Thursday, September 30, 2010
It's been a while, Throwback Thursday fans! I've been meaning to do this book for a while, but hadn't gotten around to it. Lucky for me Banned Books Week is a perfect time to revisit a childhood favorite and a classic young adult book. Today we revisit The Giver by Lois Lowry, Newbery Winner and my very first dystopian book (or did I read Fahrenheit 451 first?). The first time I read this book was in the 8th grade. We were reading it in class, and like a couple other books that year (including Fahrenheit 451, actually), we didn't finish the reading in class. Well, this wouldn't do. I had to know how it ended! And so I did what any book lover would: I "borrowed" it from my classroom and brought it home with me. I brought it back, don't worry! I just wanted to finish it. Then I had to have a copy for myself, and of course bought one. So without further ado, here it is!
Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Bantam Books, 1993
Where I got it: I bought myself a copy from Barnes & Noble.
Jonas lives in a perfect world. Everyone is the same: families are assigned to each other (four in each, a mother, father, son and daughter), everyone gets the same privileges at particular ages, everyone lives in the same houses, everyone is assigned a job. There is no color. And people don't die until they are supposed to, with rare exceptions. With this "sameness" in their society, the result is a world with no emotions.
When Jonas turns 12 and he is assigned his position, he is surprised. He will be the new Receiver of Memory, a mysterious position that he doesn't know much about. He meets the old Receiver, now known as the Giver, who begins to show him the true joys, and with this comes the true pains, of life that his community has lost. He keeps these experiential memories as a burden so the others don't have to experience them. But when Jonas' father, who works at the birthing center, brings home a child named Gabriel who is taking a bit too long to develop, Jonas realizes he must make a choice, one that could condemn him and Gabriel to an unknown fate.
Lowry gives us the classic dystopia here, but disguises it in the form of a utopia. There is no pain in this world, no worries or fears. But this means there is no true joy, happiness or love. Family and love are only ideas, concepts that the people of this community know about but don't understand. Jonas is given the responsibility that no 12-year-old should have to have; being the Atlas of his community, holding each memory, good and bad, that they are no longer privileged to have, and not tell others what they are missing in life.
Despite the community having no problems or pain, there are some things clearly wrong with the society, horrifying things that Jonas finds out through the course of the book. There is no such thing as a completely perfect society, since problems and the unexpected crop up no matter how much you plan. And these problems and unexpected occurrences need to be fixed.
There is not a whole lot to say about most of the characters, since they largely have no personalities. They all have their own preferences, yes, but the needs and desires of the society are stronger and unquestioned. The only characters who are really worth taking a look at are Jonas and the Giver. Jonas is an inquisitive boy who doesn't completely bend to the will of the community like his peers, which perhaps singles him out for the job of the Receiver. He has a clear sense of right and wrong, even though he is not taught this. He is also brave in his departure from the normal, showing remarkable courage in the face of adversity and possibly death.
The Giver is a wise old man. He is the only one who knows true pain and loss, and has also felt true love and devotion. We learn of a previous Receiver who he attempted to pass on the memories to, and what happened to her. He has had his heart broken more than once by his memories and by the things he has had to endure, being the only person who truly remembers the way it once was. He gives Jonas all of the courage and support he can when it is necessary.
Again, Banned Books Week. This book has been banned many times over the years because of the society's use of euthanasia and suicide to help create this perfect community. Death is painless, but once you reach a certain age, that's it. You are done and need to be "released." Most of the elderly are happy to go, but there are some people (not necessarily elderly) who are taken unwillingly. And those banning this for these reasons are simply missing the point of the book. This is a society we clearly don't want to be a part of. Choice is taken away completely (kind of like the world book banners are trying to create—they take away our choice to read). Yes, there are attractive aspects of this society, but they are largely outweighed by the subtle horrors that are hidden from plain view. I'm also pretty sure I've read somewhere (can't remember where) that it has been banned for its positive portrayal of a communist society, which is just plain silly.