Review: The Giver

We all like to think that the things we love are masterpieces, while the things we don’t are derivative claptrap. (Or is that just me?) I mean, it must be good if I like it, right? Do I not have impeccable taste?

But the older you get, the more you realize that, hey, sometimes the stuff I love is … um … flawed. (Play that Funky Music, White Boy?) And some brilliant stuff can be a real slog to get through. (One day, I will finish Infinite Jest, I promise.)

Which brings us to The Giver by Lois Lowry. This YA dystopian fantasy novel was written in 1993, which means that I missed being the target audience when it was new by a few years. I have since been meaning to read it, but just never got around to it. Until a few days ago. And I loved it. Even though I knew while I was reading it that it was … well … disappointing as a piece of literature.

Thumbnail sketch: Jonas lives in a society that has forsaken choice and emotion and pain for politeness and Sameness. As he enters his 12th year, when all children begin the transition to adulthood as they are selected for their occupation, he is stunned when he is not selected for any. Rather, he is Chosen to be The Receiver: the one person who holds all the memories of the community, and before the community, and back and back and back. He then begins his training with the Receiver he will be replacing (whom he calls The Giver), and he quickly comes to understand that this Sameness thing isn’t right. I’m sure you can fill in the rest. (Mini-spoiler: Something must be done!)

Now, I like some YA fantasy. Hunger Games and Harry Potter are solid reads. I’m not a snob that says older people shouldn’t read YA. And I don’t think it’s fair to hold YA fiction to an adult fiction standard. And I don’t think I’m doing that with “The Giver” when I say that it fails in a number of places to maintain the suspension of disbelief, or that the ending was not only schlocky, but also didn’t tell the most important story.

Lois Lowry quite obviously has “Something To Say,” and the plot unfolds to she can say it. And I loved the book mostly because I loved her “Something To Say:” the importance of individuality; the cost and benefits of real freedom; that there is no love without pain, and no heroes without tragedy.

So yes, I loved the book, in spite of its holes. And it is at least an easy read; I finished it in two days. So you won’t be wasting weeks and months on it (looking at you, ghost of David Foster Wallace). But it just could have been so much better.

Ah well. Maybe it will be in the movie.


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