Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Giver - 1994 Medal

by Lois Lowry,
read by Ron Rifkin

This 1994 Medalist has become a classic - one of the most popular Newbery winners, and one that is frequently challenged in schools and libraries, for reasons ranging from “contains graphic themes,” and  “contains blasphemous ideas and content,” to “depicts ideas and actions that are inappropriate for young readers,” and “inappropriate for [elementary] grade level.”

In a nutshell:  Main character Jonas learns his utopian world is really dystopian.

In his community, everyone lives a regimented life.  Birth mothers produce children for other families, which created by matching compatible men and women.  Medication is taken to eliminate sexual desire.  Old people, babies that don't thrive, and other misfits are "released." No one - except Jonas, and he only a little - sees color.  And twelve-year-olds - which is what Jonas is about to be - are given "Assignments," matched to a career or more menial job best suited to their abilities and temperament.

Jonas is selected to be his community's next Receiver of Memory.  All memories of past events and sensations have gone to one person - and he is now the Giver (who can also see color), and will pass these on to Jonas.

In a 2004 interview, author Lois Lowry said she got the idea for The Giver when visiting her parents in a nursing home. Her father was still in good physical health, but his memory was failing. Her mother was physically ill, but her memory was intact.

"I would travel home with that in my mind, and I began to think a lot about the concept of memory. When it was time for me to begin a new book, I began to create in my mind a place and a group of people who had somehow found the capacity to control memory," Lowry said.

Many other life experiences influenced the plot, and Lowry talks about them in her Newbery acceptance speech.  I found interesting that the old man on the cover of my audiobook and print copy is actually a photo Lowry took of artist Carl Nelson when she wrote an article about him in 1979.  She described him as a man whose "capacity for seeing color goes far beyond" others - and he later became blind.

Some people don't like the book's ambiguous ending, but I'm fine with it.  I think it fits perfectly with the whole theme of memory.  For those who don't like it, though, Lowry has since written three companion books, the latest published just last year.

Broadway, movie, and television actor Ron Rifkin was okay as the audiobook narrator, better voicing male characters than female.  The background instrumental music played to emphasize important scenes was often too loud and distracting.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  A paperback copy for reference was obtained secondhand.  It is signed by the author, "with love to those who read - remember - and GIVE," and dated 1994, so I'll be hanging on to it.  This review also appears on my blog, Bookin' It.]


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Jo said...

I have a copy of the book with the same signing on the inside! How neat!