The Giver by Lois Lowry, written in 1993, sparked my attention this year. It is a beautifully and excellently written book, Lowry writes with skill and precision. Set in a Utopian society (gradually developing into a dystopian world), where everything and everyone seems perfect, The Giver is one of those books that draw you in slowly, teasingly, effectively and intriguingly. It’s not sudden, it’s not rushed. It’s a peaceful progression, like walking down a road on a lovely spring day with the birds chattering in your ears and the vast blue sky up above. At first you’re reading with a full stomach and as the walk through the pages progresses, the walk starts to speed up and then you’re running and hungry for answers. As I said it’s a nicely done, slow (but not in a bad way), it’s more of a gentle teasing, as if to say “not yet, you’ll find out soon enough” but neither is it boring. It is a great balance between unknowing and knowing – gradually you begin to know all but with still answers left hanging, hungry for more and to eagerly read the next novel. As I said, it’s not rushed either, it’s not all thrown in your face, and it’s an intelligently written and thoughtfully told novel.
In all honesty, I only found out because of the film that’s being released (it’s not released in the UK yet!) I saw the trailer way back when and decided to put the novels down on my summer reading list. I wish now, having read it, I’d read it sooner or that it had been one of those novels that I have to study, as after all, it’s a modern classic. Sadly that was not the case. However, I’m glad to have read it before the film’s release and I plan to finish the rest of the books this week and as I do, write individual reviews, rather than cramming four reviews into one.
First off, I’d like to say before anyone starts saying, “it’s copying The Hunger Games or Divergent or The Maze Runner” (even though I love those sets of novels as well), it is not a copy. In fact, it is older than all of those books. Secondly, another interesting thing about this book is that it starts off seemingly like a perfect world and nothing at all seems frightful or wrong. It’s a utopia whereas with The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, straight away the reader knows something is wrong, even withDivergent; there is a sense of uncertainty. It’s only when you read on and through Jonas do you realise things are strange. The complete order, the Sameness (everyone is the same in colour and there are no strong feelings of emotion), the need to pick what each child does as they get older, the different stages each child goes through at each age, the need to pick a spouse for someone, apply for children, the use of language – everything needs to be precise – punishment by a ‘discipline wand’, in other words similar to what was used in schools to punish children for misbehaving. Asher (Jonas’ childhood friend) is told off and hit with this on his palm for merely mixing up “smack” with “snack”, that was strange and alarming, this world while it may seem perfect, is only that way because of the rules. And yet, no one seems oppressed by these rules, no one complains but as you read on you realise it’s because they don’t know any different. They have no memories of life before, no history or literature. Nothing. It is this life and that’s it. So of course, everything seems perfect, no one is hurt, no one is killed, taken, nothing bad happens, ever because everything is so precise, thought through and perfect. The only people who are hurt or angered by all this are Jonas and The Giver. I’ll get onto that later.
Right now I’d like to talk about Jonas. Jonas is such a caring, loveable and smart young boy. The novel starts off with Jonas telling us he was afraid of the coming December. The reader soon finds out he has a sister, Lily, his father and mother who are never named. He fears December because this is when he turns twelve or rather,becomes a Twelve, and is assigned his job. In this world, children who are born in the same year do not, it seems, celebrate birthdays. They are born and given a number, the number of order in which they were born, so for example one baby is given the number one for being born first and then the second and so on. They are then given to the Nurturers in the Nurturing Centre where they are looked after for a year after being born from their Birthmothers. Couples do not have their own children, Jonas’ parents are not actually his blood parents and neither is his sister, there wereassigned to them. The Birthmothers have a job that is not considered honourable, there are three years of training, three years and three births after this training and then they move on to be the labourers of the society. They are merely there to repopulate for three years. These children are then given to the families who applyfor children, like Jonas and Lily.
A year later, in December, they are named and assigned a new family but my point was that it seems they do not have birthdays; they just become a One a year later at the same time, then a two and so on. So when I said Jonas becomes a twelve, that’s exactly it, he becomes a twelve and is assigned a job in which the Elders (these mysterious people who make the rules up – the Government in other words) have chosen after careful consideration. They then spend time at this place after school hours, learning and training (not as horrible as it sounds, the jobs aren’t too bad actually) and then when they have finished education, this will be their job. But that is very much what Jonas fears, what job will he get?
The reader soon learns about the place that they live in, how it’s ordered, the places – the school, Recreation Centre, Nurturing Centre, House of the Old, the Childless Adults (where at such time when families grow up, children move out and adults have to move to their own houses in their couples). Through Jonas we learn about his friends Asher, a funny, jovial young boy and Fiona, a girl Jonas develops feelings for it seems. We learn about each stage of life, what happens when you’re four, five, six, when you get your first bike, or girls lose the ribbons in their hair, when children get their jacket with buttons down the front and so on. It all seems to be going to smoothly, Jonas’ father is a Nurturer, his mother holds a high position at the Department of Justice, his fun time with his sister and friends…but then along with his fear of getting his job, something changes. He sees colour – specifically, the colourred when playing throw and catch with Asher and the use of an apple as their ball. It flickers to red and then goes back to the same nothingness shade of sameness – grey. Everyone looks the same; there are no tones, no colours, no race, no skin colour, no hair colour or eye colour. It seems everyone has dark eyes and only very few have lighter eyes – coloured eyes, like Jonas. And it is these people it seems, who are chosen for a completely different job. It seems the colour of eyes, light eyes give depth and it is truly something effective. It hints that Jonas is different; he is able to see beyond, more than others. It hints that Jonas was chosen for a different path, there is a bond between him and The Giver and a small baby called Gabe, with the light eyes.
