Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall

It's on a rare occasion that you'll hear the movie was better than the book, but this is one of those situations. I saw the movie and was so touched by it, that I decided to read the book, expecting it to be even more wonderful but ended up so disappointed, I almost didn't finish the book.

The premise of the story is that Jason Stevens will receive the "ultimate gift" from his billionaire uncle if he completes a series of twelve tasks, one per month. If he successfully completes these tasks, he'll get the gifts. If, for some reason, he fails to learn the lesson his uncle has for him, he'll be denied the gift. All of these tasks are gifts in and of themselves, such as the gift of work, love, giving, etc. They are all meant to help Jason appreciate life and to grow into a better person. He starts off a spoiled snob who has had life handed to him and fails to see the beauty in the simple things and takes most things in life for granted. As the story progresses, Jason grows into a person his uncle would be proud of.

Okay, here's the problem: I didn't see Jason turn into a better person. Yes, the transformation does take place, but I didn't see it happen. This book is a great example of telling versus showing. The novel is written in a first person narration. One would think that if the main character is Jason, the novel would be written from his point of view, right? WRONG! This novel is written from the eyes of the lawyer who is making sure Jason completes these tasks. So each chapter starts off the the introduction of the task and a moving explanation of why the uncle wants him to learn this. Then a month passes and we hear Jason's report of what happened. We do not see what happened, we just hear about it. To me it felt like it was just Jason saying all of the right words to complete the task. Let me give you one example: The first task if the learn value of work. Jason is sent to work on a farm building a fence. His trip starts with a rude awakening when he's told to schlep his own bags and sit in the back of the truck. Then he's woken begrudgingly before the sun is up and left to work, placing fence posts until he's told to stop. Next thing you know, four weeks have past and he's the best worker there is, but you have no idea how he became that way. This is also a great example of how the movie does a better job. It's the same situation where he has to build a fence. The first time around, he does a half job, no effort, just to get it done. The owner comes by and Jason watches as the fence falls apart. Once he's told to do it again, he learns that if you put a little time and effort into a task, then your hard work could last a lifetime. In the movie, shown through Jason's eyes, you went on the journey with him and transformed right along with him, seeing every struggle and setback. In the book, I wasn't convinced that the disrespecting privileged snob that he started as would suddenly do the acts and become the man at the end of the book. He was the type of person to play someone to get what he wanted but the book would like to convince me that he had changed. Also, he seems to change after the very first task with only faint reminders of the old Jason. It's like a miraculous transformation while the movie showed the old Jason holding on and repeatedly resurfacing, which seems more realistic. The book just handed you the end result which did nothing to move or convince me.

This book has a great message but it falls flat on the delivery. If it just showed Jason transforming, rather than just having him reiterate what happened, it would be a marvelously moving book. All I can say after reading this book is skip it and rent the movie, you'll walk away with so much more.

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