Lowry, Lois. The Giver. (NY: Laurel-Leaf/Random, 1993).
narrator: first-person, Jonas
Finally, I’ve read this book I’ve heard so much about. And what a book! Elizabeth Woodruff gave a presentation at this Summer Institute (Alabama A&M University Writing Project, or AAMU WP) on teaching memoir to her third-grade students. I kept wanting a version of The Giver for third-graders, because Lowry’s novel goes along well with Mem Fox’s picture book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, which also discusses lost memories. Both works talk about the centrality of memory for identity, cultural and personal connections — both in what happens with memory loss and memory recuperation.
I love that Jonas begins to see the color red first, but we don’t know that’s what he sees, until Jonas talks to the Receiver of Memory. Then we know that the flash of the apple is red, the flash on Fiona’s hair, the flash on people’s faces — those are moments of red. The father, Nurturer, and mother, judge/lawyer, are peripheral characters, but the father becomes central as Jonas learns what Release means. Gabriel, another light-eyed being like Jonas and the Giver, also receives memories. Adoption, nuclear family, old age, societal engineering… Lily, Jonas’ sister is a feisty eight-year old. Sameness. Elsewhere. This novel is a finely wrought utopia/dystopia. I think of Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. Lowry’s novel excels by presenting a utopia whose underside gets exposed as dystopia. I like how she shows the father doing his deeds as if they were commonplace. That is, that’s how The Giver explains the video to Jonas near the end. ‘Nuff said.