Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I liked the feeling of love. Of course,” [Jonas] added quickly, “I do understand that it wouldn't work very well. And that it's much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.”


Spoilers.


One thing I enjoy about reading Young Adult books is their relative lack of complexity. Strong YA fiction generally has one or two themes and communicates them simply and clearly, sometimes eliciting a stronger visceral reaction than some more complex but less immediate works. That's how The Giver was for me.


The Giver is the story of Jonas, an eleven-year-old boy living in a perfect community. In this community, no one is ever sad, sick, or hurting. Everyone is always well-fed, and no one ever dies. Unwanted children and the elderly are “released” in a beautiful ceremony that almost no one ever gets to see.


On their twelfth birthdays, children in the community are assigned positions within the hierarchy. There are birthers, caretakers, speakers, and so on. Jonas, however, is assigned to a special position, that of Receiver. The job of the receiver is to receive memories, feelings, and experiences from the past and keep them inside himself to protect the others in the community from the pain and unpleasantness they might bring. These experiences are given to Jonas by the previous Receiver, or the Giver from the title. As more and more experiences are revealed to Jonas, he begins to see the dark underbelly of his society, particularly “Release,” which is revealed to be a code word for involuntary infantacide and euthanasia.


In his excellent review, Christopher noted that the problem with dystopian societies is that most of them do not represent realities in which any normal person would wish to live. He includes in his assessment the society in The Giver, but I'm not so sure I agree. Without politicizing this commentary, I'd simply note that the ideas of euthanization for the elderly and infanticide for the unwanted child are not unheard of, and a society in desparate pursuit of happiness at any cost might well adopt similar (albiet less extreme methods of dealing with unpleasant realities.


Anyway, regardless of your view of the society it projects, The Giver is an impactful book, full of powerful scenes that work even when you can see them coming, such as the revelation that Rosemary, a failed Receiver who chose to euthanize herself rather than live with the knowledge she had received, is the current Giver's daughter. Also, the depiction of Jonas's father cheerily euthanizing an unwanted child while Jonas watches is chilling.


As it stands, The Giver is a solid dystopian story with a strong human aspect. It's also a really quick read and well worth the hour it'll take to get through it.

Carlton's Review of The Giver

15 comments:

Amanda said...

I loved this book. The only thing that bothered me was that it ended too fast, too sudden. I've heard the companion books (Gathering Blue and The Messenger) help with that, though.

Carlton Farmer said...

So Christopher's review is excellent, and my review is adjectiveless!?

Congrats on the first book of 2009.

Carlton Farmer said...

Never mind. I just re-read my review, and it does not warrant any adjectives.

Christopher said...

My statement wasn't about euthanization of the elderly or infanticide but with the thrust of the society in general. Would anyone really want to live in a world with no emotions or attachments? Would such a society really come about?

Nihil Novum said...

I think there's a segment of the populace who would be willing to live with the manufactured social constructs of the community. Remember, after the first generation or so, the people didn't realize they weren't truly happy. Jonas's family, for example, functioned more or less how an actual family does. I guess the real question is whether or not a community would institute that sort of society to begin with. Who knows?

Nihil Novum said...

I like this kid's take on the book:

http://www.amazon.com/review/RB0DMMZ1RPQL1/ref=cm_cr_pr_cmt?%5Fencoding=UTF8&ASIN=0440237688&nodeID=#wasThisHelpful

Christopher said...

That's what I'm saying.

Christopher said...

Also, I would totally give that kid an A. Look at the way he uses textual evidence.

d gypsy! said...

too fast an ending...

Nihil Novum said...

I saw a bunch of complaints about the ending on Amazon, but I'm not sure why. After Jonas escaped the community, the only important thing was whether or not he survived. I think a drawn out chase with him eluding death at every turn would have unnecessarily extended the book and diluted its themes.

Amanda said...

Oh no, when I say "ending" I don't just mean after he escapes. I just mean the timing was uneven. A big chunk of the book takes place over a very short amount of time, and then a short chunk goes through months and months of receiving memories. Granted, I wouldn't want to read about every memory he receives, but there does seem to be a little too much stuffed in there. There are a lot of questions left hanging. Lowry mentions a lot of things without elaboration. For example, Jonas decides to stop taking the pills, but he doesn't seem to have any ramifications for that. And it seems like the ramifications in a society like that might have been huge. It was the last third to a quarter of the book that I thought was too fast. It could have done with another 10-20k words.

The ending to Gathering Blue, first of the two companion books, is equally abrupt, and I've been told that The Messenger brings both stories together and helps to dispel that abruptness.

Christopher said...

I agree. I think what seems so weird about it is that The Giver totally forsakes what he's given his entire life to preserve. It seems like the whole plan is cooked up in too summary a fashion.

Amanda said...

exactly! I think Lowry's a brilliant writer, but I think there could have been more there. She takes her time opening up and setting her world, then very hastily closes the book, without tying up a lot of loose ends. I wrote a review on this book earlier this fall, here.

Nihil Novum said...

I think the Giver was convinced to abandon his post by the combination of Jonas and his daughter's death. I can see the point about timeframes though. It does cram quite a bit in the last 30 pages.

Christopher said...

It's not enough to know it, man! You gotta feel it!