Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Publication Date: April 26, 1993
Publisher: Laurel-Leaf Books
Pages: 179
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In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community's Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

The Giver is set in a future society which is at first presented as a utopia and gradually appears more and more dystopic, so could therefore be considered anti-utopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. Jonas' society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to "Sameness", a plan which has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of "Receiver of Memory," the person who stores all the memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. As Jonas receives the memories from his predecessor—the "Giver"—he discovers how shallow his community's life has become.

My brother has been trying to get me to read The Giver for years. It's one of his favorite series and I've heard him talk about it over and over but, for some reason, just never got around to picking it up. If I had to guess, it's probably because it's a classic and I don't usually love those.

I should preface this review by saying that I saw the movie first. I know, I know. But I did. The movie was actually pretty good! I really did enjoy it... until I started reading message boards and realizing how different it was from the source material. That is why I decided to finally read it and I'm really glad I did!

The Giver is definitely a heck of a lot different than the movie that was recently released. Honestly, I did enjoy some of the changes in the film and I can totally understand why they were made. I really am not sure if the book could have been translated exactly to screen. But I digress.

The book opens with Jonas as he prepares to get his assignment - his job, essentially. Much is revealed about the workings within the community he lives in. There is a huge focus on precision of language, sameness, and honesty, to name a few. It quickly becomes very obvious that this is a community run by very strict guidelines that are never -not- met. Jonas, however, is a questioner. Though he feels guilty, he doesn't do everything exactly the right way and sometimes sees strange things. This starts to make sense to Jonas once he is given the assignment of Receiver of Memory.

The previous Receiver (now the Giver) explains a great many things to Jonas through memories. Jonas learns of how things were before the world became the way it is. He learns about colors and pain and love. But these things that previous Receivers were content (or not) with are not enough for Jonas. He always wants to know more and asks all the why's.

I greatly enjoyed the characters in this book, although they were obviously very strange. I liked Jonas a lot simply because he was not content with what he was being told and he wasn't content with the way the world had become. The Receiver, though sometimes gruff, had the feeling of a grandfather who was concerned and wanted his grandson to have (know) everything. Fiona and Asher were also interesting characters, though I would have liked to have known more about them.

The story of the Giver is very imaginative. It made me laugh at times and it also made me cringe at a few moments (okay, more than a few). The only downside for me was that I didn't feel like I knew enough. Like Jonas, I wanted to know more! And this book left me with more questions than answers. I guess that the remaining books share a little more about what may have happened, but I feel like The Giver itself was abruptly ended and needed more explanation.

Back to the film, I liked the touches of romance that were only very briefly hinted at in the book, though I did like how the book explained more about how romance within the community worked. I also felt like the book did a better job with their assignments since Asher's especially seemed a little ridiculous in the movie. And while the movie's landscapes seemed a little far-fetched, I did like that it was better realized, while the book left pretty much everything completely to the imagination. Overall, I liked both the book and the movie for different reasons and I'd definitely recommend both!