The Giver by Lois Lowry (WOW!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The Giver
“What if we could hold up things that were bright red, or bright yellow, and he could choose. Instead of the Sameness.”

“He might make wrong choices.”

“Oh.” Jonas was silent for a minute. “Oh, I see what you mean. It wouldn’t matter for a newchild’s toy. But later it does matter, doesn’t it? We don’t dare to let people make choices of their own.”

“Not safe?” The Giver suggested.

“Definitely not safe,” Jonas said with certainty. “What if they were allowed to choose their own mate? And chose wrong?"

“Or what if,” he went on, almost laughing at the absurdity, “they chose their own jobs?”

In Jonas' utopian world, adult males and females are matched to be a couple based on their traits so that their dispositions balance out. If their 'marriage' works out for three years, then they can apply to bring home a child. There are separate birthing females who deliver children, and these children are sent to be cared for by couples who have applied for a child. Each couple can have only two children - one male and one female. In December, there is a two-day ceremony during which each child between the ages of one and twelve celebrates the milestone of completing another year. Depending on their age, a child is given a bicycle, assigned volunteer hours, gets his/her hair cut, or given a life career. Jonas himself is approaching twelve years of age, the age at which he will be assigned his career, and he is feeling apprehensive about it. What if they assign him a career that doesn't fit him? But then, the committee gives him the highest honor of being the Receiver - the one person who receives all the memories of the past (including all the horrible things that happened - hunger, pain and war, and the good things like color, snow, happiness and love) from the previous Receiver (who is now the Giver). Except, now Jonas feels strange about the life that he took for granted thus far.

This past weekend, I drove to my friends' place in Raleigh, which is just a little less than 3 hours from my home. As I always do on those drives, I popped in a Newbery Medal winner in my car CD player and settled in to listen to the one book I was most reluctant to read, for reasons I don't remember any more. But as the narrator started reading the first few passages, I was hooked. For the first time since I started listening to audiobooks (or rather the second time - Dracula would have the honor of first place), I began to find ways to lengthen my drive, especially on my return - driving through tiny towns en route or taking unnecessary pit stops. Just as Kira-Kira (another Newbery Medal winner) wowed me, The Giver also had me intrigued from the first page.

Lois Lowry creates a very utopian world in The Giver - a world where the concept of "Sameness" has been adopted. In this world, everyone is same - they have the same skin tones, same hair color, same eye color and have their decisions made for them by a higher authority. Since there are no differences to exploit, there are no competitions. It's easy to see the appeal of such a world, where you get your perfect career, where there is no bigotry or racism since everyone has the same basic physical attributes, where the old are taken care of in a housing by professional people whose job is to do that, where couples move in with other childless couples once their own (assigned) children move on to their careers, where rudeness, bragging, and wrong use of language are all punishable offences. For someone who has tasted freedom (people like us), we can immediately spot the failings of such a community - while it may be a great idea never to have to worry about your career, the fact that people don't have freedom of choice would be a huge put off for us. But, for people like Jonas and his parents and friends, who have not known any other world, the idea of choosing one's own career is a hugely laughable and impossible idea.

I loved this book! I've been a huge fan of dystopia for many reasons, but mostly because I stop taking things for granted when I come across great dystopian literature. While most of the worlds explored in such books will probably never come to pass, they explore ideas that are ostensibly the solutions to today's problems or ideas that are extreme versions of the troubles of the world. The Giver envisions a world where no one starves, everyone has equal opportunity, there is no pain and there are no bad feelings between people. Accidents don't happen, and everyone lives to a ripe old age. But to make a utopia, there would always be some sacrifices - to lock up all the badness in the world, the people were forced to also lock up the goodness as well. The people don't feel pain, but they also don't feel happiness and love, and family isn't a concept that's understood at all. There was a scene where Jonas experiences the memory of Christmas, and I was terribly moved by that moment, realizing that Jonas and his people don't celebrate life and living. All these good and bad memories had to be held somewhere - that is the Receiver's (Jonas) job. Ultimately, we begin to see that there can never be a utopia without an accompanying dystopia - a yin for a yang, heads for tails. Even for a book like The Giver, targeted to an audience far younger than me, I was hugely impressed by the depth of this novel, by the questions it raises, by how it makes the reader actually think about the consequences of wishing for utopia.

Although this book is slim and a fast read, Lois Lowry gives a well-etched description of Jonas' world. There were some aspects that weren't explained all too well, but they didn't bother me. The ending of the book was very ambiguous, but I don't want to give it away. It was an ending that's fitting in so many ways, and I could see two possible interpretations - one somewhat dismal, the other very optimistic, but however I chose to see it, the message is a happy one and I liked how the author left it to the reader to decide what could have actually happened. As I understand it, the question is resolved in the third book - Messenger, which makes me eager to go grab the next books right away from the library.

And there's a lot more about this book I want to keep talking about, but then I'll find it hard to stop. I was thrilled to discover that this book has two more sequels and there's a fourth book coming out next year. Mostly I loved how it becomes obvious that you cannot live in a world in any way than how we live in ours - would you rather live in a perfect world with no wars, hunger and famine but no happiness, sadness, family or love; or would you live in the world as we know it with all the horrible evil but with the ability to have feelings, appropriate or not.

I borrowed this book from my library.

39 comments:

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.... said...

OMG I love this book too. Marvelous! So glad you enjoyed it.

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I've avoided this book for some unknown reason too.  It sounds like I need to get hold of the audio!

