The Giver… Was Colorless

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

The Giver, written by Lois Lowry, follows the story of Jonas, a preteen who lives in an ideal, if colorless, world. Something is special about Jonas. When, at the age of twelve, all the children in his class are assigned their future careers, Jonas learns that he is to be the new Giver, which means that he will store all the memories for his community. Jonas begins receiving the memories stored by the current Giver – and he begins to learn that there is something wrong with his world. That it is not as ideal and perfect as he has always thought. So Jonas goes on a journey to find a place where things are different.

The Giver was written in 1993 when Lowry was fifty-six years old. It is one of the four books that make up The Giver Quartet, the others being Gathering Blue, written in 2000, Messenger, written in 2004, and Son, written in 2012.

The story simply does not seem well thought-out. Either that, or the message is poorly conveyed to the reader. This colorless world, for example. Is the world actually without color or is it simply that humans have been rendered incapable of seeing color? This is not made clear.

Jonas, an anomaly, is described as having “pale” or “light” eyes. Gabe also has the same oddity. Perhaps this indicates that both Jonas’ and Gabe’s genetics are somehow faulty. They – the people with the strange eyes – can see color but no one else can. So colors do exist?

But if no one but Jonas can see those colors, than why would Fiona’s red hair be aggravating to the geneticists? How can said geneticists even see that her hair is red? And how can Jonas’ little sister Lily see the color of his eyes to tell him that they are “funny”?

More important than these little inconsistencies was the fact that I felt like the writing was tailored for a much younger audience than is suggested. The Giver is considered “young adult”, but it seemed to be written more for a eight- or ten-year-old. The writing is so simple, and while that is not necessarily a flaw, it becomes one when simplicity borders on being dumbed down – as if the reader won’t be able to understand big words or follow sentences with more than ten words in them. To put it simply, the writing style of The Giver makes me feel stupid.

Nearly all the characters are just children – why would it be interesting for a teenager to read about kids the age of their annoying younger sibling? The main character, Jonas, is only twelve and all his friends are the same age. Granted, the kids act very old for their ages – they are ready to begin training for their future careers at only age twelve, for crying out loud – but that simply makes them harder to relate to! I didn’t care about any of the characters. And that is a problem. When one does not care about the characters, there is really no reason to continue reading – which is why I plodded to the end of the book on principle, not out of desire. And, at the end, I found myself with no desire whatsoever to read any of Lowry’s other books, even though The Giver ended with a blatant attempt to get the reader to want to read on and find out what happens.

This is the intractable problem with futuristic novels: how to write about the future in a way that shows how different the world will one day be – and yet not make that future so different that it loses all sense of familiarity. In other words, just how weird can the future look before we don’t recognize our world at all?

Because of this difficulty, there will always be a measure of error in any book set in the future. The reason is obvious: the future will not look nearly so familiar as it is portrayed in fiction but those who create it want the audience to keep reading, to keep watching, so they must maintain some level of similarity between the future world and the world as we know it now. I mean, look at how rapidly we are currently progressing – if we continue at this rate, the world will be totally unrecognizable in a hundred years, much less thousands! Not only in the more obvious areas like technology, medicine, or geography, but in details like how we talk and dress. There is no way to predict what clothing trends will be like in the future, or what kinds of slang we will use! In some ways, I think it’s silly to try.

The Hunger Games is another futuristic novel. I think Collins does a fantastic job of making the future of America at once disturbingly weird and disturbingly familiar. She achieves a nearly perfect balance. But I think we all know that her picture of the future is flawed. How could it not be?

The Giver, on the other hand, makes our world so cold and sterilized that readers can’t relate to it at all.

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