At I Was A Teenage Book Geek, Tuesdays are for time travel. Every week, I’ll delve into the YA bookshelves of years gone by and review a book that most definitely isn’t a new release. It might not even be a recent release. It might be five years old, or ten, or twenty. So that’s the deal: I’ll read it, and let you know whether I think it’s worth you reading it too. The book won’t necessarily be about time travel. Although it might be.
I first read Lois Lowry’s The Giver in the nineties, back when I still used the internet for pointless things like assignments rather than trawling the YA book blogs for potential wishlist fodder. This may be why it only recently came to my attention that Lowry has since published two companion books, A Gathering Blue and The Messenger. I don't know about you, but I tend to think it’s important to reread a book in preparation for a long-awaited sequel.
Eleven-year-old Jonas lives in a perfect world where sameness is the key to happiness. All children are the offspring of specially selected birthmothers they will never know, are looked after by communal nurturers until age one, and are then named by the Elders and placed with their chosen parents. Every morning, each family shares any dreams they may have had. There’s no conflict, no crime, and very little physical pain. At nine all children are given bicycles, and at twelve the Elders bestow upon them the career path they will follow.
At his turning-twelve ceremony, when his peers receive assignments as Doctors or Engineers, Jonas is selected for a role he knows nothing about: Receiver of Memory. He is sent to the current Receiver for training, and here he begins to find out exactly what his world is missing. He alone is to receive the memories of life before this perfect world - of concepts, sensations and feelings his world has no place for. He is to experience pain. He alone is to see.
Rereading this book, I was mainly struck by how clever it is. In the opening chapters, Jonas seems to be happy. He’s a little puzzled that an apple seems to ‘change’ in front of him in a way he can’t explain, but he’s secure in his world, and the other characters seem to treat each other with respect. Anyone exhibiting rudeness towards another person apologises at once; this is always answered with an acceptance of the apology. However, Lowry weaves in insidious little details - the community’s rules about imprecision of language, and the way Jonas’s seven-year-old sister refers to her toy elephant as her ‘comfort object’ - that gradually build into an awareness that there is something seriously wrong with this perfect world of sameness.
The Giver is a concise but powerful read. We never find out how Jonas’s society has achieved its culture of sameness, and although I would love to know how Lowry would explain this, it’s really not necessary to appreciate the book’s message. This is the kind of book that stays with you. If you haven’t read The Giver yet, you should.