"II felt an unusual assurance as I spoke to him. He had seen me show the gift of our lineage, and heard me spoken of as a potential bridegroom. It didn't surprise me when he said I could ride the colt, without reminding me to keep him from shying at cattle and to walk him after I let him run, as he would have reminded me when I was a boy of thirteen, instead of a man of thirteen."
Author: Urusla K. Le Guin
Publisher: Harcourt Books
Plot Summary: Gifts is a story woven from tales and memories, revolving around a boy named Orrec and a girl named Gry, who are both gifted with the powers of their bloodline. Orrec can unmake things with his eyes and his will, unraveling knots or destroying entire hilltops. Gry can listen and talk to animals and summon them to her side. The plot wanders from Orrec, who is blindfolded, and Gry talking to Emmon, a well-bred and well-traveled man who ridicules the Upland villagers and witch-like abilities. Orrec, the narrator, begins by reminiscing about his favorite stories, including how his father Canoc, the leader of the village, met his mother, and that of his ancestor Blind Caddard. The story then goes back in time to before Orrec's Gift materialized itself, before he lived with a blindfold, and how Orrec's father worried if his power would ever run true, due to his mother's Lowlander blood. When Orrec's power finally manifests itself by killing a dog, he is terrified of using it again without controlling it. Orrec and his father decide to blindfold him, which leads to the villagers fearing his power. Orrec's blindness becomes a weapon that frightens even the neighboring leader Drum, who can cause people to wither and die. Soon, Orrec and Gry come to realize the depths of their power and what it means to have a gift.
Critical Evaluation: While the pacing of Gifts may not be for all teens, the story it tells within the fables and Orrec's recollected thoughts are easily for teen readers to relate. Orrec as narrator is weak in the beginning of the story as it begins within the middle of the plot. After the reminiscing is past, Orrec's uncertainty regarding his powers and his adolescent feelings is synonymous with adolescence itself. Orrec does not know how to control his Gift of unmaking no matter how much his father wills it and instead shies away from trying to control it and locks it away. The power he gains from his blindfolding is helpful for his father but takes away his gift of sight, allowing him to see the world and his own feelings, such as for Gry, clearer. The dialog within Gifts is more formal than most teen literature but contains all the lyrical and distinct word use that links it to the highland culture that is mentioned otherwise in physical descriptions and world creation.
Reader's Annotation: With the unstable power to unmake things, a young boy called Orrec decides to wear a blindfold rather than risk harming another living being. It is only through his friendship and love with Gry, a girl who can communicate with animals, that he realizes the truth behind his Gift and himself.
Information About the Author: Born in Berkley, California, Ursula K. Le Guin is a famous fantasy author who reigns among Tolkien and the other literary greats. Having published twenty-one novels and almost as many of other literary formats, Le Guin continues to spin breathtaking tales of wonder and realism.
Le Guin's most famous series is Earthsea, of which millions of copies have been sold and a movie adaptation created. Read more about Le Guin at her website.
Curriculum Ties N/A
- Rather than risk harming his loved ones, the young Orrec decides to wear a blindfold, taking away his eyes and his Gift of unmaking. It is only through his best friend and love interest Gry, who can communicate with animals, that he realizes the truth behind his Gift, the truth behind his family and the neighboring rulers, and the truth behind his feelings.
Reading Level: 15+
- While there is violence described in the use of the Gifts, it is written in a horrified manner and shows true repugnance towards misuse of Gifts and, simultaneously, the use of violence as torture and power.
- Orrec discovers his true self through friendship with Gry and has a strong relationship with his mother and learning, even if he is rather distant with his father after his blinding.
Why This Book?: PEN/USA Award winner
Le Guin, U. K. (2004). Gifts. Florida: Harcourt Books.