“He forced his eyes open as they went downward, downward, sliding, and all at once he could see lights, and he recognized them now. He knew they were shining through the windows of rooms, that they were the red, blue, and yellow lights that twinkled from trees in places where families created and kept memories, where they celebrated love.”
Jonas lives in a world where there is no color, no choices, no freedom, no emotions, and no love. The community is perfectly orderly, with each member performing their duties, from childhood until old age. The people are content and peaceful because they know nothing else. Jonas lived his life perfectly content as well, until he was selected to be the new Receiver. As the new receiver of memories, Jonas learns everything that his community has suppressed. And he can’t live alone with that knowledge any longer.
The Giver is one of those books that always seem to go missing on my shelves. I first read it back in 2006 or 2007 when I was in the Philippines but I could have sworn I have a copy here. I couldn’t find it though but that’s alright, it gave me an excuse to buy this lovely new hardcover edition. An upgrade from the small, black mass market paperback.
First published in 1993, The Giver is a pioneer of YA dystopia. Though I would say Lowry’s sparse prose is more like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road than The Hunger Games. Like McCarthy (or perhaps McCarthy should be compared to Lowry?), Lowry can pack a quick emotional punch in few words and few pages. It’s not the fact that this community that Jonas lives in is horrible, exactly. In some ways, it’s a perfect ideal. As much as I love having my freedom to make choices, there are times when it would be so much simpler to let other people dictate my life. Someone can choose my family, my job, my partner, and my children. And I would just go through life feeling content and almost-happy and not knowing there was any other way to live. When life gets messy and painful, that kind of world can sound sort of appealing. But would I actually want it? No, absolutely not. Because it’s not really living. And that’s what Jonas learns.
The Giver is a classic that I think will stand the test of time. It was published a little over 20 years ago and it’s still relevant today. I believe it will still be relevant 10 years from now and 20 years from now. And unlike many of the recent dystopian YA novels, this is one that can be read to kids under the age of 10. The movie is out now and just from watching the trailers, I can tell that they changed so much and the movie will be almost nothing like the book. I don’t know if I’ll enjoy it but I’m a sucker for watching book-to-movie adaptations. At the very least, I’m glad I re-read the book. It’s been so long that it felt like the first time again.