The Giver


Lois Lowry




Date Reviewed:

April 14, 2010

ne day I wondered "Which books have been reviewed the most frequently on Amazon?" Of course, there is a website that shows exactly that. No surprise, the Harry Potter novels dominate the list. Also, I see a book called Holes by Louis Sachar on the list, that was a book I enjoyed. But at #10 was a book called The Giver by Lois Lowry, which I had never heard of. So I checked it out of library for a quick read.

What a crummy book The Giver is! A novel is supposed to present to the reader with a believable story, but nothing in The Giver makes a bit of sense. There is no logic. Didn't Lowry give any thought to the world she was creating when she wrote about it?"

The Giver describes the world of Jonas, a 12 year old boy who lives in a Utopian village. It is a perfectly controlled environment. There is no violence, no hunger, no poverty, everyone has a job and a meaningful place in the community. But in order to construct this ideal world, the citizens of Utopia have to abide by a strict set of rules. They have to sacrifice a lot of free will to the decisions of the Council. For example, the Council decides who you will marry and what your career shall be. Lowry clearly intends to write a Book With A Message, but her delivery is so bad that it is hard to figure out just what The Message exactly is meant to be. I think the Message is this: in order to lead a meaningful life, you must have the freedom to make bad choices, you must be allowed the choice to do bad things, or else choosing to do good things will be meaningless. Okay, that could be a good premise for an insightful novel, but let's look at how Lowry screws it up:

When Jonas turns twelve, he is assigned a career of Receiver of Memories at the Naming Ceremony. But what kind of a job is a Receiver of Memories? It means that Jonas will be required to remember all the memories from the world before the Utopian society was constructed. An old man, the previous Receiver of Memories, will transfer all these memories to Jonas. Jonas will learn about love, families, passion, war, fear, poverty - everything that existed in the human world before being wiped away when the perfect society was constructed. This is where Lowry blows it, there is no logic to any of this.

In Lowry's perfect society, there is no color, no music, no warmth in the sunshine, no grandparents, no hills(!), no true love, no change - because all that had to be deleted when making Utopia. But why? Why do people have to give up seeing color in order to live in a world without hunger? Why do people have to give up music so that there will be no war? There is no logical reason for this. In Lowry's world, the citizens murder their elderly people, or kill the people who break too many rules - this is so that they may live in a world without violence or fear! Does that make any sense? Since when did warm sunshine cause greed or crime?

What magical mechanism allows the designers of this world to prevent Jonas from feeling the warmth in the suns rays??

When the old man (called the Giver, since he gives the old memories to Jonas) lays his hands on Jonas, he can transfer memories with incredible vividness. In the first experience, the Giver passes to Jonas the experience of riding a sled down a snowy hill. This is a wonderful adventure for Jonas, who has never experienced anything so strange as snow or color. But what strange ability allows the Giver to pass a memory simply by touching Jonas? (Indeed, by giving the memory to Jonas, the old man forgets it himself, which is another item that makes no sense). When Jonas touches the babe Gabe, he can give the child memories. But when Jonas touches his friend Fiona, he is unable to pass a memory to her. Why not? When Rosemary killed herself ten years ago, all of her memories were dissipated to the rest of the village - but she wasn't touching anyone when she died, so how did the memories get transferred? The Giver tells Jonas that memories are never lost, but Jonas was alive 10 years ago when Rosemary died - so if her memories transferred to the villagers, why doesn't Jonas have any recollection of color, music, etc? If Rosemary's memories are passed out when she died, then why isn't the memory of dying given to the citizens each time a Giver dies? Presumably, a Giver will have transferred most his memories to the new Receiver of Memories before taking the lethal injection that kills him, but obviously the last thing the Giver will remember is receiving the injection just before dying, so that memory of dying should always be transferred.

After Jonas learns about sledding, he wishes that his village had some hills and snow so that he could go sledding on his own. But the Giver says:"We had to get rid of hills, because they are inefficient. It takes extra effort to go up hills." An thoughtless remark that makes no sense - because although going up hills is harder, going DOWN hills is easier. The net effect is zero, the existence of a hill does not impair efficiency. Besides, if the village has no hills, what keeps the river flowing in its bed? Without hills to contain the river, its water would spread evenly over the entire surface.

Jonas goes to the retirement home where he gives a bath to an elderly woman. I believe Lowry intends this scene to shock its readers - there is no nudity taboo in a utopia? But this scene made me wonder - why does any one wear clothes at all? The villagers live in a climate controlled environment, they don't clothing for protection or style. And obviously they don't need clothing for modesty. If they are willing to expend enormous effort to remove all hills from their landscape in the name of efficiency, why do they spend any effort on something as pointless as clothing? After all, the people who labor to make and clean the clothing could be put to more productive uses. Another question: why do they live in buildings? Isn't it inefficient to build and maintain structure that you don't need?

