Jan 8, 2010

Nostalgic Friday: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Welcome back to Nostalgic Friday! Since I love all things historical (culturally, physically, and personally) I do a post on Fridays honoring some awesome book that is a bit older. Many of them are books I enjoyed in my teens and others are books that I discovered as an adult that I think are relevant to YA readers.

This week I am featuring the literary classic The Giver by Lois Lowry. While it is an often challenged book, I found it no more controversial than many of the other dystopian reads I've enjoyed.

Jonas is a lucky little boy. He lives in a perfect society that is crime-free and well-mannered. Everyone is conditioned from birth to follow the rules and obey the orders that are set forth by the council of elders. Every December the whole community convenes for a ceremony that advances everyone one year. Each child moves forward in their life, receiving new responsibilities or new items each year.

This year Jonas is turning twelve and it's a big year. At twelve, everyone receives their permanent job assignment and begin training for that job. While many of his friends receive jobs like "Assistant Director of Recreation" and "Caretaker" Jonas is skipped over during the ceremony. At the end, the Chief Elder announces that Jonas has been chosen for a very, very special job. He will become the community's new "Receiver of Memory." All the knowledge of the outside world and the truth about his own existence will be given solely to Jonas to bear alone until it is time for him to beginning training a new receiver.

Thus begins the end. Jonas starts to learn about the truth of life. While other children received mountains of paperwork describing their jobs, Jonas got one piece of paper stating that:
  1. He is exempt from rules governing rudeness
  2. He is not allowed to discuss his training.
  3. He is not allowed to share his dreams anymore
  4. He cannot apply for medication unless it is for an illness unrelated to his training
  5. He cannot apply for release
  6. He is allowed to lie.
As Jonas starts to receive information from "The Giver" he beings to understand...everything. There are rules for conduct to prevent conflict and war (which was devastating in the past), there was medication to suppress emotions and feelings (to make the population more controlled), and the wonderful "release" ceremony that happens to the old or children who fail to thrive is really just lethal injections timed for optimum population maintenance.

As a result of all Jonas learns, he decides he must escape. He must do everything he can to make it out of the community with whoever he can. But will anyone believe him, help him, or stop him?

This book was absolutely incredible! I now understand why people have looked at me like was insane for years when I said I had not read this book. For such a short book (only 192 pages) it was jam packed with information and ideas. The idea that a perfect society can be created by suppressing the free will that makes us human is preposterous! Eventually something will break down and it will go awry. In this community's case, the thought that one person can house all the world's knowledge that is withheld from the people is just insane. Not to mention the pain that it causes that person. They cannot share their burden, they cannot shirk their responsibility, and they have to bear it so that everyone else can lead a hunky-dory life.

Jonas was a fascinating character to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him move through his twelfth year as he came to understand the truth of his world. Not only had the truth been kept from him, but everyone in his entire life was perpetuating the lies. Observing Jonas as a specimen in a science experiment was engrossing because each little nugget of knowledge burrowed deeper into his subconscious until it was absorbed.

The Giver was also an interesting person of note due to his particular role. He not only had the unfortunate job of housing all the knowledge, but he also knew that he had to pass it along. While is was a lot of good things to be passed along, there were horrors that he hated to bestow upon anyone. His duty was to pass all the memories he possessed to Jonas without driving him off. A tough task indeed and it came with a miraculous outcome.

A true piece of literary mastery, The Giver is probably now situated in the mid-range of the best books I have ever read. If you like books like The Hunger Games and Candor, then this is right up your alley.


swiggett said...

I remember reading this a few times in school. Perhaps it was my introduction to dystopian literature. Either way, this is a genre that I continue to find fascinating. Thanks for the reminder!

Jessica said...

I just read this in the past two years, but it is SO good. I love it.

Lauren said...

I love dystopia, and this is a classic. I'm really glad you enjoyed it!