Helen Murdoch said...

Don't you just love it when you discover that a book you've put off is amazing? Your review has reminded me how good the Giver is and that it would be a good one for my daughter to read once she's finished Catching Fire!

Coffee & a BookChick said...

I love a good audiobook, and this one sounds like one I'll enjoy. Taking the longer way home is always a good sign :)

occasionallyzen said...

What a wonderful, well considered review- long thought I ought to read it but never did, and reading your review, realize how little I really knew about it. Sounds very thought-provoking - I imagine it would lead to some wonderful discussions especially for young people- thinking my daughter would like it.  - Jennifer, Books Personally 

Jill Broderick said...

I loved this too!  I find that the Newbery is a pretty good indicator of really good books!

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I haven't read this one yet. I have a copy sitting, waiting for me. You review as me sold, I need to read it asap!

zibilee said...

This is a book that my daughter loves, and I really want to read as well. It's so hard to get this kind of story right, but it sounds like Lowry really gets to the heart of the difficult matters and really makes her readers think and feel. I need to read this book! Your review was wonderful and smart, and I totally loved it. Thanks for sharing it today.

Lenasledgeblog.com said...

I have always wanted to read this book. I am puzzled though, how does the married couple copulate without creating a child of their own, is their birth control. Just wondering.

Great review, enjoyed as always.

nomadreader said...

I read this one a few years ago and loved it too. I don't read much children's fiction anymore, but I love the idea of the shorter books on audio (a format I often struggle with.) Perhaps you will inspire me to return to Newbery reading!

Stephanie said...

I read this one countless times as a child and loved it.  It has been a few years since I read it, so it deserves a reread.  It was the first dystopian book I ever read and I would still claim it as the best.

Genevieve said...

Great book review.  I read this book years ago and I happy to hear that there are sequels.  I can't wait to read them.

Giving Reading said...

Adding this to my wishlist now! I have to read this :) Great review :)

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I;ve read it for the first time last year and unfortunately wasn't completely in  love with it, I just liked it. have the feeling I would have appreciated it more if I'd read it when I was a kid. 

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! I was surprised to love it so much!

Athira / Aths said...

You should! I was really worried about this book initially, but I was surprised when I ended up loving it so much!

Athira / Aths said...

I was so glad that this book was amazing! I have no idea why I had reservations initially, but it was a wonderful experience listening to it. I hope your daughter loves it too!

Athira / Aths said...

Exactly! When I'm driving, after an hour or two on the road, I'm usually anxious to get home asap. But this time, I was just taking all kinds of detours. 

Athira / Aths said...

I agree that there are a lot of discussions that this book can raise. It's best for kids who are beginning to come out of their safe cocoons and appreciate that there are bad things in the world. I remember wishing for a perfect world at that age - this book would be a great way to show why that's not an option. If you ever get a chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it!

Athira / Aths said...

So far, I've enjoyed the few Newbery Medal winners that I've read. I have a bad track record with all other youth and YA titles. So I'm glad to find that I can happily take a Newbery and read or listen to it without worry!

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! I hope you get to read it soon.

Athira / Aths said...

I think Lowry did a fabulous job with this kind of story. It's not just a compelling story but even one with non-preachy messages. I hope you really get to check this book out! It's a very quick read. 

Athira / Aths said...

The married couple doesn't copulate. (I don't think they even have sex, there are pills taken to suppress those feelings.) Other women whose job is to do so, get pregnant (How? That is never mentioned). And the kids they give birth to are sent to married couples for looking after.

Athira / Aths said...

I don't like audio books much either, so I like the idea of listening to short books on audio. Besides, I rarely read youth fiction, because they rarely work for me, but I seem to do well with Newbery medal winners. I hope you try more of these Newbery books! There are some awesome books in there!

Athira / Aths said...

I'm so glad that you love this book so much! It's definitely one that I could reread. 

Athira / Aths said...

I was also excited to hear that there are sequels! I can't wait to read them!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it! :)

Athira / Aths said...

I think if I had read the book instead of listening to audio, I may not have loved it so much. Youth and YA books rarely work for me, because I feel I'm too old for them so I never read their print copies. Instead I listen to them on audio and that helps cover up some of the cheesy and eww moments. 

Meg @ write meg! said...

 This is one of those books that everyone in the world seemed to read in school, but somehow I missed out! Enjoyed your review and, as I'm getting more into dystopian fiction as an adult, think I could really appreciate this one.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you enjoy it! I somehow missed reading this one too during my school years, so I'm glad that it was a surprisingly wonderful book!

Danielle said...

I first heard about this after reading Matched, and lots of people said this was better - I'd never heard of it, one of those books everyone seems to know but me :-) Great review, you've convinced me to read it.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you get a chance to read it! I wasn't expecting to love it at all, but it was just amazing! 

Vasilly said...

I'm so glad that you loved The Giver. I read it as a kid and enjoyed it so much. I still own a copy of it for the time when my kids are old enough to read it. 

Athira / Aths said...

I was surprised to love it so much, but I did! It was a fabulous read! 

Alexander Thornade said...

Great review! I`m reading this for sure!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! I hope you like it!

Samantha 1020 said...

I've read this book a couple of times and each time I find something new.  It is an amazing read and one that I can't wait to read and discuss with my children when they are older.  I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed it so much!

Athira / Aths said...

I think I would love to reread it too. The ending was especially multifaceted. There were so many ways you could imagine it ended! 

hates reading the third said...

eww books