The movie is coming. I saw the trailer. But it wasn’t the story I thought it was; it turns out that all these years the book I remembered as Lois Lowry’s The Giver was in fact Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s The Keeper!. Which is pretty embarrassing given that I reviewed that one for The Washington Post. And The Giver? I hadn’t even read it.
Yesterday I did. I so wish I had been 14 when I found it, but it was published in 1993 and won the Newbery Medal in 1994 so that’s past not only my 14th birthday but that of one of my son’s! It’s very gripping and beautifully written, but there’s been so much YA dystopian fiction since then that it’s hard to imagine the punch in the gut it must have been when it appeared.
As a veteran of the Divergent trilogy and The Hunger Games (and, ok, the Twilight Series but they don’t count) as well as countless post-nuclear–holocaust novels and a ton of cyberfiction, I’m an old hand in this neck of the woods. Even so, the intent of The Giver is a little different. There’s no hunger, no war, not even any pain. It’s a twisted version of John Lennon’s Imagine.
Except, of course, it isn’t.
The “sameness” that rules this world has murdered color and music and laughter and love. Oh – and babies, too. One person, “the Giver” is the sole custodian of all memories of the bitter, the painful and the sad. We know this will not stand. And that’s the point.
We had a sign up in my college dorm – a banner across the front porch: “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” — William Faulkner, The Wild Palms Those are the words and feelings of young people and artists. And it is the battle against nothing the Lowry offers her young readers. As she told the New York Times: “Kids deserve the right to think that they can change the world.”
When the Giver helps our young hero Jonas decide that beauty and emotion are worth the terrible prices we pay to be fully human, we are all empowered to imagine that we can — no must, join him. Take a stand. Change a mind. Solve a problem. Correct an injustice. Fall in love. Break our hearts or someone else’s. Be alive.
And that’s the power of The Giver, as the rest of you have probably known for years.