The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993, 179 pages)
I looked over my book shelves for something that would fit the bill. I found Lois Lowry’s The Giver and decided I would read that. The book has won all sorts of awards and is not real long. It is marketed in the Young Adult category. I read a couple of months ago one of her other books Number the Stars. I really liked that work, set in Denmark in WWII, so my decision was made. It turned out to be a very enjoyable fun to read and thought provoking book.
I like books that create alternate worlds I can enter into. (I almost said “withdraw into”). The Giver does this wonderfully. From the very start of the book we see the world she has created in its own terms as perfectly logical and consistent. We understand how things work in the society created. We can even build our house in this world easily.
Everybody lives a completely controlled life in a completely controlled environment. Total harmony and tranquility having seemingly been achieved. This is done without any brute force. It has just evolved over time and everyone seems quite happy. The rules are designed to produce a state of mind in which one is happy with one's place in life. There is a price to pay. People no longer see colors, no one reads anything but job training manuals, there is no passion of any kind. There are no birds. Even the landscape has been flatted out to eliminate any hills or valleys. People can apply to a committee for a spouse and will be assigned a suitable one. After three years a couple may make application for a child. Children are produced by women designated as “birthmothers”. Training for children is completely prescribed. Precision in language is stressed. Children are constantly being observed to determine their future place in society. Everybody takes a morning pill once they get to about age 11 to suppress what are called “urges”. It is a totally blanded out society. There is no crime, no hunger, no war and all receive the medical care they need. Everything seems to work.
At age 12 there is a big ceremony in which a committee of elders will inform a person what their life work will be. Some will be doctors, some engineers, some laborers, some administrators etc. Jason, the central figure in the central figure in the novel gets a very special a unique future job. One that is only designated when the current holder of the job is near the end of his expected life span. It is the job of receiver of memories. No one in the community has any knowledge of strong emotions, no knowledge of what the world was like in the past before the controls were put in place. There is no snow or rain but the receiver of memory has these in his mind. No one has any knowledge of pain or love but the receiver of memory. Jonas’s job is to have all the memories and experience that can produce wisdom. He is given his memories by the current holder of the position, The Giver. The function of the job is to provide advice to the council of elders when they are faced with a new challenge. The current receiver of memory has 1000s of books in his home. No one else is allowed to read what they want and in fact no one wants to anyway. If a newborn is not up to standards after a year he is “released”. Once a person is too old he is also released. No one knows quite what that means but is treated as joyous occasion.
Of course once Jonas begins to get memories and feelings and can even see colors, things are not as simple to him as they once were. I do not want to give away any more plot detail. I was very interested in finding out about his training for his new job. I found the world created in this book fascinating and very believable. The Giver made me laugh, kept me very interested in the fate of the characters (the depictions of life in the family units –what they are called in this society-were very well done) and made me think. I am so glad I read this novel. I think it could be read and enjoyed by any one 12 and up. It has won a lot of awards. It is an easy to read book. It did not take a long time to read it but the world Lowry creates will always be there for me to wander into. I endorse it without reservation and will pass it along to my daughters to read.