July 27, 2012

The Giver

THE GIVER by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
GENRE: Science Fiction - Dystopic
HONORS: Newbery Award

REVIEW: Jonas lives in a community ruled by "Sameness". People are assigned jobs and spouses, they apply to have children (a maximum of one boy and one girl, dispensed when the "new child" is 1 year old). It is a society that doesn't know war or pain or hunger, but they also cannot love. There is no collective memory. All of the community's memories reside in The Receiver, a person of great honor, and Jonas is selected to replace him. As the old Receiver becomes The Giver, passing memories of joy and pain into the boy, Jonas faces the painful isolation of awareness. He alone knows about colors and snow and war and love. Ultimately, Jonas must decide whether to stay in a community that becomes increasingly horrific in his eyes, or to risk the wilds "Els subtle ewhere"for a chance at an honest life. With a masterful, light touch, Lowry constructs a world that grows increasingly unsettling over course of this short book, dispensing knowledge more through implication than stated fact. Jonas journey of awareness is painful and inevitable, and the choice he ultimately makes is the perfect criticism of a society based on rigid homogeneity.

OPINION: The Giver is a subtly overwhelming book. Lowry blends the tender (the naming ceremony) with the creepy ("comfort objects"; the "Releasing Room") to paint a picture of life in a society that, though safe, is hardly a life at all. Jonah is a brave protagonist who grows rapidly over the course of the book, gaining wisdom through the memories The Giver transfers to him. As a meditation on societal control, "sameness", the importance of shared history and the nature of love, The Giver is, quite possibly, the perfect adolescent novel. It most certainly contains a perfect dystopia, if such a thing could exist.

IDEAS: Used in middle school and junior high English classes everywhere, The Giver is made to be discussed, with serious themes and issues woven carefully through its straightforward narrative. A great suggestion for tween fans of dystopic fiction and science fiction, it's also a wonderful introduction for young people not yet familiar with the genre.

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