How I discovered
Four years ago, my wife’s aunt gave us a pile of books left over from book clubs in which she had been. This was one of them– all critically-acclaimed books like this one which won the 1994 Newbery Medal and most all of them still unread.
Since then, for some reason, my wife thought I would hate this book. She hadn’t read it, mind you, but she heard someone who read it and hated the ending. However, one of my wife’s sister says this book is one of her favorite books.
“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”
Thus opens this haunting novel in which a boy inhabits a seemingly ideal world: a world without conflict, poverty, unemployment, divorce, injustice or inequality. It is a time in which family values are paramount, teenage rebellion is unheard of, and even good manners are a way of life.
December is the time of the annual Ceremony at which each twelve year old receives a life assignment determined by the Elders. Jonas watches his friend Fiona named Caretaker of the Old and his cheerful pal Asher labeled the Assistant Director of Recreation. But Jonas has been chosen for something special. When his selection leads him to an unnamed man– the man called only The Giver– he begins to sense the dark secrets that underlie the fragile perfection of his world.
— from the book jacket
I read this for my own Personal Banned Book Reading Challenge and also for Book Awards II Reading Challenge, since I had had it on my shelf for so long (as mentioned above). I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, despite the negative review my wife had heard about it. I thought I’ll keep an open mind and see what happens. At only 180 pages, it wouldn’t be a total loss if I hated it, I thought.
At first, I thought I might hate it as I was put off by all the capitalizations. First page: “Pilot” in middle of sentence, then “Street Cleaners, Landscape Workers and Food Delivery people” on the second page. However, by the introduction of the Speaker also on the second page, I began to understand the Orwellian world which Lowry was creating and appreciate what she was doing, with people known by their job descriptions.
Then on the third page, when Jonas began to search for the right word to describe what he was feeling, I was intrigued and by the fourth page when he kept searching for the right word until he found it: apprehensive, I was hooked into the story.
As the story develops, the reader learns that his mother and father aren’t really his birthmother and birthfather; his sister, not really his sister. On top of that, almost every aspect of his life is controlled, even “The Stirrings,” the beginning of puberty, with a pill and while he already can see the Assignments his friends probably will be given (and most of them are), he doesn’t know what his own will be. It is something he still doesn’t know after receiving his Assignment to be “Receiver of Memory”– whatever that means.
Then she turned and left the stage, left him there alone, standing and facing the crowd, which began spontaneously the collective murmur of his name.
“Jonas.” It was a whisper at first: hushed, barely audible. “Jonas. Jonas.”
Then louder, faster. “JONAS. JONAS. JONAS.”
With the chant, Jonas knew, the community was accepting him and his new role giving him life, the way they had given it to the newchild Caleb. His heart swelled with gratitude and pride.
But at the same time he was filled with fear. He did not know what his selection meant. He did not know what he was to become.
Or what would become of him.
After The Giver places his hands on Jonas’s back (which honestly creeped me out a bit at first, because I thought “perverted old man”) and “gives” him his first memories of snow, sledding, sunshine and then sunburn, both pleasure and pain, the reader realizes that something will have to change in Jonas’s memoryless world or else he will have to leave it. He won’t be able to stay in such a world.
So what will he do? Under the rules of his Assignment, he can’t be “released from the community,” which isn’t clearly defined, but the reader has a premonition that whatever it means, it isn’t good– after Lowry writes of both young and old being “released” and never being seen in the community again. So how will he escape or will he? And what else will he learn about the community to which he belongs?
I will say no more and instead encourage you to pick up this book which I read from front to back in one sitting. I literally could not put it down as I read it this afternoon at our local library.
This is easily the best book so far of my own banned books challenge, and high on my list of best books I’ve read this year or any year. Final analysis: 5/5. Deserves to be called a modern classic.
As for why it’s been challenged, I won’t say too much, in order not to give away anything. I will just say like I’ve said with at least one of the others I’ve reviewed so far: “Hogwash!” as Lowry is not promoting to what some may object.
If you’ve read and reviewed this book on your blog, send a link to justareadingfool (at) gmail (dot) com or leave it in the comments and I’ll add it to the bottom of this post.
Others who have read and reviewed this book: