I've been on a dystopia roll recently, it seems. So here goes. This is supposed to be 1984 for children.
Jonas, the protagonist, is a 12 year old boy who lives in a world without war, pain, hunger, death, misery or, even, bad weather, where everyone is happy and has their place in society. Yet gradually a much more disquieting picture emerges of a world where all personal choice has been taken away, where every decision is made for the individual by the "state" (I have put state in quotation marks here because really we never find out exactly who makes these decisions and choices) and where nothing is private, not even your own dreams.
I am a firm believer that children's books have to be written the same as adult books, but better. I also think it is much harder to write good children's books, than it is to write for adults. And, ultimately, with children's literatiure, you have to satisfy both.
I'm afraid, for me, Lowry's book failed as both a children's book and as an adult book because her world just didn't make sense. And I do not accept, as a few goodreaders have stated in their reviews, that that's ok because it's a kid's book. I would have thought the opposite should be true. That it is especially important for the world that the author is creating to make sense, because it is a children's book.
This books does raise important questions about the price of happiness, freedom, responsibility and the importance of adversity but how can we expect kids to learn any of its lessons when there is no explanation of how such a society has arisen, barely any description of how it functions and lack of any sort of logic to the way it does.
The inability of the population to see in colour. How did that come about? Why is Jonas able to see it? There is a climate control system which ensures the sameness of the weather, yet there does not appear to be any physical barrier separating this world from the mysterious Elsewhere. The whole society seemed to be a series of loosely connected communes with a very strong cult flavour (brainwashing - tick, isolation - tick, control - tick) governed by a counsel but it is not clear how a counsel of so few is able to control and effectively govern all these people, particularly given the apparent extent of their involvement in the day-to day oversight and running of things like allocation of careers to 12 year olds.
I don't know what on earth was going on with the collective purge of all memory and its transfer to a single individual (through touch!!!). I found that whole aspect of the book ridiculous and unnecessary as the same could have been achieved by suppression of history and having Jonas and the Giver actually read some of those many books that are repeatedly mentioned but never even opened. I understand that sexual urges are suppressed by the pills but how do they manage to suppress love? It is in people's nature to become attached to and feel affection for other people and that would be inevitable in family units, even if unrelated by birth. The build up around "release" was another ridiculous aspect as it was patently obvious what it involved from pretty much the first time it is mentioned. It is unclear how this society with its severely restricted birth rate and commonplace release of anyone from petty rulebreakers to infants who don't sleep through the night is able to sustain itself or why such severe population control is necessary given there appear to be vast stretches of unoccupied land surrounding the community. I could go on and on.
I wish I could end this by saying, yes there were problems in the world building but the story and writing were fantastic. Yet I am not able to do that either. There was barely any story there at all. Most of the book concentrated on world-building with the plot only really taking off in the last few pages. The book felt far too short and rushed. The characters were flat and indistinguishable (the fact that Jonas' little sister Lily seemed to talk in exactly the same way as his parents particularly grated) and the writing was simplistic and uninspired.