Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Giver of a Story You Can't Forget

The Giver
There aren't many people out there who haven't read Lois Lowry's classic, The Giver, but I happened to be one of them. Then I talked to my longtime friend (since 2nd grade!) who I often share great YA titles with (and a love for cheesy RomComs) and she told me The Giver was a book that she read in middle school that stayed with her. She still thought about the book 20 years later (god we are getting old). So, I decided I had to quit being a turd and do my YA collection justice with this 1994 Newberry winner. After finishing it in one voracious sitting, I had to ask myself if I would ever learn. I avoided Percy Jackson for years- did I learn? I refused to read Harry Potter, Twilight, and so many more for no other reason than they were popular. Now The Giver. Will I ever learn?! Why do I deprive myself of great stories?

The story begins in a utopia. No one feels pain, no one is unhappy. Any feelings of anger, jealousy or concern are to be voiced in family units every morning in order to address and release them. Children are not born and raised with their parents. Instead, a sensible couple the community puts together is allowed to ask for children and they can receive up to one boy and one girl. Only Birth Mothers are allowed to have children, but since all the community members take drugs to inhibit sexual impulses from the time they reach puberty, no one seems to object. When people get too old, they are "Released" into a better state. If twins are born, the smaller of the two will be released. Even careers are not chosen, but rather given to the people of the community by the Elders after careful consideration. When children reach their twelfth year, they are assigned a career to focus on. Although they can request a career change, it doesn't happen. Instead, people are content in the community. They contribute, they live, and they are content. Nothing more. Nothing less.

When Jonas reaches his twelfth year and is assigned, however, it changes everything. Jonas is assigned as the new Receiver of Memory. He is to report to the Giver of Memory, an old man who was chosen as Jonas was chosen, to be given the memories of times forgotten. This includes happy memories, like snow, sledding, warm sun, and fun. It also includes bad memories like pain, breaking an arm, war, and anger. These memories begin to change Jonas, but he is forbidden to share them with others. All he wants to do is show his sister and his friends the colors of the world, the sunshine.

When his father, a Nurturer in the nursery, brings home a baby who isn't sleeping well, Jonas takes him into his bedroom at night and shares the happy memories with him. This soothes the baby, but is strictly forbidden, of course. Jonas and the Giver begin talking about leaving the community in order to give the people back the memories of past times, good and bad. It will be traumatic for them, but The Giver will be there to guide them. When Jonas's father announces the baby is going to be "released", Jonas, who has seen what "releasing" really is, refuses to leave the baby to that fate.

This story is one that will truly rock your world. With so many dystopias swirling around out there, it is hard to imagine one that could sweep you off your feet as easily as this one. Nevertheless, this classic bested me. It makes the reader question their wants, their desires, their hopes. It keeps the reader on their toes and examines what is really important in life. Do we need a life free of pain and suffering? Or will that lead to the loss of all this beautiful, wonderful, and sublime as well. Do we need to experience pain in order to truly know love and happiness when we have it?

This book is a must read for anyone who hasn't read it already. Recently a coworker said she was using it in her middle school Lit class, and I was thrilled! (eerily she told me about using it in her classroom the very same day I finished reading it!) To hand this story over to students, especially in a student-driven setting, means opening the door to struggling readers who can't get enough of a story. This will be that story- it will have them questioning everything they have ever known, and then some. And isn't that why we read anyway? To question ourselves, our worlds, what we know, what we think we want to know, and so much more? Don't be afraid to give this story to your children or students- like my grade school friend, they will never forget it!

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