Friday, July 24, 2015

The Giver by Lois Lowry - a review

The Giver (The Giver, #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Reading The Giver right after finishing Williams' Stoner was a mistake. Now that I'm done with it, I feel like I had just completed a satisfying meal complimented by a delicious dessert, only to reach for a glass, take a sip, and find out it has sea water in it. My palate is ruined.

I must admit that, before writing this review, I looked at some of the reviews posted on Goodreads. I also must admit that either my literary tastes have been spoiled by past quality offerings, or that most of the [over one million] people who rated this book have no idea what quality fiction is. Whatever the real case might be, I feel sad.

Where should I begin? Oh yes, at the beginning. The Giver lacks originality. Those who read widely will probably find elements from other books and stories, done and overdone ad nauseum.

The premise of The Giver vaguely resembles the ideas put forth by Plato about 2500 years ago in his The Republic. The idea of a society where predetermined ideas replace choices for the greater benefit of an unknowing populace has also been explored in many utopian and dystopian books alike. Unlike the original proponents of such ideas, The Giver does not have a clear path to follow, as it dabbles in both utopia and dystopia without any clear direction. The entire book is composed of a fabric so full of holes, that an alert reader simply cannot take the information presented for granted.

Instance after instance, the reader is offered a 'fact' which contradicts reason, yet the author either does not consider the reader intelligent enough to see this, or valuable enough to bother with an explanation. Simply put, the author asks the reader to suspend disbelief without providing the necessary path for this to occur. To me, this is both insulting and a sign of laziness.

Let's assume, for a moment, that I was writing a novel, which takes place in a world where everyone walks. Suddenly, the protagonist takes off flying. As an author, I would have to create a backstory, a believable explanation why the protagonist has ability unique to him. Lowry, however, does not bother with explanations. Acts are presented as a matter of fact, despite their pertinence to the advancement of the plot, and there is no justification.

The plot itself, if it can be called that, is rather shallow at best. Imagine, for a moment, a society where feelings are superficial, emotions are unnecessary, and a ruling body makes choices for the populace, which is unaware of the lack of reality, that ensure the smooth continuation of the utopia. Then, out of the blue, a boy with a power to see beyond (unexplained) is told that he was selected to carry the pain of memories for the entire community (again, no explanation why the regular citizens do not have memories, emotions, et cetera). The boy begins to receive memories, both painful and joyful, and mentions to his teacher that it would be better if all citizens had memories. The teacher agrees, but reasons that he has thought the same for ages, and could not find a way for it to happen. The teacher recalls an incident where an earlier apprentice quit and the memories transmitted to her escaped and entered the citizens. Suddenly, he and the boy realize that this is the way to enable the citizens to have memories, and they hatch a plan for the boy to escape the community so that, once he leaves, the memories he has will return and enter the population. Wow. Really? Ahem . . . boring. There are so many holes in this, and the author does not bother with any explanations. How are the memories contained within only one individual? How do the memories leave that individual and enter the population? How come the memories cannot leave the physical boundaries of the community but the individual can? Why does the 'giver' not leave himself do accomplish this? Why did it take him ages to figure this out? How come no one has done it before?

Okay, what am I, an idiot?

Thus, as a utopian/dystopian tale, this fails.

Some, however, view this as a coming of age story, since Jonas (the protagonist) has an awakening and finds his consciousness. Again, I cannot view this work seriously as a coming of age story, because the awakening is mediocre at best, and the required character arc is lacking. Jonas might have had an awakening, but it was nothing groundbreaking. It was more like: Oh, I have a power. Oh, I'm learning things. Hey, my father has been lying to me! Okay, this should stop. I'm outta here before they kill the baby, which recently entered my life.

The story had the potential to explore the disenchanted nature of the protagonist, the buildup and the excitement of discovering the truth, only to have the weight of the truth crush him. It had the potential to explore inner turmoil, the will to rise against injustice, deception, and the wrong rule. But it did not. It presented the tale in an arc that was rather flat.

The plot and characters aside, I found the writing somewhat dull. It lacked on many levels.

In conclusion, I must admit that I am, perhaps, more critical in my review than necessary. Nevertheless, in light of the countless glowing reviews posted on Goodreads by English Majors, educators, and readers, I feel it is my duty to be critical. When numerous books of higher literary merit are overlooked and virtually unknown, a book awarded the Newbery Medal should live up to the standards associated with that prestigious award. Looking back at it, I do not see why it was awarded.

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  1. Ouch. Harsh, dude. You know it's a kids book, don't you? LOL.
    I totally have to re-read this. Then we'll talk. xo

    1. It's a lot more than a kids' book. It's got quite a lot of propaganda in it, and while it is aimed at the ya crowd, many older readers read it.