Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

Classic! I'm so excited that I get to review this one.  I'm a huge fan of dystopian YA fiction, but at the time this one came out, it was a pretty unexplored topic for this age group (but hat tip to A Wrinkle in Time for some of the concepts, I'm sure).  One of the things I really loved about reading this when I was younger was that it was so fresh.  Now that I've read so much dystopian sci-fi, I know exactly where I'm supposed to feel foreboding and get suspicious of the established culture.  But you weren't really handed books like that when I was a teenager, and they certainly weren't recommended reading in schools.  And Lowry does a fabulous job of telling her own creepy story, and then making you look for creepiness where it doesn't exist, and sympathize with those who feel like the creepiness serves a necessary social good, and then get mad at yourself.  But I digress.  Here's your plot summary.

Jonas lives a happy life in a very regulated community.  There are many regulations that everyone is expected to abide by, and willingness to admit mistakes (and receive forgiveness) are pretty much the norm.  Each person's life is very laid out, and everyone's career and spouse and even children (bred elsewhere) are carefully selected for them.  Each year from 1-12, everyone born in a certain calendar year advances (at one age, every child receives jackets which button in the back, to teach interdependence; at another, haircuts to show maturity, at 9, everyone receives their bicycle).  But Jonas is 12, and 12 is the last year for ceremonies.  After having been carefully observed, each 12 will be given their assignment.  After the ceremony, they will leave friends behind and dedicate themselves to studying for and learning to be successful in their assigned careers, and will cease to mark age after that time.

Jonas can see that some of his classmates will be easy to assign, based on where they've most enjoyed spending their (mandatory) volunteer hours.  But Jonas doesn't feel any sort of inclination.  He's always been successful in school, but doesn't see himself as having any exceptional talents or skills.  At the ceremony, Jonas watches in panic as his classmates are called forward to receive their folder of instructions and their assignment, but he is skipped until the very end.  The Elders announce that he has not been assigned to a career, but rather, he has been selected to be the community's next Receiver.  None of his peers, nor Jonas, have any idea what the position is or what it entails, but Jonas is nonetheless relieved to find out that he hasn't disappointed his parents with an infraction so large that he would instead be Released from society and sent Elsewhere (the worst consequence for those who don't conform, or voluntary in the case of the ill or elderly).

Upon returning home that evening, Jonas eagerly opens his folder to find that he has only a single sheet of instructions, the most interesting of which are: "From this moment you are exempted from rules governing rudeness.  You may ask any question of any citizen and you will receive answers."  "Do not discuss your training with any other member of the community, including parents and Elders." "You may lie."  Jonas is stunned.  He's certain he won't need to take advantage of these exemptions from common courtesy.

As he begins his lessons with the former Receiver (now the Giver), whom he will eventually replace, he begins to learn more about how his society is constructed and why.  The Receiver's role is to hold the collective memory of humanity, so that he can advise the Elders when a change in the accepted order is proposed.  When the Giver passes memories on to Jonas, initially they're pleasant (such as a ride on a sailboat, the feel of sunshine, or the experience of sledding in snow).  Jonas is excited by these new experiences.  The community lives in a state of Sameness- level roads, climate control, absence of color and music, in order for everything to function as smoothly as possible, and these experiences are like highs for him.  But the Giver eventually shares unpleasant ones as well- wars, starvation, and neglect.  Jonas begins to realize that the Receiver's task is also an immensely burdensome one, and the more he learns, the more he finds he can't relate to the people he lives among.  He's frustrated that these memories really belong to everyone, but they've lived such a shallow existence that they wouldn't be able to bear them.  He needs to do something to improve society, but with all his knowledge, he just doesn't know how.

And I'm not spoiling the ending, so go get a copy!

I hadn't planned on reading this one for the blog; I had seen that Lowry had just published a fourth book intended to wrap up the The Giver/Gathering Blue/Messenger series and I thought I was high time I get myself caught up.  How nice to see a Newbery Medal on the cover!  If these last two entries seem somewhat quick to you, it's because we lost power for a while so I had lots of time to read (hey, I can't be expected to clean the bathroom if there's not enough light, right?)


  1. Now that I've read the next two in the "series," I'm rather disappointed. I don't think that the worlds in "The Giver" and "Gathering Blue" should ever have touched because they're meant to be in two completely different fictional universes. At least in my mind; it's the author's world and she can do what she wants, I guess.

  2. Alright, I've finished "Son". It did a decent job tying the worlds together, but I still don't think they were meant to touch. That said, I'd rather the final book brought us back to the community because I want to know how they are! How did they deal with the loss of several people? What happened to their carefully-arranged society when all of the memories were released? I want to hear THAT story!