Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
I wasn’t planning to post a Retro Friday post today, but as I was writing this review, I realized that this book qualifies for it. So to hit two birds with one stone, my fifth YA-D2 challenge book is also a Retro Friday book. :)
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Laurel-Leaf Books, 179 pages
In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.
A few days ago, I was lamenting over Twitter about how I seem to be deprived of good literature back when I was in school. The only times I was required to read a novel for school was during senior year in high school and then in college. I didn’t get my love of reading from school, that is for sure. Because of this, I wasn’t able to read the books that my friends had read for school, and now I am making up for it.
But in a way, it’s also good, because I get to read these books now for leisure instead of for grades. So I guess it’s not really a loss?
I picked up The Giver early this week because I was pondering on getting Matched by Ally Condie via Kindle. I was hesitant to get the latter because there were many lukewarm/cold reviews on it from the reviewers I trust, and most of them compare it to the former. I decided that if I was getting Matched, I have to read The Giver first. I also thought that I cannot call myself a real dystopia reader if I haven’t read this one, and it’s always nice to go back to basics, right?
The story starts with Jonas as he thinks about the upcoming December ceremony in his community. He’s about to turn Twelve, in in Jonas’ world, turning Twelve means he is going to be given his Assignment in the community. He was kind of apprehensive about it because he had no idea what his Assignment would be. To his surprise, during the ceremony, Jonas was selected rather than assigned: he was selected to be the next Receiver of Memories. It was an honor to be selected, but it was also painful in ways the Elders cannot describe to Jonas. Little did Jonas know that the pain involved in his training is really more pain than he ever imagined, but at the same time, he was given the chance to experience true happiness that he had missed out in favor of an equal community.
There is a simplicity in The Giver that other dystopia novels nowadays do not have. Most of the dystopia (ex. The Hunger Games, The Knife of Never Letting Go) I read this year are about worlds that are not peaceful, where oppression is apparent and death and destruction are normal. The Giver is different because it presents itself first as a utopia — a seemingly ideal world where there is no poverty, violence or inequality. The people in the community work as a well-oiled machine and truth be told, the control freak in me liked it. I liked how everything has its place, how everything was so orderly. It was so uncomplicated, and I wonder how it feels to live an uncomplicated life.
Wait, I think I know how it would be: boring. Sure, we could use less complicated living, but not always. I remember some times when there were so many things happening in my life that I’d wish for a boring one, but once nothing happens in my life, I would wish for something to happen just so I won’t be bored. If I were to live in the world that Jonas lived in with my memories still intact, I would probably go crazy.
But that was the thing: no one had memories of the past except for The Giver. I loved the way Lowry described the Jonas’ life before he became the Receiver. It may seem, well, boring, but the writing style fits the world perfectly. I liked how as Jonas learned more and more of the truth, that we get to feel the sadness and horror he felt when he realized that the utopia he is living in is not what it seems.
The ending is much-debated for its openness, but I liked it. I am fond of open endings because it gives me room to think, and it opens up a lot of possibilities that could be a springboard to a sequel. However, as some of my friends in Goodreads said, The Giver has the type of ending that could stand on its own without feeling the need to read its other companion novels.
It’s a good book. The Giver is one of those books that you have to read even just once in your lifetime. It has this haunting sadness that made me really think of what utopia really is, and if it’s really worth losing so much just to gain an uncomplicated life.
My copy: paperback, from National Bookstore
Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads