I am going back a ways here with this one. It has been in the news quite a lot lately with the new movie coming out and what not, which is one of the reasons I decided to read it. Honestly, I had forgotten about it until recently when news of the movie came out. What is funny is I can still remember when the book was first published in 1994. I was in 4th or 5th grade and everyone was talking about it. It was like the Da Vinci Code for young children, and was the first time that I can remember when a book caused an uproar. This was back in the day when I despised reading, so of course I never read it.
Lowry was born in Hawaii and is quite the accomplished children’s author. She has won almost every award associated with writing children’s books and has received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Brown University. Lowry has won Newberry Medals for both The Giver and Number the Stars. Believe it or not I have read Number the Stars, although I remember almost nothing about it other than it is about the Holocaust. We studied the Holocaust in 6th grade so everyone wanted to read that one. I did not realize until I started this book that it is part of a 4 part series, also known as The Giver Quartet. She has also written quite a few other children’s books but the two mentioned above are her most famous.
The story is a about an 11 year old boy named Jonas, who lives in a more or less utopian society in the future. It is not clear what has happened for the future of humanity to live like this, but there are numerous small towns that have little contact with one another. When the children turn 12 they are given a job to do in the town. The jobs are assigned by what the children are interested in and where they spend their free time volunteering and learning in different areas. Just an example, his father loves children and works at the nursery where mothers are appointed to give birth then are assigned to physical labor after. At the ceremony when Jonas is to be assigned his job he is undoubtedly nervous about what his new job will be. When his job is announced he is confused as he has never heard of the job of the Receiver of Memories. He has no idea what the title means and does not know what the new job entails. Soon he meets with The Giver and Jonas begins to see that his perfect little community is not what it appears. The Giver shows Jonas a whole new world of pain, joy, love, colors, and death that he had never imagined before. As always I don’t want to give away the main focus of the story.
It has been a few days since I finished reading this, and it only took me a week, so I have had a little time to let it digest. Before you tell me how smart I am the book is very short and the words on the page are big. So once you see it you will probably make fun of me that it took me that long. Anyways, I did enjoy this one. It reminded me a lot of A Brave New World by Aldus Huxley (which is one of my favorite books of all time) as there are some similar themes.
The ideas the story discuses are very cool and really make you think about society and what you experience in life. Not only that but what memories are and how they help build each individual along this journey we call life. I can easily see why this book has caused so much controversy since it was released, and why it is on so many reading lists for young adults. There is also a pretty good tale of be your own person, and it is not easy finding your way in life even when you think the path is laid down before you. So again these themes easily appeal to a younger crowd, but in the broader sense could really apply to anyone.
I did like the story overall, but there were a few things I though could have been better. The story reads at a lightening pace and you will find yourself flying though pages. Most of the time this is a good thing as you want to see what happens as the story gets more suspenseful. Other times the story kind of jumps around and I felt tries to hurry the story along, trying to make it reach an end before it needed to. The other thing I did not care for was the ending. I know there are three other books in the series, so there had to be some unanswered questions at the end of this one for people to read the next in the series. The story did a great job of building and introducing this utopian/dystopian society, setting in motion a plan to change things, and then kind of just fizzled out in the end. What I would like to know is if Lowry wrote this as a standalone book at first or planned the whole time to make a series out of this. Either way I think the ending could have been better.
Another thing that kind of bothered me and maybe I am over thinking the situation was that (Spoilers Ahead) the giving of memories meant that the Giver lost that memory as he had given it away. I don’t have a problem with that, but what I could not understand was how the Giver knew he did not have that memory anymore. I would think that upon losing a memory you no longer are even aware that you had it, or at least that is what how I interpreted it. This is sort of a philosophical paradox of having a memory then losing it, but then knowing that you lost that specific memory? So you have a memory of having a memory of a red sled?? I thought if you have a memory of the memory of the red sled, then in a roundabout way you still have the memory, basically a copy of a copy. I did not follow that logic and it started to hurt my head when I thought about it, but as I said before I started this little rant I may be over thinking that idea. Sorry if I lost you in that paragraph.
The interesting thing about this one is that despite it being famous there is a lot of negativity associated with the book. I read that there were quite a few poor reviews out there about the style and saying how the story lacked this or that or whatever. In my opinion I think this is a good read and can really get young children interested in a genre that makes them think about society and more importantly, life. To me this is a great intro into the dystopian society genre without all the overdone violence and other themes that may not be appropriate. It is a PG version of A Brave New World to me, and if a child were interested in this one I would then recommend 1984, which is another great novel just not one of my favorites, or perhaps Animal Farm.
As you know I love this genre and the themes that are introduced in this one and even the few things I did not like (ie. the losing of a memory) really got me thinking, and I think that is the most important aspect of reading anything. Usually, underlying points or ideas the author is trying to get across in a novel are often times right in front of you and easily digested. I have often felt that the most important theme is the one the individual reader takes away from the book, this may frustrate some authors as the interpretation may not be what they intended. That is what I think is the great thing about literature and movies to an extent, or any art from for that matter. Let the reader/viewer have their own interpretation and decided for themselves!
I recommend this one esp. if you are a young reader looking for an introduction into a very wonderful and thought provoking genre. It is geared toward younger readers so if you read this as an adult it may appear to be lacking in some areas, but it still has a lot to offer to readers of all ages.