Book Review: The Giver


The Giver

by Lois Lowry

1993.

240 pages.

Series: Giver Quartet, Book 1

Genre: Young Adult, Utopian and Dystopian fiction, Sci-Fi


My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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Summary:

Life in the community where Jonas lies is idyllic.  Designated birthmothers produce new children, who are assigned to appropriate family units; one male, one female, to each.  Citizens are assigned their parents and their jobs.  No one thinks to ask any questions.  Everyone obeys.  The community is a precisely choreographed world without conflict, inequality, divorce, unemployment, injustice… or choice.

Everyone is the same.  Except for Jonas.  At the Ceremony of Twelve, the community’s twelve-year-olds eagerly accept their predetermined Life Assignments.  But Jonas is chosen for something special.  he begins instruction in his life’s work with a mysterious old man known only as The Giver.  Gradually Jonas learns that power lies in feelings.  But when his own power is put to the test— when he must try to save someone he loves— he may not be ready.  Is it too soon?  Or too late?


First Sentence:

It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.


My Thoughts:

The Giver opens up with the story’s young protagonist, Jonas, trying to find the right word to describe what he’s feeling.  As soon as I read the first sentence, I thought it sounded awkward.  Shouldn’t it read he was beginning to feel frightened, rather than be frightened?  It didn’t sound right to me.  As I read on though, I began to understand the genius behind this first sentence.  Of course, he can’t feel frightened. He has to be rather than feel because one of the main ideas of this story involves the community’s overall lack of any meaningful or true emotions.

Setting:

The community itself sounds great on the surface. A perfect utopia.  No crime, poverty, or hunger.  No inequality or injustice of any kind.  As long as everyone conforms to the communities strict set of rules and never tries to cause problems, life is perfect.

The rules of the community would make anyone living in today’s world scoff. Imagine it.

  1. You are born from a mother who you will never meet.  She is one of the designated birthing mothers, the only women who are allowed to have children. After you are born, you are assigned a number and kept in a nursery for your first year.  You’re then assigned a name and given to a couple who have applied for a child (assuming you meet the criteria for being a fit child).  If you are their second child, you must be the opposite gender of your sibling, who also came from the nursery. A family unit can never have more than two children and all are assigned.
  2. Every citizen is organized into age groups.  First year, second year, third year and so on. Individual birthdays are not celebrated.  An annual ceremony is held each year in honor of moving up in years and by your twelfth year, you receive your job assignment.  Once you hit the right age, you may apply for a spouse.  If you’re approved, you will be assigned one.
  3. No sex or affection is allowed.  Pills are taken to suppress sexual urges, as well as any other deep emotion.
  4. No cars.  Only bicycles.
  5. Speakers are everywhere, including the home. They are used for announcements and surveillance.
  6. Your meals are delivered every day on trays. You have no say so in what you eat and you are not allowed to store or prepare your own food.
  7. No toys. A comfort object (stuffed animal) is assigned to each infant until a certain year and then it is taken away so it can be reassigned.
  8. One your children are grown and start their own family units, you must go and live at a home for childless adults until you are too old to work.
  9. You are then transferred to the old folks home, where you will spend a short time before being released from the community.

On being released, it is a method used to make sure the community can function without issues.  Being released from the community happens to elders, infants who do not meet certain criteria, and of course, those who make serious mistakes or get too many violations for breaking the community rules.  From that knowledge alone, the reader gets the general idea of what being released really means, yet it doesn’t take away from the horror when the full procedure is finally revealed to Jonas.

We soon find out that this utopian community is actually a dystopian community.  It is set in the distant future when civilization, as we know it today has long ended.  This is when it starts getting weird.

For starters, there is no color in the community.  Everyone is color blind.  It’s almost like living in Pleasantville (1998 movie). It is assumed that this is due to the work of geneticists.   All knowledge of world history or any book that isn’t the Book of Rules is inaccessible to anyone, save for the Receiver.  There are no animals, save for fish from the hatchery.  How? What the hell happened to all the animals?  And by far the most absurd of it all, there is no weather and no terrain that isn’t perfectly flat!

The Reciever:

The Reciever of Memory is considered to hold the highest honor in the community, but it is a lonely existence, as well as a painful one.  The Reciever holds all memories of the past before the community was created.  The Receiver alone bears the burden of these memories and uses them to give advice to the community council when they encounter a problem they have never dealt with.

When the Reciever is too old to continue, a new receiver is chosen.  It is then the current Reciever becomes the Giver, and transfers all of the memories over to the new Reciever.  The process seems supernatural, as it is done by the Giver placing his hand on the Reciever’s back.  The whole concept seems supernatural and it makes one wonder if the old world (our world) perhaps advanced far enough into science before it was gone to make such things controllable by humans. Receivers are born with an unusual pale eye color, and we know that geneticists play a huge role in populating the community, so I can’t help but think that perhaps it isn’t so much of a supernatural gift as much as a specifically coded gene.

Characters:

The protagonist is 12 year old Jonas, who is chosen to be the communities next Reciever of Memories.  His character starts out as a typical member of the community who has the special ability to see things that others cannot at certain times.

His character is intriguing to watch as he goes from the black and white sameness of the community to seeing and feeling things that he never knew existed.

The Giver or current Reciever of Memory serves as a medium in developing Jonas’s character and revealing the reality of things, and we see through his character just how much pain comes with his occupation.

None of the other characters have any depth to them at all, which is okay in this story, because that’s sort of the whole point. Jonas himself points out just how lacking in depth they all are.

Asher is Jonas’s best friend. Sweet natured and always fumbling his words.  He is assigned the job of Recreation Manager during the ceremony of Twelve.

Fiona is also a good friend to Jonas and enjoys caring for the elderly.  She is eventually assigned the job of caring for them.

Lily is Jonas’s little sister, who spends most of the story dreaming of the day she is old enough to get a bicycle.

Jonas’s father is a caretaker at the infant nursery and his mother works at the Department of Justice.

Gabriel is an infant at the nursery that is not sleeping through the night.  When Jonas’s father finds out that Gabriel is in danger of being released, he begins bringing the baby home with him at night in hopes that a little extra nurturing might help the baby sleep as it should.

Overall:

This Giver is a hard book to put down and a great book for open discussion. Lois Lowry did an outstanding job at bringing this alternate world to life and it easily keeps the reader engaged and asking questions.  I enjoyed reading it and will probably read it again.  There are many questions that are left unanswered, and I hope that the next three books offer closure. I look forward to reading them!


Favorite quotes:

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

“If you were to be lost in the river, Jonas, your memories would not be lost with you. Memories are forever.”

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

“We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”

“If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things!”


Discussion:

  1.  What would you do if you lived your whole life as a member of the community and then one day received the memories of the past? Would you try and continue living by the rules, or would you want to change things?
  2. In the community, every person and their experiences are precisely the same. The climate is controlled, and competition has been eliminated in favor of a community in which everyone works only for the common good. What advantages might “Sameness” yield for contemporary communities? Is the loss of diversity worthwhile?
  3. Underneath the placid calm of Jonas’s society lies a very orderly and inexorable system of euthanasia, practiced on the very young who do not conform, the elderly and those whose errors threaten the stability of the community. What are the disadvantages and benefits of a community that accepts such a vision of euthanasia?

Find more discussion questions at ReadingGroupGuides.com


My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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