Monday, October 29, 2007

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Every once in a while, I like to go back and read a Newbery or a Caldicott winner, and other times I like to read a book that has been banned. We keep a running list of prize winners and banned books, and we clip newspaper articles about the latest pieces of literature (children’s and adult) that threaten the fabric of civilization. We always buy a copy of these fountains of degradation and immorality to support the authors under scrutiny.
This time I got a “twofer.” Lowry’s book won a Newbery and was banned for social reasons.
The story is intriguing, and I enjoyed the first two-thirds, but it began slipping into a rather preachy mode that I found quite annoying. The story is simple: society has devolved into something the Giver refers to as “the sameness.” No weather, no problems, no excitement. Everyone is a perfectly behaved little cog in the machine that passes for society. Young Jonas is selected as the next “Receiver” of the collective memories of humanity (such as it is), who will then examine memories to advise the council of elders which runs this hell-hole. Babies are routinely euthanized because they are the wrong weight, or they cry too much, or because the mother has had the temerity to have twins. Likewise the elderly, the infirm, and the useless.
The Giver is an intriguing story, but it does tend to the incredulous, since no explanation is ever given for the passivity and submission of the inhabitants of the “community.” If I wanted to read an attempt at a utopia of conformity, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is light years better. Considering the desires of the lunatic fringe on the religious right, Atwood’s story is frightening enough, and, if those fundies had their way, much more likely to happen. Three stars.
--Chiron, 10/28/2007

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