The Giver

 The Giver by Lois Lowry

Jonas, 11, lives in a community where all decisions are made by a council of elders. He has two parents who were chosen for him the year he was born to a "birth-mother", a woman whose assignment it is to bear three children then spend her life in menial labour. His parents were chosen to become a family unit, then were assigned one boy and one girl to raise. Their days are prescribed for them in the rule books of the community: at breakfast the "family unit" talks about the dreams they had the night before, then go off to school or their assigned work, come home, and after dinner discuss the feelings they've each had during the day.

Everything is designed for the peace and orderly functioning of the community. Members experience no pressure, no stress, no poverty, no need unprovided. Of course this safe existence costs them something: they make no choice for themselves, they've lost the ability to feel deep emotion, and they live in a bland world without colour, though I'm not sure how they managed that one. They have no books in their "dwelling units" because books might threaten the peace of the community. Meals are delivered and leftovers taken away again, eliminating the need for menu planning, shopping and preparation. When Jonas has a dream about a girl, experiencing for the first time what the community calls "the stirrings", he is given a pill and assured that all the adults in the community take them. No need to be disturbed by anything as outmoded as human nature, no pesky decisions to make. Life is serene. 

Until, one day, something unusual happens to Jonas. As he is tossing an apple up and down in his hand, it "changes". It no longer looks like all the other dull, colourless things around him. Jonas doesn't know it yet, but what he's seen is a brief flash of colour, the beginning of his awakening to reality.
At the age of twelve, community members receive their life assignments. Jonas will get his at an upcoming ceremony just as his parents did before him, his mother to work in the Justice Dept. and his father to be a Nurturer of infants. At the ceremony, however, Jonas is not given an assignment. Instead he is chosen for a rare honour: he will become the Receiver, the one person in his community to be trained by the current Receiver (now the Giver) to carry the memories of the past; memories of pain, love, war, happiness, depression, all the highs and lows of human life the Elders believe too dangerous for the community to experience. But when Jonas begins his training, he learns that all is not as it seems; something darker is going on behind the manufactured serenity. 

I was hooked on the first page and truly found it hard to put down. It made me think of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Never Let Me Go, and The Matrix, but not too much. It is a unique story. It's well written, the characters are believable, and the plot well paced. Suspense builds until you're breathless with anticipation, then just as you get to where you'll find out what don't.
The ending is vague, creating more questions than answers. I do understand that this is the first of a "quartet" of books, but I've also heard the second doesn't continue this storyline. I loved the reading of this, but I wanted another few pages, not necessarily to explain what happened at the end - I'm fine with ambiguous endings - but to explain how any of this story happened at all. I'd really like some back-story, something to ground it, some perspective. Maybe that comes in the later books, which I guess I should read to be fair to the author. I wasn't going to, but I may have just convinced myself it's necessary.     


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