As I said the book teases you and finally you get to know what Jonas’ job is – Receiver of Memory. Jonas’ job will be under the training of The Giver, who has all knowledge. He has books (which are not allowed to others) and memories of the past, feelings and colours. Jonas notices one day that his friend’s hair, Fiona’s, looks different. It is actually red but because of the sameness no one see this, apart from Jonas and The Giver. He asks The Giver about this and Jonas begins to learn about colours and their names. He learns about snow and sleds, about Christmas and the summer times, about the colour of the sky and the warmth of the sun, boat riding, the ocean and rivers. He starts to see these colours solidly in his own life, the lush greens and the blue skies, the colour of people’s skin and hair. He learns about feelings from The Giver. There is a point in the book where Jonas develops feelings of lust and his mother tells him these are called Stirrings. There is a pill for this and all the feelings go away. He takes them thinking it’s the right thing to do as everything seems. But really, he learns that he is being controlled, his whole life, his family and friends. He wants to keep his feelings, so he doesn’t take the pill and through The Giver’s memories, he learns love, warmth, kindness, joy, sadness, pain, loneliness, anger, evilness, helplessness and terror. He learns feelings that we all know and feel at some point in our lives. For them feelings like these are fleeting and are controlled by the pills or medication for pain. Jonas decides no, and learns so much more by doing so. He learns about us, history and the times before, war and misery but also, what wehad (have now) that we take for granted every day, freedom.
Jonas starts to learn about the darker parts of his world, along with the crazy controlling (hidden by the perfectness) actions of his society. He learns about Releasing. Previously, this was thought to be a letting go and old people could move onto another place. But soon it’s known to Jonas that this is not the case. He thought there was an Elsewhere, where children who are not satisfactory at birth are taken, old people or those who wish to appeal to move. But there is no other place; there are other communities that visit but no magical escape. No, the children or babies who are ill or have broken rules over and over are killed, so are the old and those who wish to leave. Killed. Newborns – killed. And it’s a normal thing. The Elsewhere is something Jonas strives to find, the real Elsewhere, away from the communities – not this illusion planted by the Elders. Jonas is deeply affected by the taping and watching of a twin’s Release and breaks down crying, truly seeing the evil his world has done.
Jonas develops a strong relationship with his ‘little brother’, a baby who his father has taken in for the time being, until the baby is strong enough to be assigned, otherwise he would’ve been killed. His name is Gabriel, Gabe for short and Jonas connects with him easily. At first, he is reluctant but then he sees that he doesn’t want this baby to grow up in a world where there is no choice, no freedom and only planned out life structures. He wants him to learn and see, see colour and hear music, make his own life choices – his own role and job, his own partner for later life. He wants better for this baby. He wants love and care for him.
The Giver is another person Jonas develops a bond with. The Giver (who is not named) is this mysterious figure, who knows all and helps the Elders make decisions with things they haven’t faced before. Other than that, he is left with the burden of all the past and time. He spends time in his room, with his books and his walks. It is quite a lonely life. He becomes Jonas’ mentor and fatherly figure. He teaches Jonas all he knows, gives him memories and the weight is taken from him. He teaches him about life, the past, space and time and books and history. The Giver also becomes his friend and shows him many wonders. Jonas learns about animals, elephants and other creatures that are known to us but seem imaginary to those of his community. Jonas is free to ask him what he wants, about the community, the Release, the Elsewhere, who his spouse was and where she is, how his life is and so on. Jonas becomes like a son to The Giver and together they learn about the harshness of the world they live in, the control and restriction that is so neatly hidden. The Giver teaches him about feelings and the snow. Jonas begins to see life in a different way once he has known The Giver. But The Giver is not only this teacher figure, he is also caring and loving, he sees Jonas as family – probably the closet since his lost daughter. Jonas learns about the previous Receiver, Rosemary and what happened to her, she learnt as Jonas did but it hit her harder – the loss and sadness. One day, without telling anyone, she decided she wanted a Release. She kissed The Giver’s cheek and left without returning home. The Giver was only told this in an announcement to him and was able to watch it as it happened, helpless, he watched her be injected and pass slowly and painlessly from this life. It is unknown until later why he loved this girl so much. It is until The Giver mentions after Jonas and he devise their plan, that he’d like to be with his daughter and Jonas says,
“…I never knew about your daughter.”
And in reply, The Giver is described as being truly happy, smiling as he said, “Her name was Rosemary.”
When Rosemary passed on, her memories were let loose and everyone had all these memories but it was quickly controlled. The Giver and Jonas decide that Jonas to leave and find the Elsewhere and his memories will to expand as he leaves the community but not by death. It seems it will work but then Jonas’ father tells him that they plan to Release Gabe. Jonas leaves with Gabe, trying to say goodbye to The Giver through his mind as it is revealed in their last meeting that as Jonas saw colour first, The Giver heard music. Jonas and Gabe leave the community at night and passed the others, resting only when needed and eating whatever food they had with Jonas trying to keep Gabe, his baby brother alive. Finally, at the end, when it seems lost, Jonas comes across a hill and it’s snowing. There’s a sled waiting for Jonas and together, he and Gabe descend and Jonas (as he had previous said when having this memory given) could see their destination, one he could not previously see in the memory. It was like Jonas had already been there. He could see the lights and hear the music. And then, it was almost as if he could hear music across space and time, from the place he had come.
What a beautiful thing this book is – I realised how important our freedom is, our choices and also how small things like seeing colour make our lives so different and vibrant. How colour gives meaning to something, adds dimension and feelings. Colour makes up our sight, if we didn’t have colour everything would seem the same. Imagine a world all grey and nothing else with no music. It would be awful. We have this life full of colour and music and sound and animals, so let’s not waste it.
After all, this life is the only one we get. Use it well.