Paul Hamilton's Reviews > The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry
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's review
Aug 29, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: childrens, novel, young-adult

Lois Lowry's Newberry Medal winner isn't really much of a story, to me. It felt much more like a parable, a bit reminiscent of 1984 only without the sort of depth of focus applied to the speculative aspect permitting the book to answer the questions about how this would all work. Much of the detail is left out of the operational whats and whys in the utopian/dystopian society depicted here, perhaps to grant it a certain timelessness or perhaps because Lowry didn't feel it was necessary to get the point across.

The Giver is the story of Jonas, a boy who is about to reach the age where he is assigned the role he will fill in his idyllic, though neutered, society where a collective selects mates and jobs for the populace and permits only adoption-based atomic families to exist. When Jonas gets his assignment, though, he becomes the Receiver of Memories, a solitary advisor to the community Elders who is responsible for holding all the memories that ever were to provide context for decisions among Elders who otherwise are only ever concerned with the present. But as Jonas begins to train with the previous Receiver, who now becomes The Giver, he starts to see what the community has sacrificed in order to become the way that they are.

Obviously Lowry is preaching about the importance of knowledge and highlighting the dual nature of human experience which contains both limitless suffering but also the capacity for colossal happiness. This is a middle school English class discussion waiting to happen, filled with enough emotional hooks and light symbolism that can be readily transferred to modern society or at least paralleled with current warning markers. It's easy enough to see how The Giver is working to transmit its message.

This transparency, however, is why the novel works more on an illustrative level as opposed to a literary one. In many ways this reads like a short story, where things happen just because they do and characters behave in a particular way for no reason other than that they must to propel the thin plot forward. The Giver and Jonas are the only reasonably detailed characters here and the society itself, which is the only antagonist Lowry bothers with, is so vague as to be hardly a menace at all. In this the true conflict lies between Jonas' childhood acceptance of bland comfort and conformity of the institution and his new insight into the joy and tragedy of real life. It's an allegory for adolescence whose moral I can't fault but whose execution I can't really recommend.

The flaw in The Giver is that Lowry doesn't seem to know how to conclude it. After a brisk but deliberate pace for the first three fourths of the book, the last few chapters are rushed and lack tension despite the dire circumstances. Then further, the finale is vague and hazy, leaving too much up to the reader to decide. For a story that is trying to say something, its inability articulate the consequence of its lesson is a regrettable failing, in my opinion.

I think I wanted to like The Giver a little more than I was actually able to. I lend no credence to the idea that the themes in this are inappropriate for children and I admire what this book can spur as real conversations with young readers, but I wish the execution of the concept had been done a little more precisely and with a clearer, lighter hand so that the novel itself could stand alone and not be a mere mechanism for discussion.

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