The Giver was one of those books everyone around me is shocked that I never read. The thing is, many of my friends, especially in the writing community, are younger than me. They forget that while they read this in school, I was already in high school when it was released, and probably in college (or nearly so) by the time it hit curriculum in my district. So it was high on my list for my 100-book challenge this year.
This is a quick read, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is a fluff piece. Far from it. The Giver is one of the first YA dystopian novels, and its influence on more recent titles is apparent almost immediately. Jonas, our main character, lives in a community that has placed Sameness as its highest value. All history, emotions, even colors have been suppressed. The Rules of the community are many, and maintain a strictly regimented society. When Jonas is selected to be the new Receiver of Memory–the sole bearer of all the history of the world before Sameness–he begins to question everything he has always taken for granted, and wonders if humankind sacrificed too much in the name of peace and civility.
What sets this aside from so many of the newer dystopian stories is that there are many things about the community that seem at first to be very good. Everyone has enough to eat. People are polite to each other. Since everyone is taught not to focus on what makes each other different, there are no bullies. Everybody rides around on bicycles from the age of 9 up, so there is no smog, no traffic congestion. But with everything that Lowry unveils about the Community, you discover one more way in which individuality is discouraged. In trying to keep everyone safe and protect them from the ugliest parts of human nature, they destroyed the most beautiful parts as well. This is a world without music, without color, where language is required to be precise not expressive.
Jonas and his mentor, the former Receiver who now calls himself the Giver since he is passing all the memories on to Jonas, both see what the world has been. They understand the cost of changing their Community. But they also see that Sameness is not always good, not always worth what has been sacrificed. The ending is deliberately vague, and in my copy which had a Q & A with the author, Lowry says she meant it to be hopeful. I’ve heard mixed things about the rest of Lowry’s books in the quartet, so I think I’ll leave them for a bit. There is so much in this one to process that I’ll probably reread it once I’m done with my 100-book year. It is well-deserved of all the praise it’s been given, and I highly recommend it.