I read The Giver for my sixth grade language arts class. Sixth grade is apparently the year that our school decided we were ready to be ruined by literature. Between this, Bridge to Terebithia, and Where the Red Fern Grows, I don’t know how I had the will to read anymore. I guess that’s the amazing thing about well-written literature. It rips your heart in two and yet you keep going back for more!
If you are one of the few people who haven’t visited this book, you should make room for it! I expect it is many readers’ first foray into dystopian fiction, and it is a great example of how to present complex and dark ideas to a young audience. The Giver takes place in a “utopian” community where we have no war, no conflict. Everything is orderly, everyone is content. Your life is laid out for you when you are born. You follow the path all do. You lose your teddy bear at age 8 but gain your bike at age 9, but lose your braids at age 10. Family conflicts are settled nicely around the dinner table. Jonah is coming up on his 12th year, the year you find out where you fit into the community occupationally. You could be a caregiver, or a laborer, or many other assignments. Jonah is apprehensive but excited. So when the day comes and the community elders skip his name in the assignments, he is humiliated and confused. When it is revealed he hasn’t been assigned, but CHOSEN for his future position, his life is about to veer far off the path of his peers. He has been chosen as the Receiver, the person who will hold the memories of the past that no other community member is privileged to bear. And once Jonah starts experiencing the colors of the past – good, bad, terrible, and wonderful – he begins to question if their content community is really better off after all.
I love this book so much. I did not like the follow-up books, mostly because I found Lowry’s original, ambiguous ending to be a revelation to my tween mind. How could she not tie everything up in a bow? Is this an optimistic ending?? Is it super dark?! That ending is formative to my current literary tastes — I ADORE any book that leaves me with questions and I loathe the current YA trend to follow up with two sequels and nine novellas to fill in all the gaps. And don’t even get me started on JK Rowling and her terrible tweets. So how Russell treated the ending of this would be a big determiner on how I received the book.
I am pleased to report that I found the entire thing to be quite excellent, including how he handled the end. I read Russell’s adaptation of The Graveyard Book, which ran similarly to a comic serial in that he featured different artists for each chapter. I did not like that, and in addition I didn’t enjoy his illustrations that much. When I picked up The Giver, I initially had the same feeling – I just don’t love his style. But I think it ultimately works very well for this story. His illustrations have a very classic feel, so seeing the Community penned in a sort of idyllic old school way is interesting, considering it is set in a futuristic society that has apparently “figured it out.” And in settling into his style for a full story, I became fully invested. Especially when he portrayed some of the books iconic moments so beautifully (the apple scene, Jonah’s dreams, etc). I loved the experience of taking in his pleasant style while having to wrestle with the ominous secrets of the Community as Jonah begins to see beyond the haze of the content day-to-day.
As far as the ending, I think Russell has a strong point of view as to Jonah’s fate (and I think it aligns with mine). But he kept it open enough for ambiguity, if your heart lies differently. I hope they aren’t moving forward with the sequels, though. I think The Giver, as a singular book, in both traditional and graphic novel format, is perfect as is.