From the moment I started Lois Lowry’s dystopian novel The Giver, I knew that it would be one of those books that stays with you long after the final pages have been read. In some ways, the story is timeless – kids riding bicycles and playing in the yard together after school, families sharing meals and talking about their problems – but it’s not long before you realize that things are a bit off (a lot off actually). And, as you get deeper and deeper, more things come to the surface. Things that, once learned, can never be un-learned; things that have the power to change not only the lives of the two people who actually understand what is going on, but the lives of everyone in the Community as well.
The Giver tells the story of Jonas, a young boy who lives in a village, referred to as the Community, with his father, mother and sister Lily. Every afternoon he plays with his friends, among them are Asher and Fiona. Jonas and his friends are elevens, awaiting twelve, which is a very important age in the Community. When you become a twelve, your life starts to change. You are given an assignment of which, after an apprenticeship, will become your job. The assignments are given out to the new twelves in a yearly ceremony after all the younger children have already been promoted. That’s the way it works in the Community. Many of the assignments are odd, which are explained away as being part of the rules (everything is part of the rules). There are birth mothers – no one has their own children. Couples apply to the elders for children and, once approved, are given one. There are the nurturers (Jonas’ father is a nurturer), who take care of the babies (newchildren) until they are ones. They are then given names (also in the yearly ceremony) and presented to a family unit. Another assignment is to be a caretaker at the house of the old, where all the people go when they get older, before they are released from the community.
When the ceremony of the twelves takes place, Jonas is skipped. He becomes increasingly nervous, as does everyone else, who, as we later find out, go out of their way to avoid feeling discomfort (it’s part of the rules). After the last assignment is given, the chief elder turns her attention onto Jonas, calling him to the stage, explaining that he is the most honored of the new twelves; he hasn’t been assigned, he’s been selected. He’ll be the new Receiver of Memories, considered to be the highest position. The current Receiver will now become the Giver, as he is giving his memories to Jonas.
What does the position of Receiver of Memories entail? It’s not exactly what you think. Jonas receives memories of the world, memories that go “back and back and back” as far back as can be remembered. It is through Jonas’ sessions with the Giver that we come to realize just how strict the Community really is, and their policy of Sameness. The thing that struck me the most (okay, there were two things), was that there was no color. Under Sameness, color (among many other things) was eliminated. The Giver is the only one who can see color, and he passes it on to Jonas, who cannot for the life of him fathom why such a thing was taken away from them in the first place. The other thing that really got to me (and Jonas), in a scene that breaks your heart, is when Jonas finds out the truth about the Release ceremonies. It’s when he really begins to understand just how destructive the Community is.
The conclusion of The Giver did not leave me with feelings of content. I was prepared for more of a resolution, but, then I thought about it for a few minutes and realized that it was the best possible ending to the story. The Giver really is a brilliant, well-written novel, which reminds me a lot of Kazuro Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (btw, I am in love with Ishiguro’s work), which is brilliant as well. They have many differences, but at their cores, they are quiet similar. Never Let Me Go is also a dystopian novel, so, maybe I just happened to like those. I leave you with a quote!
“Always in the dream, it seemed as if there was a destination: a something – he could not grasp what – that lay beyond the place where the thickness of snow brought the shed to a stop. He was left, upon awakening, with the feeling that he wanted, even somehow needed, to reach the something that waited in the distance. The feeling that it was good. That it was welcoming. That it was significant. But he did not know how to get there.”