Today I’m taking you to a world where sameness is not only celebrated but ingrained into every part of life. Where sameness is achievement through a happy medium in all things. There are no extremes. Not in language, not in feelings, not in achievements, not in differences. There are no big decisions to make because they have all been made for you – for you, for the community and for everyone’s maximum comfort and safety.
This is the community – and maybe the world – that twelve-year-old Jonas lives in. Life is highly regulated, the community provides and everyone knows their place in the system. It’s a peaceful, uneventful but content life that he and his family unit share in their dwelling. They are not related by blood but by assignment just as every other aspect of life is assigned and regulated by the rules and regulations of the council. They live their lives according to the customs and laws of their community. They children go to school with their age peers and their milestones are communal ones – at seven you are old enough for a jacket with buttons, at nine you receive your own bicycle and at twelve, you will be assigned a career to train for, based on the aptitude your communal service has shown. All jobs provide for the community in one way or another – from birthing children, to providing food or necessities to caring for the elderly. Anyone who is not able to be a valuable part of society is ceremonially released to go beyond the confines of the community to Elsewhere.
Jonas is eager to finally be told what his future holds when it is his turn to receive his assignment at the annual ceremony in his twelfth year. He has no clear idea what it could be because he liked most of the tasks he tried. But when he is assigned to be the next Receiver of Memories, a hushed silence falls over the crowd. He has never heard of the position.
This is basically the set-up for the story of Lois Lowry’s 2014 bestseller The Giver. The book has since been followed up by three sequels to form The Giver Quartet which I have not yet read. It has also been made into a Hollywood blockbuster which I haven’t seen but just watched the trailer for – I will discuss that at the end. It is a children’s or YA book – I feel like the theme is very advanced and the writing sometimes extremely subtle for a kids book but the protagonist is only barely a teenager. I got this book as a gift – one of my favorite ways to discover new books I wouldn’t know I was looking for – and it’s the first time in a long while that I have read a new one of these futuristic and/or dystopian YA books. Which is a genre I do love because it takes the dangers of different technological advances or systemic pressure ad absurdum in a way not many “grown-up” titles do.
Of course that means we have the typical chosen one as our protagonist and he needs to learn stuff from an old and wise teacher. But in this case, it isn’t outright magic spells or kinetic energy or sword fighting. He learns about things that are utterly normal to us as people of our age. And a lot of things that were extraordinary but also happened to normal people. He learns about colors and feelings and the details of the human experience. All of this is mindboggling to him because, you see, all the sameness has done away with all of that. There can’t be memories of extreme if sameness is supposed to make anyone content. But without memories, the council has no frame of reference for their decisions. So, Jonas, the new Receiver of Memories and his predecessor – now the Giver – must bear the burden of memory so their community may live in the naïve security of sameness.
I won’t tell you any more of the plot because I feel like I have given away a lot already – hopefully nobody will feel spoiled by that though as it is really only the frame for a much more nuanced story line.
I enjoyed the book even though it is a very quick read, as it is written for kids and I have already downloaded the whole quartet onto my kindle to continue the story. What I liked most about the book is that none of the ideas or normalities of Jonas day to day life are explained or questioned beyond what he, as an obedient twelve-year-old, does. And once he changes his opinion of things, he uses examples of situations that we – the readers – have lived through with him to hone his new viewpoints.
It’s a very clever book even though it is a very extreme concept that I don’t think would be thought through enough to be plausible in the long run. Honestly, the set-up feels a lot like Divergent and we all (assuming you’re dystopian YA trash) have seen what a dumpster fire that series ended in – and I’m not even counting the problems of the movies or the weird love story here. But I digress, it is a really fascinating mental experiment and an interesting world to enter if you need to be reminded that extremes and the extraordinary are what make life interesting – if a little more dangerous.
I’m really excited – yes that’s a strong feeling – to continue the story because the book definitely ends on a cliff hanger. So maybe get the book set right away if this sounds like something you might enjoy!
And now, I need to talk about the movie. Or the trailer at least. I was tempted to do a book/movie comparison and looked up the trailer. And holy cow, it’s almost unrecognizable. Where the book is all quiet suburban life with bicycles, city government and community living, the movie is super futuristic high-tech drones, injections and soldiers dropping from drones. I don’t know how the movie did but I’m guessing a movie with Jeff Bridges as the Giver and Meryl Streep in a newly added government baddie role can’t have done too poorly. Not only did they change the whole tone and setting and added a villain – which I understand as they wanted blockbuster visuals and needed more conversations – but they also changed the main character to be about 16 (at a guess) and gave him a female sidekick/love interest. Which I hate. I know, I know it happens in most adaptions but I also always think that it significantly changes the dynamic of like, well, everything. I was honestly shocked how far away the movie seems to be from the book. The book and its descriptions are all like very calm and basic, mostly fascinating in their absence of anything spectacular and then they make it into a movie that rivals the Hunger Games in intricacy and drama. Not that movies like that are bad, I love me a Hollywood blockbuster and apart from the casting, I also love the Hunger Games movies. It also made me almost sure the trailer was for another Maze Runner movie somehow – very similar feeling. So yeah, I won’t be watching the movie and I’m flabbergasted how it got made the way it did. I think, I would’ve gone in the opposite direction and made it a very solemn, quiet movie with not a lot of color or excitement – maybe even a bit whimsical or indie.