Thursday, April 12, 2012

ReView of The Giver: Jonas, the Receiver of Memory

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Young Adult / Science Fiction / Dystopia (179 pg)
Delacorte Books for Young readers
Newbery Medal Award Winner 1994

Before there was The Hunger Games, or the world of new Young Adult genre selections we often see today with beautiful and appealing covers that enthralls our imagination and tends to our emotions, there was The Giver.  It has been a book of its own caliber.  One that tends to the human spirit and intellect with a sophisticated approach to society and the individual.  If you read this book in childhood, it will stay with you for the rest of your life.  If you read this book in adulthood, it will blow your whole view of life wide open.

As one of the Newbery Medal Award winners for the most oustanding contribution to children's literature, the author deserves some mention.  Lois Lowry is absolutely one of those writers of simple genius, a seemingly effortless genius.  This is what she says about the book (from Random House Website).

"I will say that the whole concept of memory is one that interests me a great deal.  I'm not sure why that is, but I've always been fascinated by the thought of what memory is and what it does and how it works and what we learn from it.  And so I think probably that interest of my own and that particular subject was the origin, one of many, of The Giver."

A seemingly utopian society for the purpose of the greater good.  Every year is significantly structured to promote the appropriate and standardized growth of each child.  At the age of twelve, all children are given their 'adult' places/careers/duties in society.  They are taught that questioning and having existential wonderings are 'stirrings,' and should be treated by the use of pills.  Their lives are built around the concept of conformation.  Conform or be 'appealed.' Mostly everything becomes an automatic and possibly even meaningless gesture.

This book is about Jonas's journey through this society.  All events in the book matter, and every page is significant to the transformation of the story.  At twelve, Jonas is chosen with the responsibility of being the new Receiver of Memory.  How does one bear the burden of memory of the whole human experience?  The agony of war.  Disease. Loss and pain.  Even the heights of human existence: human acheivement, freedom, music, color, and the power of love.   He, alone, keeps these memories on behalf of his community.  He isn't to share them with a single person.  The reason being that no-one, supposedly, wants to experience the whole range of human emotion.  Additionally, this limitation on the society as a whole means that if people cannot remember things then they cannot remember the pain that comes with life as well, holding people in ignorant bliss.

The ending felt much like being vaguely abandoned.  There is a sense of ambiguity about the ending when you get to it.  The Giver is the first in the series of three books, the second being Gathering Blue and the third being The Messenger. Just with any series, the placement of such a vague ending probably is meant to lead us into the next books in the series for us to find out more.  Here is a word from the author about the end, for she knows best why that was accomplished in that way. It will probably put things into perspective for you, the reader, as to how to approach the end the way Lois Lowry might have intended it.

"Many kids want a more specific ending to The Giver. Some write, or ask me when they see me, to spell it out exactly.  And I don't do that.  And the reason is because The Giver is many things to many different people.  People bring to it their own complicated sense of beliefs and hopes and dreams and fears and all of that.  So I don't want to put my own feelings into it, my own beliefs, and ruin that for people who create their own endings in their minds."

I have my own personal relationship to this book, and it has become a strong part of me.  It has made its mark on me.  It's truly one of those books you have to read in your lifetime.  I absolutely loved it.  I will be coming back to it throughout life, it's just one of those timeless books for both children and adults.

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