Review: The Giver

From the back cover:

Jonas’s world is perfect.  Everything is under control.  There is no war or fear or pain.  There are no choices.  Every person is assigned a role in the community.

When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver.  The Giver alone holds the memories ofthe true pain and pleasure of life.  Now it’s time for Jonas to receive the truth.   There is no going back.

This book does, in fact, hold echoes of Brave New World within it while taking on an almost different bent.  The notions of a stable society are, unfortunately, very true to form to what we might be seeing around us – homogenization required, individual differences only accepted as long as they are “certain differences” – but instead of Huxley’s soma there in place is the planning and subjugation of everyone to these plans and choices devised by the Elders.  When adolescents start having “stirrings” (feelings of lust) they are given a blue pill so they aren’t felt anymore; every action is monitored; those who don’t adhere to rules have two chances before “release” is ordered and carried out (this includes infants if they don’t develop in a certain timeline).  Life by rote.  You get up, you have a family breakfast (cooked by whoever is designated for that task), you go to school where you don’t have books, you play or have your volunteer time, dinner with the family again, people talk about their feelings, apologies are made and accepted when necessary and there is no strife.

This work takes the notion of keeping children safe to a new level and makes one seriously consider the value and necessity of conflict.  The irony of this 1994 winner of the Newberry Medal, Lowry’s The Giver consistently being a target of book bannings/challenges is not lost on me for all the reasons for things being the way they are in this world is due to the concern of people choosing wrong [spouses, careers and when to have children (one must apply for a spouse as well as a child)].  A stable society is the mandate and the sacrifices so well hidden are gone to all but The Giver and Jonas.

In a particularly poignant few passages (these all link to the same idea) we get a sense of this:

“Well,” Jonas said, looking at te floor, “I know you don’t ave he memory anymore, because you gave it to me, so maybe you won’t understand this-”

“I will.  I am left with a vague wisp of that one; and I have many other memories of families, and holidays, and happiness.  Of love.”

……….

Jonas nodded.  “I liked the feeling of love.”

When he returns at home that evening, Jonas asks his parents if they love him:

“Jonas.  You, of all people.  Precision of language, please!”

“What do you mean?” Jonas asked.  Anusement was not at all what he had anticipated.

“Your father means that you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete,” his mother explained carefully.

Jonas stared at them.  Meaningless?  He had never before felt anything as meaningful as the memory.

“And of course our community can’t function smoothly if people don’t use precise language.  You could ask, ‘Do you enjoy me?’ The answer is ‘Yes,’ ” his mother said.

“Or,” his father suggested, ” ‘Do you take pride in my accomplishments?’ And the answer is wholeheartedly ‘Yes.’ ”

“Do you understand why it’s inapropriate to use a word like ‘Love’?” Mother asked.

That same night, as Jonas is watching over the temporary resident newborn:

Gabriel’s breathing was even and deep.  Jonas liked having him there, though he felt guilty about the secret.  each night he gave memories to Gabriel: memores of boat rides and picnics in the sun; memories of soft rainfall against windowpanes; memories of dancing barefoot on a damp lawn.

“Gabe?”

The newchild stirred slightly in his sleep.  Jonas looked over at him.

“There could be love,” Jonas whispered.

I can’t advocate people picking up this book enough; adults and children alike.  The question of control and safety are vital everywhere in society, but ever so much more when considering children and how best to prepare them or not.  A world that Jonas lives in, while it has an appeal, it misses the tremendous quality of life, of each one mattering, and in the simple experience of feeling the range of emotions that make it so unique and interesting.

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8 responses to “Review: The Giver

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  • Teresa

    I admire Lois Lowry’s writing and The Giver is on my TBR and bought list. Thanks for the great review.

    T

  • laurelrainsnow

    This does give me a chill, very much like what I felt when I read Brave New World—or even The Handmaid’s Tale.

    I would definitely not relish a world like the one depicted in these books!

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Hart

    Okay, I definitely need to read this. I’ve sort of meant to for a long time, but you’ve pushed me to a DEFINITE meaning to…

  • Jillian

    All the students I tutor are coming in with papers on this book. I’m going to have to read it to be of any use. 🙂

  • Anne

    The Giver is one of my favorite books, ever. I first read it in 5th grade for school and still remember exactly how I felt – it was a mind-opening experience. I’ve re-read it a few times since then (actually about a week ago for an Adolescent Literature class), which always makes me love and appreciate it even more. I hope everyone who commented here will remember to go out and read it!

    I’ve heard that The Giver has a sequel, but that it’s not as good and that it destroys the ambiguity of the first book’s ending. I refuse to read it because I consider The Giver perfect and I don’t want anything to ruin it.

  • litlove

    Ah love. It does make life messy, doesn’t it? Michel Houellebecq’s novel, Atomised, ends with a view of genetically perfected humans who function like robots. 1984 does its level best to get rid of love. I wonder whether it’s because feelings are so intense and overwhelming and undeniable that they are often the first things to go when writers imagine new worlds? Or maybe it’s because they are the one genuine link we have to our true selves, however importunate and uncomfortable they may be. Without them, we can envisage a bold sort of freedom, if only it didn’t come at the cost of our humanity. I’d never heard of this book (and must remember its name properly – The Giver, The Giver). But I’ll look out for it now.

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