My son had me pick up this book at the library some weeks ago. He had read it in school and it just stuck with him all these many months later. I am always pretty fascinated by books that make him think deeply and question things, so I decided to find the time to read it.
The Giver by Lois Lowry won a Newbery Medal in 1994, so those of you my age probably wouldn’t have heard about it unless you have children in Middle School reading from the new Newbery list or if you keep track of each book that wins every year. You can find the whole list on Wikipedia. It is also on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books in the 1990s and actually is a sort of trilogy, the newest title “Son” will be out in October of this year.
At first, while reading it, I thought that it would be similar to books like 1984 by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury or the like, but it was very original in its own way. At first the world seems absolutely perfect. No one is ever hurt, no one is ever sad, everyone shares their feelings and everyone works together and then you begin to realize that it isn’t as Utopian as it appears. No one ever makes choices, no one ever really feels anything and anyone outside of the normal spectrum is ‘released’ from the society; which you later realize is something altogether different than first thought.
You follow the story through the eyes of Jonas as he becomes The Giver. The emotional turmoil he faces inside as he moves out of the scope of what is deemed normal and safe.
An interesting part of the book that I hope isn’t spoiling it, (that I hadn’t found any answer to in the Q&A on the back) was that you are told that Jonas has blue eyes and that the original Giver has blue eyes, but you then are brought into the knowledge that there isn’t any color. No races, no hues or shades of anything but ‘sameness’. I found this really interesting, how they could tell a difference in their own eyes without ever seeing any other colors on the spectrum.
The ending leaves you. It just leaves you. In a state of wondering, of loss, of uncertainty, of hope or desperation in knowing… it leaves you. It is no wonder that it stuck with my son for so long and then now has left me in the same state. Sadly, as I am older, I see so much of what was in the book slowly coming to light. Our desire to create so much ‘sameness’ instead of the vivid choices we have because everyone is afraid of difference, everyone is afraid of hurting everyone else. Whether we realize it or not, that is what makes us so individual and so uniquely beautiful. In our desire to create Lois Lowry’s ‘Sameness’, we are destroying our choice to be ourselves.
I look at the color of the leaves on the trees, the blue in the sky and the different tints of red in the bricks on my patio and wonder what it would be like to have ‘sameness’. The same color without color. I wonder if my eyes would stand out on the pages, in their vivid turquoise tones, and if people would look away as not to be rude and see a difference in me. I imagine myself in that world and realize why this story stuck out so much to so many young people.
So I am passing it on to you, as my son passed it to me that day at the Library. Next time you are looking for a book, take a moment to pick it up. It is not a very long book and you could probably read it in a few hours if you did nothing else, but I think it is an important one.