As I started to see more trailers for the movie version of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which hits theaters August 15, I was reminded of the fact that I had never actually read the Newberry Medal-winning book. I’m not entirely sure how I could have missed it since The Giver seems to be on every middle school reading list, but it wasn’t a book that ever crossed my plate (I haven’t read Lowry’s Number the Stars either).
Since I have been disappointed in the past by books I have read after seeing the film adaptations, namely J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (I know, this is considered sacrilege in the geek world!), I decided it was time I give the story a look and read The Giver before seeing the movie. And to be honest with you – though this might elicit strong opinions as well – I was just left feeling whelmed by the whole thing.
For starters, the version of the book that I have includes an introduction from Lowry, in which she talks about all of the fan mail she has received over the past 20 years (the book first came out in 1993). While that is perfectly fine, after reading about how many people had told her that The Giver had changed their lives, or that they had named their children Gabriel after one of the characters, I was expecting a lot more than what was delivered. Since The Giver is just the first book in a four-part series, maybe they were reacting to the books as a whole? I guess I’ll have to read the rest of the books to find out, but it was hard for me to see how this one slim volume could be so life altering.
Also, while I know series’ books have to build off of each other, they can still be complete stories in and of themselves. The ending of The Giver, however, felt very unresolved to me. True, Jonas and Gabriel had seemingly come to the end of their current journey, but where exactly were they? Who was in the house? How would they be received? There were just too many unanswered questions for my taste and while they initially made me think, “I need to read the next book,” now I’m not so sure I want to commit that much time and energy to the series.
All that said, the one thing I did like about The Giver was its emphasis on memories and how important they are to us as individuals, and as a society. As I read the latter portion of the book, I was reminded of a conference I organized a few years back in which a keynote speaker, discussing the differences between humans and robots, said that our ability to remember was, ultimately, what made us human. Sure a robot could be programmed to do certain things, or not as the case may be, but it was our ability to remember and learn from past experiences that made us more unique. It’s a comforting thought in today’s technologically-driven world – that we can’t be completely replaced by machines – though I am quite sure there are technologists out there who think robots are the better option.
Yet, though The Giver does include a powerful message about the importance of good and bad memories – as well as the value of individual differences over “Sameness” – I found it lacked the backstory and conclusion I needed to make sense of how we got from here to there, and where the plot was going next.