The Giver | Lois Lowry
Awards: Newbery Medal
For Jonas, life in the community follows a structured order that allows all members to live in peace and harmony. He is anticipating the coming Ceremony of Twelve, where he will receive his life assignment. It seems natural to guess what roles his friends might be assigned to fill, but when it comes to himself, Jonas is anxious. What will the Committee of Elders chose for him to do? Where does he belong in the community? Jonas is unprepared when he is singled out for one of the most honored and mysterious roles in the community. As the Receiver of Memory, Jonas begins to move beyond his safe and ordered existence into a realm of questions and fear and pain that test not only the strength of his personal character, but the very community he is sworn to serve and protect. And as Jonas receives the memories of the human race, he begins to understand with new depth and clarity the menace hiding in plain sight. Jonas knows that he must make a choice, but that choice will test everything he thought was true with what he knows to be true.
Brief reference to sexual attraction. Death. Euthanasia.
The Giver is so iconic it seems odd that I was in my early twenties when I first discovered it. In a world of dystopian futures being written and sold left and right, The Giver is a beacon of imagination, originality, and excellence in story craft. Lois Lowry writes with straightforward prose that paints a clear picture drawing readers into a sense of false security and curiosity about this pleasant world that Jonas inhabits. The audience experiences the community with Jonas, and also discovers its faults and horrors as he does. The simple writing is deceptive because it plunges readers into the depths of true humanity, reliving its terrifying and messy past and the stilted future it may very well throw itself into trying to fix past mistakes. The Giver is a coming of age story that follows Jonas as he comes to a deeper understanding of himself, but it is also a coming of age story for mankind, of what it means to be truly human.
With The Giver, Lois Lowry was at the forefront of futuristic dystopian novels. In spite of this being her second Newbery Medal winning novel (her first medal was for Number the Stars in 1990), many reviews I came across denounced The Giver for its “slow” beginning. It is slower, in one sense, but I want to suggest that Ms. Lowry’s pacing is exactly what it needs to be for three reasons. First, Ms. Lowry drops the reader into a world that feels familiar on the surface, and I believe this is a deliberate and masterful decision. Second, she also manages to unfold the community Jonas inhabits and it’s differences from the real world. The pacing takes a reader from feeling safe to uncomfortable to shocked. The shock that readers are meant to experience is felt full force because Ms. Lowry takes her time. Third, too often readers expect their appetites for the dazzling, dangerous, and dissonant to be immediately satisfied. If things aren’t heart stopping by the second paragraph the pacing is denounced as “too slow.” Let Ms. Lowry tell you her story, without trying to tell her how to tell it, and I promise you will not be disappointed. The Giver is a book not to be missed.
ps. Lois Lowry wrote three companion novels to The Giver. I will be reviewing Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son in order in the coming weeks so stay tuned.