When Jonas receives the memory of a broken leg from the Giver, his own leg hurts for a while, he limps home that night. When Jonas gets the memory of starvation, his belly aches from the memory of the hunger pains. But when Jonas learns of war, he gets the memory of having his whole arm blown off - but there is no mention of his arm hurting after that. That is not how memories work - if I think back to when I sprained my ankle playing basketball, my own ankle doesn't start hurting. If I think about my last visit to the dentist, my teeth don't start hurting. When Jonas makes his escape from the village, airplanes fly overhead. To escape the thermal scanners, Jonas thinks of a memory of being cold, and then lowers his body temperature! When he is cold in the mountains, Jonas remembers being hot and this warms him up!! Again, this is not how memories work. This is ridiculous.

The Giver claims that no memories are lost, and he apparently has the entire lifetimes of many people stored in his head. But how can the Giver possibly transfer multiple lifetimes worth of memories to Jonas in less than one lifetime? In order to absorb so many memories, Jonas would have download huge quantities of experiences all at once, otherwise the transfer couldn't happen fast enough. But if the memories are exchanged at bulk rate, then Jonas won't "feel" them. He will have the memory of warfare, but it wouldn't bother him unless he actually recalls that memory. If no memories are lost, does that mean Jonas can now recall an infinite number of times of washing clothes, tying his shoes or going to the bathroom? In real life, memories ARE lost - can you recall what you had for breakfast every day of your life?

Prior to being selected as the new Receiver of Memories, Jonas starts to see flashes of color in his black and white universe - for example, he strangely sees the apple flicker into color. Why does this happen to him? Why doesn't it happen to anyone else? Remember, there is nothing biologically special about Jonas, he has not been specially "bred" to be a Receiver of Memories. He never gets any special education. So why can't anyone else in the village pass memories or see flickers of color.

Why does this society keep a Receiver of Memories? Because the Receiver of Memories has Knowledge of How Things Used to Be, the Receiver can advise the Council on their decisions. For example, the Council of Elders suggests that if more babies are born then there will be more Laborers to get the work done. But the Receiver of Memories can recall a time when there was starvation, and therefore advises them not to grow their population. Again, this is illogical. Why not grow more food? Why not have everyone skip one meal a week? Why not kill all the old people sooner and use their food? (In this ideal world, the elderly are sent to a retirement home, where they are treated nicely for a few years, and then they are killed. Why not just kill them right away - there would be more food for the healthy young Laborers, and the people who currently work in the nursing home would be free to do other tasks.)

One of the key points in the story is when Jonas learns that his father has killed one of the new born identical twins. Why kill one? Because it would be too hard to tell them apart! You would think a society that values conformity would want their citizens to look as alike as possible, that way no one would be too ugly or too beautiful. Why does his father hide the fact that he killed the twin? In this society, nobody is allowed to lie. Why does he used the word "released" instead of saying his killed the baby? In this book we are given multiple examples of how important it is to use the accurate words - for example, Jonas uses the word "love" in conversation, and his family corrects him. Indeed, the book opens with Jonas frightened by an airplane flying overhead, but then he corrects himself and uses the proper word - he is apprehensive. If the society is so precise in its word usage, why does it say "released"? Why does a plane flying overhead frighten Jonas? It should be routine to see a plane in the air, the planes land at the edge of the village with cargo all the time. After Jonas makes his escape, planes fly overhead searching for him - but won't these planes frighten all the other people who remain in their villages? Why use planes to look for him - they know he is on a stolen bicycle carrying Gabe, so obviously Jonas is escaping along the road - just put up a few road blocks!! I repeat - there is no logic in anything that happens in this novel.

At the end of the novel, Jonas makes his way to the society that is just like our world - with snow and lights and families. But if it is just like our world, it is also full of violence, crime and poverty. Jonas probably ends up in a foster home, abused and treated terribly. Why don't these other people, who know about violence and warfare, invade the Utopian societies? In our world, if a country was as defenseless as the Utopians, then they would be quickly conquered. A dictator would lead an army to overrun the stupid villages, and they would all be "released"!

I can't believe The Giver won a Newberry award. It is riddled with inconsistencies, portrays an unbelievable world (no warmth in sunshine? No color?), and doesn't even properly get across its intended Message. What a lousy book. Good thing it was short and I didn't waste a lot of time getting through it!