The summer before fourth grade I decided I was going to read as many books as I could. I made a list and read as fast as I was able. It was a contest with myself to see what I could accomplish and I was more concerned with numbers than the actual stories. But when I got to Number the Stars by Lois Lowry I stopped, read slowly, and then at the end of the book went, “Wow.”
Wow is not a word I use often when I read, so when it happens I know I’ve just encountered something significant. I decided to pick up more books by Lowry. I read her Anastasia series and A Summer to Die. Then I read Number the Stars again. After that, it was The Giver, and over the next couple years before middle school I read those two books several times.
The underlying strength of friendship in Number the Stars struck me right in the stomach and squeezed my heart. I wanted a friend who would protect me in a time of war, who would overlook my religious beliefs and risk her own life to protect mine. I didn’t know much about World War II back then, but what I did understand was friendship and bravery.
The world created in The Giver was something I had never encountered; a dystopian world was not something I had ever given any thought. In those pre-middle school years, I was beginning to have feelings, crushes on kids in my class, sudden worries about my hair or clothes, and as much as I hated every second of being a prepubescent, I couldn’t imagine taking a pill to make those feelings vanish. I couldn’t imagine living in a world without color, without choice, where history had been erased from everyone’s memory, but a world where I would somehow be complacent.
As an adult, the things I now hold most dear are my friendships – the fierce strength of these friendships, friendships that hold the same place as family – and my freedom of choice – choice of career, of children, and most importantly, of love.
Lois Lowry was able to weave these truths in simple enough language for a ten-year-old girl to understand, yet powerful enough for her to still remember twenty years later.
-Kelly Piraino Roberts