Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Giver

The Giver, by Lois Lowry
$12.80 at ISBN: 0395645662
This book deals with Utopian Thought, that is: what would happen if all the world's problems were fixed? Without war, poverty, disease, cell phones, and all other forms of unpleasantness we'd live in a "perfect" society. What would that be like? Usually, it comes with some sort of horrible catch. In this book, the "cost" of perfection is: 1. Loss of freedom, you have to conform to all of society's rules and 2. Without struggle and suffering, life is kind of frivolous and meaningless. There are lots of novels about Utopia, and this one is a terrific first choice, because it's short, easy to get into, and incredibly exciting. Lowry gets props for expressing complicated ideas in a way anyone can understand and relate to.
Jonas, the book's hero, is twelve years old, and lives in a perfect society where no one is ever rude and no one ever suffers. Everyone has a job they enjoy and are perfectly suited to. The drawbacks, however, soon become obvious. For one thing, it's mandatory to take pills that repress sexual desire starting with the first signs of puberty. Drag. Seeing other people naked, dating, and romantic love are all forbidden and unknown. Double drag. Everyone is polite, no one is poor, all the little girls wear pig tails and saddle shoes, but it hardly seems worth it considering how bland their world is.
But Jonas is unique, called the Receiver, he's responsible for keeping all the world's memories of what life was like before this dazzling society developed. Sledding down a hill, opening gifts on Christmas morning, even the feeling of love for one's family are understood by him alone. Jonas also knows about war, hunger, and pain. As he learns of these things, he feels distanced from his family and friends on account of their humdrum lives. In time Jonas begins to wonder: is perfection a good thing? Or is suffering an important part of life?
This is technically a kids' book, you'll find it in the Young Adult section. This makes it smooth as butter to read, and it's not too long. But it deals deftly with complicated issues, and is thought provoking at any age. Props to Sarah for suggesting it to me.

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