I never read The Giver. When I picked out books for my kid to read, The Giver always looked too sad, too solemn, too serious. Now that we are both dystopia fiends—probably because we live in a dystopia—the other insatiable reader in the house has passed along The Giver to me. Lois Lowry won the Newbery Medal for this amazing tale of what it means to be human and how even pain is a privilege to be treasured. The Newbery must have been no contest that year because the novel is flawless and superb.
Jonas lives very carefully and precisely in the Sameness. Children are guided, year by year, by immutable rules that govern behavior. At certain ages you have jackets that fasten in the back so you learn interdependence. Then you graduate to front-buttoning jackets and in a year or so to your own bike as you are gradually introduced to more independence from your family unit. Pain is contained by medication. Courtesy is absolute. Everyone has an assigned role in life and at twelve you receive your Assignment—the task you will learn and perform until you are old enough for the House of the Old and, one day, celebrated and Released.
It is December and Jonas, an Eleven about to become a Twelve, is nervous, anticipating the news he will get at the annual Ceremony but unsure about which job he will draw. His father, who works at Nurturing with the newchildren has requested and been given permission to bring home an infant who is too fussy and failing to thrive. The baby will be Released if it doesn’t reach weight and development milestones by the time it should be transferred to a family who has applied for a child. But Jonas doesn’t think Nurturing will be his Assignment. He certainly won’t be a Birthmother, coddled for three births in as many years and then graduated to Laborer for the rest of life. He can’t imagine himself as Caretaker of the Old, a Doctor, or a Director of Recreation.
But then the Chief Elder skips him when she is handing out Assignments and his anticipation turns to anxiety. His unease isn’t much relieved when, at the end of the Ceremony, she explains to the puzzled audience that Jonas has been selected to be the Receiver of Memory, a prestigious and mysterious position that is seldom awarded and little understood. Jonas begins to study with the old Receiver, the Giver, and is stunned at the unusual transmission of skills that comprises his apprenticeship. And everything changes.
Jonas learns about the exhilarating and excruciating colors of life, about feelings he didn’t know could exist, about history, wisdom and emotion. The Giver shows him what Release really means and awakens a humanity that has been trained out of everyone in the community for generations. And, as Jonas awakens, he discovers that his bland and comfortable life is really an intolerable nightmare. The choices he will have to make demand a courage he isn’t sure he has.
It’s an extraordinary book, smooth as a polished stone, and as capable of stunning you as a polished stone aimed to hit you squarely between the eyes. The Giver explores the demanding terrain of memory, the significance of what it means to give, and the impulse to know the truth and follow it into an uncertain future.
The Giver (Newbery Medal Book) Lois Lowry | Delacorte Press 1993