Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Giver - Lois Lowry Review


Publisher: Ember
Published: 1993
Pages: 179
Genre: Children's/YA Dystopia
Rating: 3.5 Stars

I remember being on the phone to someone last week, talking about reading The Giver. I said something like “Yeah, this is one of the original dystopians, I think” and he corrected me. It’s apparently the original young adult dystopian. Bit pedantic, but there you go.

That’s the kind of correction Jonas faces a lot, in a community that’s very very strict on Precision of Language.

The Giver is a sci-fi dystopian about a twelve-year-old boy (Jonas) living in a community with no fear/war/hunger. Everyone goes around on their quaint bicycles, people are unfailingly polite and often clinical in their speech, and it seems like every second word is capitalised. People are assigned to roles/careers on their twelfth birthday and nothing is contested (or if it is, it doesn’t matter: any appeals go to a Committee that doesn’t do anything).

Also, the world has no colour or music, because they would disrupt the Sameness. 

Announcements come over an intercom that’s never turned off, enforcing a litany of rules: no lying, girls under seven must wear their hair up, no nosiness. Everyone has the same birthday. And love doesn’t exist. Neither do any other feelings.

On the day of Jonas’ Ceremony of Twelves, he is shocked to see that he hasn’t been designated a job. Instead, he has been selected as the new Receiver of Memories. His predecessor and trainer, the Giver, needs to pass it on. The Receiver of Memories holds the memories of Outside for the whole community, so that they don’t have them – again, to preserve Sameness. So the Receiver knows sunshine, and music, and colour, but also warfare and fear and starvation.

Jonas goes to begin his training and slowly unravels the truth about his world.

The Giver is a very fast read, with few pages and simple, direct prose. So I picked it up one day after school and read half of it in probably less than two hours. It’s quite powerful, though – and I’m finding it hard to pinpoint why, because I can spot plenty of faults.

For one, the surprises weren’t that surprising. I knew what Release was immediately from the context (and from having read Matched, I guess), and besides that there weren’t really any massive twists. I think the better part of that was how it affected Jonas and the others, the smaller details and ripple effects.

I like the characterization (though your mileage may vary – some find it quite bland), particularly of Asher and Lily, Jonas’ younger sister. The world-building details were very interesting and fresh, and I actually enjoyed all the capitalisation – at least it told me what to pay attention to!

What I loved most about it was the creepiness. Even from the first few pages, there was a sense of menace in the innocence of things. It's told from Jonas' perspective and, him being eleven at the start, he takes things in his society for granted that we get majorly weirded out by.

The ending, though: that annoyed the hell out of me. I hate it, honestly. It’s completely open-ended and probably allegorical (which is always annoying, and makes it seem very childrens-book-ish when until then it had straddled borders). The events leading up to it felt rushed too: the stuff before that had been nicely paced and then this wasn’t. Which was disappointing.

But I suppose I can’t complain, because The Giver did get me in trouble twice in Chemistry for reading it under the table. Let me just say though – just before the teacher gave out the second time, I finished the last page. Victory. 

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