Monday, March 24, 2014

The Giver, Lois Lowry

 I only recognize the cover art on the middle picture.

I first read this book in the 6th grade, as it came HIGHLY recommended to me by a teacher or librarian. Apparently it was a brand new book, although at the time I had no clue. I don't think that even as an avid reader I paid much attention to books and release dates or when things came out. And if I hadn't checked the copyright, I don't think I would have realized that I read it when it was first published.

I was 12 when I read it. Fast forward 20.5 years later. And here's what I could remember:

It was disturbing.
A girl the main character was friends with whom after they bathed the elderly together (as a volunteer-and yes the fact that 11 year olds were bathing nude elderly was part of the disturbing nature of the book for me) had a dream in which he was attempting to get his friend to get into a tub so he could bathe her. When he had to report this dream in the morning (as is required) he is issued a pill that curbs these feelings. When I was a bit older, remembering about this dream made me realize he'd probably had what we call "wet dreams" and the pill stopped this.
I remembered jobs being assigned and Birthmother was NOT a good one.
Families applied for children, and could apply twice-once for a girl and once for a boy.
I remember feeling....apprehensive as I read it.

Of course, I didn't know what "dystopian" society books were, or their aim, or WHY someone would write about such twisted messed up people. I kinda wish I had been warned and perhaps educated a little. Because it was NOT my favorite book of my childhood. I remembered only the weird embarrassing parts. But maybe if I knew what the genre was, I'd have not been so shocked. Anyhow, when I found out the movie is being released in August, I decided to do what I have been planning on doing for a long time. Re-read it as an adult. And WOW. Yeah, I remembered everything correctly, but I had FORGOTTEN some of the MOST disturbing practices. Such as the "Release" procedure. As an adult, I figured out pretty quickly what it was a euphemism for, but I know I didn't see it coming so clearly as a child.

Heralded as the "first" YA dystopian book (technically directed towards "middle-year readers") that spawned many others, it has hints of Orwell's 1984 and you can see how other books, Matched, Divergent, Uglies, etc have nods to Lowry's concepts. Basically in The Giver, the people of society has elected for the safety of all, to live in "Sameness." There are also no real feelings or emotions. They are closely monitored by speakers (although this isn't apparent until closer to the middle of the book) in their dwellings. They take a daily pill once puberty hits to quell natural sexual feelings. There is no physical touch except in the young Nurturing years. It is a crime to see another's naked body. Many things have been obsolete-fewer words and only those with precise meanings are allowed, animals are "mythical creatures" everything is predictable. You apply for a spouse if you want to, and then are assigned a spouse. But heavily implied, there is no physical relationship. They may apply for up to 2 children, one male one female. Population is strictly controlled, Birthmothers are trained shortly after they are 12 and then give 3 births in 3 years and transition to Laborer for an occupation. 50 children are born into the society each year. And I assume, since you read about Releasing Ceremonies for the Elderly that there are probably 50 releases per year in the community as well. Scientists create genetically superior embryos (this is implied) and I assume are artificially implanted into the birthmothers. Part of this Sameness is that the society is colorblind and 99.9% of the population  has eyes, although we have descriptions of both light and dark hair, both curly and straight. There is 1 person in society chosen to keep ALL the memories of everything past and present so that no one in society has to bear the burden of knowing what pain is, or love or joy or sorrow or loneliness. Basically, they live like Adam and Eve before partaking of the forbidden fruit and learning the difference between good and bad. These people have opted NOT to have a choice for fear that someone might choose wrong. Of course, that goes back to the societies beginning and the current population isn't even aware that anything different ever happened. Every December there are Ceremonies for children. All the babies born that year who are sleeping well through the night and thriving, are Newchildren, considered 1 and placed with their families and given a name. Then at each age after that, there are new things given. For instance, 3s and 4s have jackets that fasten in the back where they have to rely on others to help them and to help others. When they get older, I can't remember which age, they get a coat that buttons in the front to become independent. At 8 they start doing required volunteer time and they can choose where to do this. At 9 they receive a bicycle (everyone rides bicycles in this society). At 12 they are given their Assignment-their vocation they will be training for and are considered adults. Jonas is chosen to become the Receiver of Memories. And say good-bye to innocents and childhood and everything else. The more he learns, the more he realizes that his society is not functioning right. That yes, it might be SAFER, but it is not right or fair or really worth anything if you can't love or see color or experience things.

Incredible read as an adult. Apparently, there are 4 books, although only 1 is a direct sequel (apparently just published in 2012?) and I'm going to read them all now. Of course.

But with everything in stark memory, I think I am going to be VERY disappointed in the movie. All based on the trailer you can see discrepancies. For instance: The main character, Jonas, in the book is turning 12. 13 at the end of the book. Jonas is being portrayed by an actor in his 20s? And his female friend, Fiona is supposed to be the same age and the actress is obviously too developed to be that age. I forgot to mention that somehow, the quality of being a Giver or Receiver of memory is linked with having light colored eyes. The actor who plays Jonas does not have light eyes. Or even light eye colored contacts which are super easy to acquire these days. Taylor Swift is in the movie, but now she's the least of my concerns. Especially since her character only exists in the story as a memory that The Giver has. Super minor role. But based on the trailer, this is a super high tech society. The book did not imply this at all. In the movie, bicycles are not used, but high tech scooter bike like things. Everyone is dressed the same according to role and position in society, but the movie doesn't do this either. Things are said that are at best implied by the book and at worst added in completely. And a closing seen where Jonas (on the run with a toddler) is zapped up in an airplane alien style. The closing scene in the book is Jonas (on the run with a toddler) riding a sled down a hill into the presence of a society he only hoped was there. Not even Meryle Streep's presence can make up for the fact that this is going to be one of the worst film adaptations ever.

But despite all that....Now I want to re-read a lot more of my childhood books!

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