"The Giver," in theaters Aug. 15, is about to become the next young adult novel to hit the big screen. It’s one of several adaptations coming out this year, and many could suggest it’s just another example of Hollywood cashing in on the hot and lucrative YA trend.
But some might argue that’s not quite the case with "The Giver."
Take, for instance, the movie’s source material. While most of the current YA blockbusters are based on new or recent releases, "The Giver" was first published 20 years ago. Let that sink in. 20 years ago, today’s teen readers weren’t even alive – which means "The Giver's"first readers are now well into adulthood, many with their own children (who may be all over "The Hunger Games" and haven’t even heard of "The Giver").
"The Giver" is hardly the latest YA book-to-screen adaptation, given the sweeping trend of the last few years. This year alone, YA movie adaptations have included "Vampire Academy," "Divergent," "The Fault in Our Stars" and the upcoming "If I Stay," "The Maze Runner" and "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1." But all of those adaptations come from books released within the last 5-10 years.
Many consider "The Giver" a classic, having grown up with the book as a staple on their bookshelves or even as part of their classroom curriculum. And yet mainstream media still seems to lump "The Giver" into the rest of the YA adaptation trend. Yes, the book is based on a young adult novel – albeit one published two decades ago. Perhaps it is the film’s hot young stars (like Brenton Thwaites and Taylor Swift). No doubt, the film’s dystopian setting is a major contributing factor – given the massive success of "The Hunger Games" and this year’s "Divergent," both set in dystopian futures.
But when Lois Lowry first wrote The Giver, dystopian YA lit was not “a thing.” She wasn’t writing to a trend, and she wasn’t trying to convey a message.
“I have no wish to insert messages into my books or to be didactic,” Lowry told The New York Times in a recent interview. “And I think, ultimately, most books fail if they try to do that […] Kids deserve the right to think that they can change the world.”
And yet many people have derived meaning from "The Giver" – and perhaps that is the real reason it still resonates with readers, and will distinguish itself from other YA adaptations on the screen. We haven’t seen yet what sort of lasting power books like "The Hunger Games" and "If I Stay" will have on today’s readers or future generations of readers. But "The Giver" already has two decades of readers under its belt.
In fact, "The Giver" resonated so much with readers that Lowry went on to write three sequels (something she never planned), the most recent of which only came out in 2012.
“I didn’t think I needed to think about it anymore, but letters continued to come reminding me that I did,” Lowry has said. “Nowadays it seems as though people sit down to write what they know is going to be a trilogy. I don’t know how they know, but it never occurred to me back when I wrote that first book.”
And though "The Giver" does have three sequels – they are more loosely-connected companion novels, than the traditional sequels today’s readers have come to expect from their YA series. So while most of today’s other YA movie adaptations are created in the hopes of launching a Harry Potter-sized franchise, "The Giver" is not quite of the same caliber. Perhaps filmmakers will look to Lowry’s other books for inspiration; but those potential films will not be the same thing as a traditional sequel, as most moviegoers have come to expect. "The Giver" is poised to become a powerful film – but not a traditional multi-billion dollar franchise, complete with action figures and sheet sets. The story is strong enough for "The Giver" to stand on its own, without tying in a McDonald’s Happy Meal prize.
From a standalone book to a quartet of loosely-connected novels, and finally to the big screen. "The Giver" has been on a long journey through readers’ lives – and it will be interesting to see how audiences react to the film, given today’s trends. But it’s important to remember: "The Giver" is not just another YA movie. It is something so much more; it is a story with history and staying power and one we will continue to devour for years to come.
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