Book Review: The Giver

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver

 

givercoverI’d hope there are many teenagers out there who grew up with this novel, which won a Newbery Medal in 1994 and is taught in many middle school classrooms today. I’ve re-read it several times in the past few years, and with the movie adaption hitting theaters today, I thought I’d spill my thoughts on the source material.

The Giver is basically a 1990’s Hunger Games for middle schoolers. In a futuristic world of “Sameness,” every person lives in a peaceful, organized community where jobs and spouses are assigned, emotions are repressed with pills, and no one can see color. The only person with memories of the past is an elder called “The Giver,” who gives guidance to the community leaders. The story features a boy named Jonas who is assigned to be trained by the Giver, and be given his memories, to someday take his place.

Cue realizations, revolution, blah blah blah.

I hate how trite this sounds today; since the release of this story in 1993 we’ve seen Divergent, The Hunger Games and the like. The Giver might have many of the same elements, but it still does them quite well. I was especially interested in the concept of Jonas being “given” memories a little at a time and watching those change him. I also enjoyed how the story distinguishes that as the new Giver he has “honor, but not power.” He is given full permission to lie or be rude to anyone, but he has no say in changing the Sameness of the community.

I thought the Giver himself was an interesting character. He’s wise on the surface, but deep down he’s full of bitterness towards the community and regret of his past mistakes. I think Jeff Bridges (who also helped develop the movie) will be perfect to play this role.

All that being said, there are a few things I couldn’t stand about the novel.

For one thing, I thought the pacing was putrid. The book is 180 pages long. The first 100 of these are spent introducing us to the community, to Jonas’s selection, and to his first meeting with the Giver. Within the next eighty pages, the real meat of the story is glossed over in quick successions, and then we’re left with an unresolved ending open to interpretation.

I hate open endings.

I get it; sometimes they’re symbolic, and sometimes they’re cliffhangers to set up the next installment. Problem: there is no next installment here, at least not one that reveals the fates of any of the characters. We’re left feeling as though the author got bored with her own story and stopped 2/3 of the way through.

Maybe it’s because I’m nitpicky, but if I’d told this story, I would have paced it much differently and concluded on a satisfying note, not a confusing one. Also, I realize this was the 90’s and the story takes place in a utopian society, but I do wish the secondary characters had been fleshed out a little more beyond being strictly obedient citizens.

Between these flaws and the now-tired concept, I can see why this book isn’t a bestseller anymore. That being said, it used to be.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m excited for the movie. Jeff Bridges is playing the Giver and Meryl Streep is the community leader, which is exciting. Lois Lowry, the author, has been very involved with the production and has been Tweeting about how delighted she is with the finished product. Am I expecting to enjoy it more than the Hunger Games? Certainly not. But, I do hope for a faithful adaption. I’m all set to see it with a friend next week, so I’ll be sure to review it after the fact.

In the meantime, a conclusion on the book: Though it may no longer be the best of its genre, this story is still a classic and well worth your time.

Rate: 7 out of 10.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Giver

  1. Christopher says:

    I remember reading this years back. Very interesting.

  2. susankotch says:

    I’m a Middle School teacher, and use this book in my class as a novel study. I agree with your assessment and wanted to share with you how my students feel about it. It opens up much discussion for us, which is great – it’s what you want as a teacher. (PS: I enjoyed perusing you blog!)

    http://susankotch.com/index.php/2015/10/11/my-experience-with-the-giver/

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