I am continuing to read books from the The Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll (#1 – 100). The Giver, by Lois Lowry, won the Newbery Medal in 1994. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that quite a few of the books on the list are Newbery books. This is going to become one of my favorites. I really like stories that are set in alternate worlds.
The Giver takes place in a world that seems quite similar to ours, at least at first glance. The children go to school, study and play. They have parents. The parents have jobs and take care of the children. The elderly are well cared for. They live in a community that is well-mannered and respectful. There is order and efficiency.
Beyond that we soon discover how dystopian their society actually is. Parents raise their children, a boy and a girl, but they don’t actually give birth to them. When children turn 12, their life’s work is dictated to them as part a very important ceremony. It will determine whether you get to be a doctor, a birth-mother, or dig ditches for the rest of your life. There is no freedom of choice.
When Jonas turns 12, the job assigned to him is the Receiver of Memories. He does not understand the full consequence of his fate until he starts his training. It is then that we discover that the Receiver has the “honor” and duty of bearing the burden of all of history including the pain and suffering of war, of loneliness, of hunger. But he also sees color for the first time. He experiences and feels everything for the very first time from the soft coldness of snow to the intense pain of a sunburn.
In this world of safety and efficiency, there is no personal choice, no freedom, no love. The sacrifice for this utopia is to strip everyone of the joy and pain of being human and inflict it on one individual, who then occasionally must remind the community of the past so as not to repeat other’s mistakes.
This is such a powerful book. No wonder it is on my list!