Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: The Giver

[Back cover blurb:] Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war of fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community.

When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now it's time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

The Giver is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a long time. Lois Lowry created a world where society has eradicated hunger, poverty, and war. There is no inequality, no conflict. And no choice.

The story is told through the eyes of young Jonas. It begins, "It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened." By the end of chapter one, I'd assumed a truth about Jonas, one he'd soon learn about himself: He is special. This was made known to him at the annual Ceremony, when he and the other "Twelves" (the Community identified its children as groups based on their age) were to receive their life assignments. The Elders brought each Twelve to the stage one at a time, and Jonas watched with anticipation as his friends Asher and Fiona went before him to receive their occupations. But when it was his turn, Jonas learned he has been chosen for something rare, a unique vocation bestowed on only a few in the history of the Community. This honor put him under the tutelage of The Giver, an Elder who must pass the torch of knowledge and wisdom to Jonas.

In this provacative, John Newberry Award winning novel, Lowry asks her readers to contemplate the price of utopia. If, by collective concensus, humanity organizes itself in ways that only tolerate fairness and equality, then every citizen prospers. The risk of famine disappears when overpopulation is resolved. When children are observed from birth, and their natural talents and aptitudes are recognized, they can be placed in occupations which will render them the most content, productive, and successful. But at what cost?

In the course of his training, Jonas learned hard truths about freedom and choice. Justice and injustice became blurred, subjective, and confused to his new way of thinking. Rules didn't look the same to him anymore. As I followed Jonas in his journey of awareness, I began to see my own world through new eyes.

One of my favorite moments in this book (the following is not a spoiler) was when Jonas realizes there is color in the world. The Sameness his society had adapted, and which he had always known, relied, in part, on the absence of color. This concept made me think about what we classify as paranormal. There are documented cases of people who possess the ability to read minds, travel along astral plains, move objects without touching them. Yet the overwhelming majority of our society disbelieves these possibilities. Most grow up being told paranormal experiences aren't real. They don't exist. Perhaps, like Jonas, we only have to believe those things are possible to bring them into our sphere of reality. The first time Jonas glimpses color reminded me of the first time I saw an aura. I was overwhelmed with emotion, in part because I could finally confirm auras do exist, and partly because I realized I'd always been able to perceive auras, I just didn't know what it was I was seeing.

The ending of The Giver is as debatable as the questions raised throughout the book. In fact, I was inspired by the last chapter of this book to write yesterday's blog post about story endings. Lowry doesn't hand her readers the story's conclusion wrapped up with a pretty bow on top. Instead, she lets you interpret her words. My son, Cody is eleven and read The Giver before me. Yesterday, I asked him what he thought happened at the end. I won't share our conversation, except to say one of us sees the ending through the eyes of an idealist and the other through those of a realist. I don't think it matters who's right. Regardless of how you interpret the ending, Lowry uses The Giver to make a statement: Free will is synonymous with Freedom.

The Giver is book one of a triology. The other two book are:

Gathering Blue -- In this speculation on the nature of the future of human society, life in Kira's community is nasty, brutish, and, for all the ill and dis-abled, short.

Messenger -- In this novel that unites characters from "The Giver" and "Gathering Blue," Matty, a young member of a utopian community that values honesty, conceals an emerging healing power that he cannot explain or understand.

I highly recommend this book. Book clubs will love discussing it!

The Giver, Copyright 1993 by Lois Lowry
Published by Dell Laurel-Leaf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books
ISBN: 0-440-23768-8