You know, I’d thought that, as a kid, I’d read a lot of Lois Lowry. I didn’t recall which books specifically, but I remembered her name. A quick check on Wikipedia, however, reveals to me that before Number the Stars, I’d never read a single book by Lowry. I’d seen the Anastasia series all the time in the library, but I don’t believe I ever picked one up. How could I have gone so long without reading one of the greatest children’s literature authors of all time? Because Lowry is brilliant. I thought so after reading Number the Stars, and The Giver has confirmed it.
The Giver is a dystopian novel about a community which has converted to “sameness” in order to eliminate any form of pain. Everything in their world is meticulously organized and executed. The story is told from the point of view of Jonas, a twelve year old boy who, near the beginning, finds out that his role in the community will be the new Memory Receiver. It is a highly honored but difficult job which only one member of the community can have. Jonas meets the old Receiver, who he knows as the Giver, and begins training. This basically entails a telepathic reception of the whole of history’s memories. The Receiver’s job is to hold the memories of the world, to learn wisdom from them, and to advise the community when his/her wisdom is needed. Slowly, Jonas comes to realize what Sameness has cost people – they don’t have pain, anger, or loneliness, but they also don’t have love or joy. He has to evaluate and weigh this realization – is it worth sheering away some good in order to avoid the bad? A couple major discoveries startles Jonas into action, culminating into a very ambiguous end which I won’t give away.
I wanted to read this book slowly. To savor it. I couldn’t, however. It took hold of me and, despite my efforts, I’d finished it in two days. It is masterfully written and very powerful. About halfway through, there was a reader-reveal that was so shocking to me that I literally got chills and my heart jumped. It’s really rare for me to react physically to a book, but this was just so powerful and unexpected. The Giver definitely deserved its Newbery Medal.
There were few points I didn’t like, but I suppose I should enumerate them. They are minor, trivial, compared to the rest of the book. The year Jonas passes under the Giver’s instruction felt too quick – I didn’t realize more than a couple weeks went by, so I was surprised in that respect. And then, the end was perhaps a little too ambiguous for me. That’s not it exactly, because I like ambiguity, but…I suppose I wanted to see and know more. I felt like there were a few things Lowry could have done, instead of leaving so many loose ends and questions. I suppose this book is part of a trilogy. Perhaps questions are answered later. But it was disappointing to know so little by the end. The whole story seemed to veer off its path in the last couple chapters and careen down a hill away from itself. I thought the ending could have been tighter.
Beyond those things, though, I don’t really have any complaints. Society was beautifully mapped out, with that whole perfect-but-inherently-creepy atmosphere. Reveals were precise and powerful. The language was gorgeous. Overall, highly recommended.