way up to when Beth died, then stop, put it down, and begin it again. Many, many times. As far as I knew, she never did make it all the way through, and it's just not her type of book anymore.

I've wondered, sure, if I should discourage ABS. These are, after all, fictional worlds. There must be something to be said for being able to push through troubling things to see what's on the other side. It's not a pretty world, kids, but if you start something by God you should finish it! For some reason or other!

But then I think, who the hell wants someone messing in that most joyously private of all worlds, reading a book? So what if they have a different way of reading things? So what if they are (that dread word) sensitive? I'm too chicken to watch many television programs all the way through. That's not a character flaw, is it? Or if it is, it's not a terrible character flaw, right? RIGHT?

Then came this next book, which I, as usual, found in a box on the street on the way to the grocery store. But hey, it had a Newberry Medal! How freaky could it be?


Um, plenty freaky.

Now here's where you might take a moment to wonder how I, a putative children's book blogger, can never have heard of this book which is clearly a big major deal. Answer: I have no freaking idea how I have missed this. But here's what I can tell you: it's good. It's crazy. It's…intense.

It deals with (and may God and everyone forgive me for this next phrase) what it means to be human. It makes the reader think about how we deal with feelings, even painful ones. Is the pain of life compensated for by its pleasures? What does it mean to be an individual, to love someone, to care for one another, to fit in? What is right?

A few days after I brought it home, I found Diana with it on the couch. She'd tossed it onto the coffee table, and I thought I recognized the telltale symptoms of ABS. I hadn't read it at that point. I looked over at it. "Any good?"

"Yeah. It's sad."

"Yeah? How sad?"

"There's this part where they let a baby die because he's one of a pair of twins, and they don't let there be twins."

"Wow." We both looked at the book, lying there on the table.

"It was really upsetting," she said.

"So you stopped reading it, huh."

"No," she looked over at me, surprised. "I just finished it. It's just sad, that's all."

And there it was. That weird thing of being a parent, where you know you're in a situation that by its nature is constantly changing, and not just that but is finite. But then all of sudden things change, or they end, and it still shocks you somehow. And you're living with someone you sort of know, but don't really know at all, someone totally different. And you still don't know how it's going to turn out. But these changes? They are amazing.

8 thoughts on “Break on Through to the Other Side, or On Finishing a Sad Book

  1. If you’ve not looked into it, there are 2 more books by Lois Lowry in the same vein as The Giver. One is called The Messenger; the other is called Gossamer. Like The Giver, they have that weird sci-fi futuristic yet somehow primitive vibe, but the societies they describe are slightly different. They have some tenuous relation to each other (eg, the main character Jonas from the Giver is an adult secondary character in one of them), but you can read them in any order without any confusion. I really enjoyed all 3. Lois Lowry has some other interesting stuff, too, but these 3 were most compelling to me.


  2. Love these books! That part with the baby is quite possibly the most horrifying thing I’ve ever read, and I read a lot of horror.
    We’re reading Secret Garden right now and it’s fascinating to me because we tried not that long ago and I didn’t even get through the first chapter when she made me stop because it was too intense. Now, she starts asking to go to bed early because she’s so anxious to hear the next part.


  3. It was on the freshman reading list when I taught in your neck of the woods, so I read it then. It would have been up my alley when I was 12, I think. Funny, though. I had to look up the book to remember it, even though I knew I’d read it. Guess it didn’t impact the adult me as it would have the kid.
    It’s fascinating the changes the kids go through. They are likely gradual things, but ones we don’t/can’t notice until one day we see the leap, and then we know they’ve passed another milestone.


  4. The “sort-of-but-not-really” sequel to The Giver is called Gathering Blue, if you’re interested. I think it’s not quite as good as The Giver, but you do find out what happens to the characters from The Giver.


  5. Oh, I LOVED The Giver. I had no idea of the sequel or the other books though. I can’t wait to read them too. And, I agree. It is a freaky book, but one that inspires such great discussion. I just started A Wrinkle in Time with my oldest. I am over the moon to have a good excuse to read it again. She is acting just as excited, but I think she is a bit nervous. She asked me if it was scary and I said yes, in some parts. She is not so good with scary. I really can’t imagine her reading The Giver…it truly is a milestone.


  6. What’s weird is I have no real idea when this milestone was reached. Maybe it doesn’t happen all the time, maybe it does. She reads crazy scary books all the time, but they’re not so emotional–more horror. This feels different.


  7. I’d love to hear what Dianna thinks happened at the end of the book–it’s a little open ended, and there’s room (a little) for believing there is a more positive future past the end of the book. Keep us updated!


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