Friday, September 4, 2015

The Giver: Review

One of my reading challenges requires that we read a book that we were supposed to read in high school, but didn't. I'm afraid that I was one of those goody-two-shoes, nerdy book-lovers who read all the books I was supposed to in high school. Even when I was hating it (Moby Dick...I'm looking at you). So, instead, I chose a book that has often been assigned in the local high schools that I've never read--The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Lowry's story follows Jonas as he attends the annual Ceremony when children who are twelve (and now adults!) find out what their life's work assignment will be. His friends receive such familiar assignments as Caretaker for the Old and Assistant Director of Recreation and Instructor of Sixes. But Jonas is skipped and his assignment is saved for the very end because his assignment is out of the ordinary. He has been chosen to be the new Receiver--the Elder who holds all of the memories for the community. This is Jonas's journey--to experience every memory from the times before and the times before that and to learn the wisdom of memory which will help him guide his community. But Jonas will also discover the darker side of the community that has seemed to be so peaceful.

"The life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. The life without color, pain or past."

The Giver presents what at first seems to be a perfect, Utopian society. There is no disease, no war, no poverty, no overpopulation. But it is also a society under strict regulation. The community is governed by The Elders who decide everything for the settlement--everything from names to life partners to the jobs assigned. There are strict rules for interaction with others and the worst offense seems to be rudeness--which covers such things as being late, expressing inappropriate emotion, and using imprecise language. All people look the same--no, they're not clones, but everybody has the same "color" eyes, the same "color" hair and they wear the same "color" clothes. I use quotation marks because I''m not sure you can say they have "color" in a society that has no concept of what color means. I'm not quite sure how the world of the Giver looks--but I imagine it as a world of black and white. Very bland.

Behind the perfect, safe facade, their lurks a different kind of evil, however. There is the whole concept of being released. Everyone has been taught that those who are released--whether that is the child who doesn't quite fit in or the person who repeatedly breaks the rules or the older person who no longer can be cared for...those people are sent to Elsewhere. It all sounds so gentle and innocuous. But Jonas, our hero, soon learns that being "released" isn't the pleasant journey he has always imagined. 

“The community of the Giver had achieved at such great price. A community without danger or pain. But also, a community without music, color or art. And books.” 

The Giver shows us what the possible costs of Utopia could be. It may be possible to get rid of war and conflict, pain and sorrow. But would that world be worth it if we also gave up joy and love and the power of choice? Humans may not always make the right choices--in fact, it seems like we don't quite a lot of the time, but would we really want to give up our freedoms and individuality in exchange for safety and a "perfect" world?

Since this book was published in 1993, it has been one of the most controversial books in U. S schools. The most common reason that parents want it pulled from reading lists and libraries is not language or violence or sex--it is because it is deemed "inappropriate for the age group". In other words, not suitable for children. Certainly there are concepts which might disturb certain children, but I think we are becoming a society which is inordinately afraid of allowing ourselves to face difficult subjects. Colleges--the very institutions that are supposed to produce critical thinkers--are being asked to provide "trigger warning" because (gasp!) there might be subject matter that will offend or disturb. How very appropriate that this book is about a world where everything that might offend or disturb or cause conflict has been removed from society.  I don't think I'd want to live in the world of The Giver--that's why it's important to read about what those worlds are like so we can attempt to make our world a better place.   

★★★★ for a thought-provoking read. The ending is a bit ambiguous--firming that up and a bit more character development would have earned it a full five stars.


Masanobu said...

Great review! The Giver played a big part in making me who I am today. I read it during my formative years and it opened my eyes to the complexities of society, so I can't imagine a better age to read it than middle grade. We give children less credit than they deserve!

fredamans said...

This has been on my wishlist for so long that I should be ashamed... lol... So glad it was a hit with you. I've heard nothing but positive things about it. Great review!