The Giver by Lois Lowry was assigned to every other English class in high school except for mine, so it seems, and I can’t believe it took me so long to finally read it. I knew the author’s name and read her Newberry Medal winning novel, Number the Stars many years ago. I expected a poignant and provocative story, but I was surprised by the intricacies of the story world she created in The Giver.
Also a Newberry Medal winning novel, The Giver introduces the viewers to a seemingly utopian society through the eyes of twelve-year-old Jonas. Things are orderly and simple. Each person has a distinct place in society and clear-cut duties. The rules are simple, and everyone obeys. But Jonas unfolds the community before our eyes, the vision becomes flatter, starker, and dystopian. When Jonas turns twelve, he gets his assignment. He is to become the Receiver of Memory. We learn that all memories of anything OTHER or ELSE belongs solely to the Receiver of Memory. Now the former Receiver becomes The Giver and starts handing over memories to Jonas, one by one. Jonas learns of snow and sun and love. It’s a little bit of Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" with The Matrix thrown in for good measure.
Lowry paints the outlines of this world by describing the structure, how things work. But that is only the first half. Then she fills it in not by showing what is there, but what is not. The community is vivid in its emptiness, in its lack of things. And by doing so Lowry points out the most important parts of humanity. She shows us the things that make life truly meaningful and enjoyable, but she doesn’t beat us over the head with it.