Charles Dickens, Jonathan Franzen, and most Russian authors love their words. As their word counts climb, their stories of love, struggle, and morality flourish. However, a high word count entails a high time commitment.
Whether you’re short on time or looking to make a serious dent in your reading list (or both), check out these two novels from the New SAT’s Reading List.
The Giver, Lois Lowry (180 pages)
Jonas begins his training as the next Receiver with an uneasiness of a person awaiting an isolated, painful life. Burdened with the Assignment of carrying the collective weight of humankind’s memories, Jonas apprehensively bikes to the transmitter of these memories, the Giver.
Wanting to be kind, the Giver starts Jonas off with a Christmas-card experience of sledding on a beautiful winter’s day. Jonas, unaware of even the basic concept of downhill before this memory, and, reveling in his exclusive access to snow, sleds, and runners, is excited to receive more.
“Since we’ve entered into the topic of climate,” the Giver tells Jonas, “let me give you something else.”
“The warmth spread,” Lowry’s description begins, “extending across his shoulders, up his neck, onto the side of his face. He could feel it through his clothed parts, too: a pleasant, all-over sensation; and when he licked his lips this time, the air was hot and heavy.”
“Suddenly,” Lowry continues, “he perceived the word for it: sunshine.”
“[…] it came from the sky,” Jonas states after the memory is over.
“That’s right,” the Giver answers. “Just the way it used to.”
What? Unable to resist the temptation to comb your way back to this scene from page one, you search for the surely-present concept of life-giving sunshine. But you don’t find it. Suddenly, the first half of the book seems a cracked shell, your eyes nothing more than word-readers. What else did you miss?
The Giver is an immersive reading experience. Lowry expertly blurs the line between reader and story by showing you the Community through Jonas’s lens, and in so doing, equips you with an odd bifocal of ignorance and clarity: each truth the Giver exposes Jonas to sheds a light that illuminates how much there still is to know.
Lowry counts on your assumptions of human experience to know what to exclude from her Community, introducing basic elements like weather and colors as oddities to shock you with their absence. You realize you and this dystopian-dwelling protagonist aren’t so dissimilar: ignorant, yet hungry.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (160 pages)
The love triangle at the center of Fitzgerald’s glitz-and-glam classic is remarkable in its refusal to employ the classic hero-villain dichotomy. It would be easy to assume that the two star-crossed lovers, Jay and Daisy, are the heroes, triumphing over their villain, Tom, and the societal expectations that initially separated them to give readers a marshmallow-y happily ever after.
However, Fitzgerald doesn’t resort to stagnant labels or the lack of accountability that accompanies them. Secret tea parties, broken noses, and dirty money all collide to color the beautiful and rich with the ugliness of jealousy, cowardice, and pride.
Fitzgerald dubs each member of his tragic trifecta both hero and villain with no shortage of evils preceded by good intentions. These members of 1920’s American nouveau riche are pulled out of their dream-world in a struggle to triumph in a whirling dervish only long-lost love can inspire.
What allows Daisy, Tom, and Jay an escape from the flat character’s plight provides enough ammo for endless point-counterpoints reflective of the real world. A marriage is betrayed and defended, and shirts are flung to show a wealth begotten from questionable means as Fitzgerald questions the validity of “All’s fair in love and war,” giving only conclusions as multifaceted as the characters who reach them.