Review Revisited: Lois Lowry – The Giver
Read By: Ron Rifkin
Length: 4h 48min (192 pages)
Genre: Mid-grade dystopian fiction
Originally Read: 18 November 2006
Re-read finished: 05 July 2014
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? It was my book club’s pick this month (in anticipation of the upcoming movie, I suspect).
Living with all the
memories is much worse when
you’re the only one.
Summary: Jonas is looking forward to becoming a Twelve – it’s when he gets his assignment within the Community, and can begin training to take on adult responsibility. He’s not sure what his assignment will be – he doesn’t think he’d be good at being a Nurturer who cares for the Community’s infants, like his father, or any of the other jobs. But during the ceremony, when he is assigned to be the Receiver for the community, he is shocked. It’s not a position he knows much about – there is only ever one Receiver, and the last one died several years previously. His training begins with the Giver, and he soon learns that his job is perhaps the most important one in the Community – he must receive and store all of the memories of the time before, memories that are inaccessible to everyone but him and the Giver, so that the Community can function in peace.
Original Review: I’m not a big devotee of dystopian fiction, but this book was mostly an enjoyable young-adult entry into the genre. Lowry’s world is well-crafted – lots of attention to small details, no gaping plot holes as to why the world wouldn’t work. However, there’s a lack of explanation as to “how things came to be this way”; how and why the Receiver was created in the first place is the major missing piece of the puzzle. I was also disappointed in the ending; I was expecting for Jonas to change the dominant order of things in a different (and more dramatic) way than he actually did. We also don’t get to see any of the fallout in the community itself, and the ending for Jonas is so ambiguous as to be almost nonsensical. So, the book is intriguing and enjoyable up to the point where the crisis comes, and it goes fairly swiftly downhill from there.
Thoughts on a Re-Read: Okay, so, I get that we are living in a post-Hunger Games world, and that I am judging this from a cynical adult perspective, a cynical-adult-who-has-read-her-fair-share-and-then-some-of-dystopian-fiction perspective. I get that had I read this when it was published, I would have been square in the target audience, and it probably would have blown my little 12-year-old mind. (Point the First: What the hell, junior high librarians? Why *didn’t* I read this when I was twelve? I’d read the hell out of Number the Stars. Falling down on the job, tsk tsk.) (Point the Second: Maybe it would have blown my mind. But maybe not. I’d like to think I was fairly savvy (which is a nicer way of saying cynical) even as a junior high schooler, and would have twigged to the fact that Release when it’s all capitalized like that is maybe not quite what it seems before it was revealed.) But regardless, my primary response to reading it as an adult (and to re-reading it as an adult) was: “Well, this is obviously written for kids… and not kids who have read much (any?) other dystopian fiction.”
Everything I complained about in my original review is still true – the current worldbuilding is good, but the history-building is frustratingly nonexistent. There’s no discussion of how or why we got from our world to that world, how it was decided that memories were the problem and sameness was the solution, how the memories were stripped from everyone, how they’re transmitted from one person to another, why only Jonas can learn to see colors, why whoever’s in charge hasn’t worked out the basic genetics to eliminate variants like red hair or light eyes, what happens when the memories get released back into the community, and why distance matters, etc. Furthermore, what I see as the most interesting piece of the story after “why are things like this” – namely, “what happens next?” – is also missing. I get that Jonas is the focus of the story, and that it’s short, and a kids’ book, but it kind of felt like sticking with Jonas when he leaves was the easier authorial choice, rather than having to decide what did happen back in the village.
I also continue to take issue with the ending. I’m actually a little more okay with ambiguity than I was, where the reader is left to decide if it is all real or imaginary, although if it is real that’s just too coincidental and sappy to be believable, which is why I was leaning towards imaginary. BUT, I have since also read the sequels (not the newest one that just came out, but Gathering Blue and The Messenger), and they strip away that ambiguity, and say that it was real, which makes the whole thing feel really damn trite, even for a mid-grade audience. 3 out of 5 stars.
Also: Hello, eight-years-ago me! “Goes downhill from there”, hah! I see what you did there. Nice to know that my fondness for terrible puns has stayed intact.
First Line: It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.
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