I decided to add Lois Lowry’s The Giver to my Classics Club list as I did not get to it as a child. I really enjoyed Lowry’s Number the Stars, and without reading the blurb, thought that this, her most famous novel, might be similar. Clearly not. The Giver, which is billed as a ‘modern classic’, is essentially a dystopian novel. This is a genre which I tend to steer clear of, as I do not generally enjoy it. On getting the book out of the library and scanning its blurb, I did not think that the storyline would appeal to me at all, but I felt determined to sit down and read it from cover to cover. Perhaps predictably, this did not happen.
The protagonist of the piece, Jonas, lives ‘safely within the Community, a place where there is no war, no hunger and no pain. But when he is selected as the Receiver of memory, he starts to discover dark secrets that lie beneath the surface of his perfect world. Secrets that will lead him to undertake an incredible journey’. In her introduction to the volume which I read, children’s author Margaret Mahy has the following to say: ‘The Giver is possibly the most alarming story of all her books – a disconcerting book… a book for young adults and adults, rather than younger children’. She goes on to describe the way in which: ‘… though Jonas is happy enough with his parents, his lively sister and his friends, he is also beginning to experience strange moments of visions… visions that belong to him alone. He is moving towards great changes… We come to understand that the life lived within his community is ominous as well as protected’.
On the face of it, his world appears to be similar to ours; aircraft fly overhead, Jonas and his friends play baseball, and patriotic songs are sung by children in school, for example. Oddities soon begin to creep in, however; the first peculiarity is that Jonas and his sister Lily have no idea about the concept of animals, and do not know what they are. Lowry has created her own focused vocabulary to denote particular rituals or groups within the Community – the idea of ‘newchildren’, for example, who were released from the confines of their world from time to time in order to fend for themselves.
The balance which Lowry creates between perceived notions of utopia and dystopia is interesting, and I liked the way in which she made Jonas develop with his newfound knowledge. For me, these were certainly the strongest elements of the book – or, at least, within as much of it as I read. I found that The Giver was filled with a lot of morality tales, to the extent that it feels at times as though Lowry is trying to shove her own beliefs down the throats of her readers. I found the dialogue too formal, and it was a little difficult to identify with the characters. Whilst The Giver contains some interesting ideas, it was not a book which I could get on with, and I decided not to continue with it past around page seventy.