Hello there, Bookworms!
I hope you’re all well rested after “falling back” this weekend. For those of you who don’t live in areas where Daylight Savings Time is observed, I hope you got extra sleep anyway. Sleep is wonderful.
This week I’m going to focus on The Giver by Lois Lowry. Why does one book need a whole week of attention? It doesn’t! But there are sequels! And I’ve read them all. Now you shall be subjected to my opinions on them. I know you’re excited!
The first time I “read” The Giver was in the fifth grade. I say “read” because I didn’t actually read it, the teacher read it to us a chapter at a time… Earlier this year I was craving some more dystopia (seriously, I have a problem. I only want to read about screwy alternate realities…) I decided I needed to read The Giver again since it was creeping up on 20 years since I’d heard it the first time (I’m getting old, dammit.) Number The Stars was one of my favorite books as a kid, so I figured anything Lois Lowry wrote would probably be pretty good, even from an adult perspective.
Okay, so here’s the basic premise. We’re introduced to a 12 year old boy named Jonas and we learn about his home. His community is very orderly and prescribed. There are no cars- everyone rides bicycles (how lovely for the environment!) Children work volunteer hours around town and everyone seems to be quite pleasant… It sounds pretty Thomas More Utopian, right? Then little things start to seem… wrong.
There are no animals, except the fish in the hatchery (and thanks to Kurt Cobain, we know “it’s okay to eat fish ’cause they don’t have any feelings…” What? I’ve already TOLD YOU about my grunge phase. Expect a Nirvana reference from time to time, y’all.) The children are assigned their future jobs at a special ceremony when they turn 12. Color doesn’t exist. Emotions like love seem to be non existent. Everyone is perfectly pleasant, but in being pleasant, they’re missing a lot of the best parts of being human. (This book came out way before Pleasantville was released, but I cannot help but draw comparisons. The nice but slightly off community? The lack of color? The lack of passion? The only thing The Giver is lacking is Don Knotts… May he rest in peace. He lacked the gravity to have played The Giver anyway.)
Jonas is clearly different. He seems to question things a little more than his friends do. His eye “color” is light rather than dark. While his friends seem to have clear ideas of where their future careers will lie, Jonas is only confused. I has no idea what the future has in store for him, and in such an orderly society, that’s highly unusual. During their 12 year ceremony, the powers that be SKIP OVER Jonas. That’s enough to freak everyone out. Everyone assumes it was an oversight, but oversights DON’T HAPPEN in the community. Just as the 12 year ceremony is about to conclude, the council doubles back and points out Jonas. Jonas has been chosen for a special job. He’s to apprentice with the mysterious Giver. Nobody in the community seems to know exactly what the Giver does, but they know it’s an important position. Jonas is… terrified.
As it turns out, The Giver is responsible for remembering all the bits of human history that might make the community unpleasant. Every citizen of pubescent age and older is prescribed “pills.” It’s never explained what the pills do exactly, but it seems to me that they’re a mix of sexual suppression and sedative. Actually, they seem a bit like Huxley’s soma, plus the addition of the no sex thing. There is NO SEX in the community. The babies come from “birth mothers” who are kept in a secluded area. The whole idea of the birth mothers confuses me a little… Girls chosen to become birth mothers are typically picked because they show no aptitude to do anything else. They’re taken to this dormitory type area and pampered until they’ve given birth three times. They’re then released to do manual labor. But… If this community is so flipping smart, wouldn’t it be counterproductive to use the less than brilliant girls as breeding stock? I mean, genetically speaking. I suppose they could be using donor eggs (except we learn in the 4th book that they aren’t using donor eggs.) Also, where do they get the sperm since the men are all on pills to make them have no sexual desire? None of this is probably appropriate for the age group this book was written for, so I suppose I shouldn’t dwell. But, Ms. Lowry? Could you throw a girl a bone here?
Oh man I’m rambling today. The Giver! Yes. So Jonas starts his training, and The Giver starts “giving” him memories. Some of them are nice, like colors and music. Some of them are horrifying like war and death. The community doesn’t discuss death. At a certain age all citizens are “released” to a non specific “elsewhere.” Jonas eventually learns that being “released” is a euphemism for being euthanized. Yep. Once people are pass their usefulness, they’re killed. Seedy underbelly, much? As if this wasn’t enough for a 12 year old kid to take on, his father has been bringing home a child (his dad works in the nursery) who is failing to thrive. The kid, Gabe, appears soothed by Jonas. He’s also got Jonas’s strange light colored eyes as well. After Gabe has lived with the family for a while and still failed to present himself as an untroubled citizen, it’s deemed that he will be released.
Jonas, realizing what being released means is horrified. He’s begun to see all the cracks in his seemingly perfect society and the death of Gabe solidifies his resolve. Jonas decides to LEAVE. Jonas packs up Gabe and some supplies and takes off past the limits of his community. As it turns out, whatever scientific bubble the community has used to make the weather perfectly pleasant and conducive to their lifestyle doesn’t extend forever. The book ends with Gabe and Jonas on the verge of hypothermia sledding down a snowy hill during a blizzard toward some (likely hallucinatory) lights. (As an adult, all this scene makes me think of is Orson Well muttering “Rosebud!” Citizen Kane. The weasel made me watch it. You should too.)
I got a whole heck of a lot MORE out of this book as an adult than I did as a 10-year-old. The biggest thing I remembered from when I was a kid was wondering how scientists managed to take color out of the world and being convinced that Jonas and Gabe died at the end. As you probably presumed from the fact that there are sequels to this story, that’s not exactly the case. This book is great. Sure, I have unanswered questions, but I think it’s a great story that really gets the brain juices flowing. If you like dystopias and you haven’t read this, you should. If you read it as a kid, you should read it as an adult. If you resent me for giving spoilers all over the place… I’m not really sorry. Okay, maybe a little sorry.
Have any of the bookworms out there read The Giver? What did you think? Were you even aware that there were sequels? (Because I wasn’t, until Amazon told me. I love you, Amazon!)