Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Book Review of The Giver by Lois Lowry

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The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, has become one of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. Lois Lowry has written three companion novels to The Giver, including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.

Series: The Giver Quartet (Book 1)

Genre: YA Utopian 
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; Rep Mti edition (July 1, 2014)
Page Count: 240 pages

I've heard about the Giver for years. It's a classic and motion picture. Also several of my friends have enjoyed it and told me to read it. I'm making a point to read some more famous books and this one was on my list, so I managed to snatch it up from the library and give it a read. 

The Plot: The plot was very slow and normally this bothers me (see the Raven Boys review), but I got so lost in this mysterious foreign world where people can't see colors and aren't allowed to feel emotions that the worldbuilding propelled me on. The story centers more on the message it's bringing than the actual events, if that makes sense. The writing style also wasn't something I'd normally like, because it's very telly, but it worked for this story. It gave it a weird air of innocence.

You almost feel like you're in a dream as you float through the world seeing memories of different experiences. I think the writing style could have been better if it had more showing than telling, but it didn't hinder me as much as I initially thought it would. My biggest qualm was the ending was very obscure and felt a bit anticlimactic. It didn't build very well.

The Characters: The main character Jonas is a bit of blank character. He doesn't have very defining traits, but he does have a very unique voice, mostly because of the world he's grown up in. He's brave and he learns to feel a craving for justice. He has a very strong arc from being oblivious and naive to knowing what the world was meant to be.

The Giver is a man who literally has to bear the weight of the world. He has to contain the memories of the world to give wisdom to the Elders. He's a tortured person and you can feel his emotional pain, not just because of his memories but because of his life. 

Other characters include Jonas's parents, his younger sister Lily, and his friends Asher and Fiona. They're each pretty defined, but the book isn't about them so they don't have anywhere near the depth as Jonas and the Giver have.

The Setting: The setting is wow. It's so extremely intricate and so foreign from anything we've experienced. It's a world that strives for perfection. There's no crime and no lying. The Elders make choices for every citizen, including families and jobs. There's no grandparents. People are allowed only two children. You're only allowed certain things at certain ages like you get a bike when you're nine and then you're only allowed to have comfort objects aka stuffed animals until you're seven. Everything is planned. There are no surprises in anyone's lives. The biggest thing is no one sees color. That's a huge one for me. It's just very mindblowing.

Epic Things: The whole concept of transferring memories to another person is really cool, of being able to have someone experience different things of the planet. It's just amazing to grasp.

The Theme: The Giver is all about the theme. This is a world where humanity has tried to eliminate hardship and sin, but the thing is we're human. Our nature is to do wrong. We have to fight to do good. No matter how hard we strive for peace and harmony, it will never be found in this world. The Community sacrifices many good things to rid of the bad things. They give up seeing color to rid the community of discrimination. They give up emotions to rid the community of feeling pain. They give up freedom of choice to prevent someone from making a wrong choice in their lives whether that be jobs or marriage or even children. But in the end is giving up the pain with the good worth it? Is this new world of Sameness worth it? That's what the book explores. It also delves into the consequences of what taking away emotions does to a person, and in the end it shows that not even this striving for perfection is truly perfect.

Content Cautions:
There isn't any excessive violence or swearing. Jonas washes a naked old lady at one point, but it isn't sexual in any way. The most disturbing thing, which is a bit of spoiler, is that a baby is killed similar to a way a third trimester abortion is performed. That personally really bothered me.

What We Can Take Away For Our Writing:

1.) A Book with a Message - If I haven't gotten the point across by now the Giver has a very strong message, one that takes precedence even over the plot and characters. This can be a hard sell, because readers are most attracted to the characters. I personally would have liked more focus on the characters, but that isn't to say that this book didn't work and this book doesn't have power. It has a message that can change people.

How this can be applied to writing: What message does your book have? What will your book say to your readers? What place of importance does it take in your story?

2.) Blank Characters - I would call Jonas a blank character. He doesn't have many traits that set him apart as a person. He's just a person to be the way we see this world and have things happen to him. This works for this story, because he is our window. We're so lost in the world that we don't care as much for the characters, but it can be a put off for some people.

How this can be applied to writing: Blank characters have been used often in fiction. Many people argue that Bella from Twilight, Bilbo from the Hobbit, and Arthur Dent from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are blank characters. They're characters that we can often feel are ourselves, which is how they can be useful. They can also be used in stories that focus more on the plot than characters. I don't completely recommend writing characters like this, but some people use them as an effective literary tool.

In Comparison to the Film: The film and the book are very similar. There are a few alterations in the world building, plot, and characters to make it more palatable for a film, but the ultimate message of the story is preserved. I personally preferred the movie ending more. It's far more satisfying. A friend of mine worried that the film was turned into an action movie. It isn't. The climax is a bit more intense, because there's running involved and someone is scheduled to be released to increase tension, but it doesn't hinder the heart of the book in my opinion at least.

I initially gave this book three stars, but after some time to think about it, I've decided to bump it up to four stars. I can't give it five because of the writing style and the unsatisfying ending, but the worldbuilding and the message is so deep it definitely deserves four.

About the Author:
Lois Lowry is known for her versatility and invention as a writer. She was born in Hawaii and grew up in New York, Pennsylvania, and Japan. After several years at Brown University, she turned to her family and to writing. She is the author of more than thirty books for young adults, including the popular Anastasia Krupnik series. She has received countless honors, among them the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the California Young Reader.s Medal, and the Mark Twain Award. She received Newbery Medals for two of her novels, NUMBER THE STARS and THE GIVER. Her first novel, A SUMMER TO DIE, was awarded the International Reading Association.s Children.s Book Award. Ms. Lowry now divides her time between Cambridge and an 1840s farmhouse in Maine.

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