Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Book cover of The Giver by Lois Lowry
Even though this is a middle grade-ish book, I'd never heard of it when I was a child... imagine my surprise when I log on one day and everybody is talking about what this book meant to them when they were younger and how simply brilliant is is... so naturally, due to my inherent fear of being left out, I had to find out what the fuss is with The Giver.

Plot summary: Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or 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 is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

When I first picked up The Giver I was surprised by how young it is, which was perhaps slightly unfair of me - I had read Lois Lowry's Anastasia series when I was a child so I should have had an idea of what to expect. I did get used to it reasonably quickly and could settle back and enjoy/be freaked out by the story, but it wasn't an instant thing.

While the language is simple, the content is not. Definitely not. If I'd have read this as a child, I don't think I'd have actually understood half of what it was trying to get across. It discusses the dishonour of being one of the women who have babies, why you're not allowed to see anybody naked and why men have to take a pill to suppress 'stirrings.' No prizes for guessing what that means.

I'm not surprised it was banned. To clarify, I'm not saying that it should have been (before I get a string of shouty comments) but I can see some parents being shocked at some of the implications in this book, even if the meaning passes the younger readers by. I could also pull an awful lot of socialist values out of The Giver, if I were so inclined... I'm totally not but I could without much effort, which I doubt would have impressed a whole lot of parents in the 1990s.

The world-building here is unbelievable, for such a simply written book. It's a fairly generic dystopian concept (or it is now - I believe it was fairly unique at the time) but it manages to perfectly balance interesting detail without overwhelming a younger reader in backstory.
"I felt angry because someone broke the play area rules," Lily had 
said once, making a fist with her small hand to indicate her fury. 
Her family, Jonas among them, had talked about the possible 
reasons for rule-breaking, and the need for understanding and 
patience, until Lily's fist had relaxed and her anger was gone. 

But Lily had not felt anger, Jonas realized now. Shallow 
impatience and exasperation, that was all Lily had felt. He knew 
that with certainty because now he knew what anger was. Now he 
had, in the memories, experienced injustice and cruelty, and he had 
reacted with rage that welled up so passionately inside him that the 
thought of discussing it calmly at the evening meal was 
unthinkable.

"I felt sad today," he had heard his mother say, and they had comforted her. 

But now Jonas had experienced real sadness. He had felt grief. He 
knew that there was no quick comfort for emotions like those. 

These were deeper and they did not need to be told. They were 
felt. 
The simple way it discusses incredibly difficult concepts is nothing short of astounding. We watch as Jonas slowly begins to see colour and tries to describe it to others... how exactly do you describe 'red' to a person who can't see?

It's a very anti-climactic ending though... If it took The Giver that long to come up with that solution, he's got a few screws loose somewhere. I'd actually planned to write about how great it was that the ending is open to interpretation, but Ellie has since mentioned that there are more books in the series, so never mind. I've decided not to read them though - I suspect the actual ending isn't the one I'd imagined so I'll just keep it as it is in my head!

The Giver is written very simply and it would be child's play to pick holes in the plot, but I'd definitely recommend it anyway. The amount of adult content is almost shocking (I don't think I've even mentioned the blown-off limbs or euthanized babies yet) but without the added irritation of it trying to be shocking. It's a quick read but a worthwhile one.

Read Laura's review of The Giver at Devouring Texts.

9 comments:

  1. I feel like dumb American parents would easily be like 'oh em gee this is so socialist' when, you know, it IS but it also annoyed me because I think it was trying to critique socialism and say that it wouldn't let you have feelings or independent thought or anything fun which I think is super unfair! I did still like it enough, though.

    Also you've just reminded me that I read this so I could see the film and then I just... Didn't. Hope gets it!

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    1. Really? Because if I had to take it as ANYTHING (and I'm not sure that we're not reading too much into it anyway, haha) I'd say it was pro-socialist. Like... okay, the citizens had boring lives but they didn't have pain, fear, hunger, etc. To me it made Jonas and The Giver seem like overreactionary zealots intent... maybe he's called The Giver because he wants to GIVE pain to the citizens. Otherwise he'd be the Keeper, right? :s

      Yeah, I haven't seen it either. I hadn't even realised it was out!

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  2. I think this is the first dystopian novel that I ever read (I read it for school when I was 13/14 ish) and I can remember being completely blown away by it and getting my own copy of it after we'd finished doing it in lessons. I had no idea that there were sequels until the film was about to come out and people started talking about it a lot more. I'm not sure I want to read them though, or re-read the book as I have really fond memories of it and I don't want them to be ruined!

    I think that one of the main things that the book does is make you think (at least, if you read it when you're 13/14 and maybe haven't been exposed to some of the ideas in the book before).. which I think would be a pretty good reason for some types of people to want it to be banned! Because god forbid that young people should actually think about issues and possibly come to conclusions that their parents don't agree with. And it's interesting that you said about people not understanding it, because there are definitely some bits of the book that stuck with me even though I didn't understand them fully at the time, but as I got older and actually encountered some of the issues in the book in real life I quite often thought back to The Giver!!

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    1. I wonder why the sequels aren't as popular as the first book then? It seems like nobody has heard of them and it's odd that you studied the first book in school and not the others!

      Which bits stuck with you that you didn't understand? For me (even at the ripe old age of 25), what happens to Gabriel has stuck with me quite firmly.

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    2. The bits about them basically euthanizing the old people, or the idea of euthanizing babies - I'm not sure that I fully got the implications of that! Or really thought through what would happen to this community when all of the memories returned to them until recently! Also, I sooo didn't pick up on the creepiness of the sessions with the giver until I read some reviews of it recently, hehehe. Although that's just something that I didn't question at the time, I wonder if this is just the idea of men touching young boys (even in a completely innocent way) being creepy is a fairly recent thing?

      I think that when we studied it the sequels weren't actually out.. it seems like the first one came out in 2000, and I would have read it in around 1998 I think? God I'm starting to feel really old now, hehe.

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    3. Ah. That's the part that shocked me as well, but I definitely wouldn't have understood it when I was younger. Or at least, I wouldn't have understood it as fully.

      Haha, I STILL didn't pick up that and I only read it last month! I don't necessarily think there was anything to it though - it doesn't make sense WHY he had to take his shirt off, but I didn't get any creepy vibes from The Giver either. Maybe just as you said - it's a recent thing (paranoia even) about adults touching children.

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    4. No, I don't think there was anything creepy to it either, but when I saw that review I realised that you could definitely interpret it in a really creepy way if you wanted to! It's a bit depressing really, there really shouldn't be anything creepy about it. Stupid paranoia/actual creepy adults.

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  3. I never stumbled across this one as a child either, so you're not alone there. Or maybe I did and I skimmed over it in the library because this (admittedly quite famous) cover is so utterly unappealing. I do hope to read it at some point though, if only because the movie trailer made it look so interesting - I'm not sure I'd ever have picked it up otherwise. *sighs*

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    1. It is actually really good, Ellie. And you can easily read it in a day - it's tiny with huge font.

      I don't actually have this cover - I have the Penguin Classics one with an apple on the front (thankfully).

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