Harry Potter was one of the first big names that crossed over from children’s fiction to adult readers and fans. Certainly other books have made that transition; the Hunger Games books have gained more attention with the release of the movies. Another book series that would fit into this phenomenon is “The Giver” series by Lois Lowry.
This futuristic novel has been chosen as the One Book One Community selection in the Fargo area. The Fargo Public Library will hold various events in conjunction, including a book talk in October. I saw a billboard on Main Avenue, and it caught my eye because it showed the cover of the book.
“The Giver” had been recommended by a member of my book club, and I hadn’t given it any more thought until this last meeting. I finally downloaded it to my Kindle, and jumped into it when I needed something else besides murder and mayhem in a novel. This fit the bill.
Jonas is an Eleven, meaning he’s 11 years old, and at the end of the year, he’ll become a Twelve. That’s when all the children are given their assignment for life — a career chosen by a committee of wise people. Some children will be assigned to become caregivers for the old, caregivers for the babies, birth mothers or laborers.
Others will be assigned to further their education to become doctors or engineers, while others will complete their education and go on to some other employment such as trash collectors or food preparers. The Elevens have been watched to see where their talents lie, but it’s still a surprise to some of them.
In this over-structured community, everything is laid out for the people. When you want a partner, you apply for one and one is chosen for you. When you want children, you apply for one and one is assigned to you. At the supper table each night, Jonas and his family talk about their feelings.
It’s pretty tame; Jonas’s sister talks about getting angry that someone didn’t follow the rules on the playground. Her anger is discussed and then dissipated by explanations of the other child’s motivations for butting in line on the playground slide.
Each person also tells about their dreams, too. When Jonas’s dreams reveal stirrings of a sexual nature, he is instructed to take a daily pill, just as his parents do. End of problem. And then Jonas is chosen as the Receiver at the Ceremony of the Twelves. His job will be to receive the community’s memories, and along with them, their emotions.
Jonas stops taking his daily pill and gains certain freedoms: he can ask anything of anyone and receive an answer. He can lie. He isn’t allowed to discuss his training with anyone. That’s because the memories of what the world used to be like are only kept by the Receiver.
The current Receiver — an elderly-looking man who received the memories from his predecessor — is dubbed the Giver since Jonas is now the Receiver. The memories are both good and bad, painful and enjoyable. Jonas is no longer allowed to take pain medication to help with receiving the memories.
Jonas learns about snow, hills, war, dying and colors. Apparently in this sanitized life, no one sees colors anymore. The weather and landscape is modified for growing crops, and no one has anything to complain about or worry about. Everyone is equal and peace prevails.
In addition, there is no longer any need for emotion. Real emotion, that is. Jonas learns what it is to see colors and to feel love. And that’s when he finds out what Release is. Release in this society is death. Release of an old person is celebrated. What Jonas finds out is that people are intentionally killed and their bodies discarded following the Release ceremony.
What a strange world. And yet, it is orderly, peaceful and without stress or angst. Babies are raised by caring people — just not their birth mothers. When a birth mother has given birth a certain number of times, she is “retired” and becomes a laborer. Being a birth mother isn’t a very prestigious position. So, there IS some pecking order in this very orderly society.
What a great book to discuss! What happened so that people wanted to live this way? Perhaps it began as one sheltered community and then spread to others as a sought-after Utopia. The idea was well-intentioned, but those intentions went awry.