Page 45 Review by Stephen and Jonathan
"I certainly liked the memory, though. I can see why it's your favourite. I couldn't quite get the word for the feeling that was so strong in the room."
As to why absolutely no one in the Community has any idea what the emotion love is except The Giver, and now Jonas, the new twelve-year-old Receiver, well, that's where our sad, dystopian tale of woe, but also ultimately hope, begins.
At first black and white glance, especially through the eyes of the young children being inculcated into the system of beliefs and morals that prevail, you might conclude that this is a utopian paradise. In fact, everyone living there (except The Giver who must keep his own counsel), is wholly convinced that it is.
From the moment they were born - then taken away from their anonymous birth mothers and placed by committee with carefully selected parents, who themselves have had their partners and jobs specifically chosen for them to match their mindsets and abilities - free will and choice is effectively entirely absent from their lives.
Obedience is everything, and nothing so troubling as novelty or diversity is allowed to intrude on their bliss. Through a combination of conditioning and emotion-suppressing drugs, the population of the Community has, so it seems, quite literally nothing to worry about.
Even after a full life spent contributing to the Community, people go to live in the House Of The Old, cared for tenderly and attentively by the young people, until their joyful Release is granted.
This blessed Release is practised by the Community as a way to bring a long and valuable life to a peaceful and celebrated conclusion, their life achievements being read out in a ceremony before they wave a cheery goodbye then walk through a door.
People are also Released under other instances. For example, if babies don't settle sufficiently at night to be placed with a family after being professionally nurtured, then they too are Released, so as not to bring distress into any household. If someone gives birth to identical twins then the child with the lowest birth weight is also Released, for the Committee fears the heinous confusion that two identical-looking beings would cause in their meticulously ordered idyll. And above all, to maintain the tranquillity, if someone fails to adhere to Community standards of behaviour or questions authority on more than two occasions, then they are most definitely Released...
... into another community. Apparently.
People just don't seem willing, or able, to think too deeply about what is actually going on. Except Jonas... which is how he ends up being selected for the once in a generation job of Receiver. He's been selected by committee for the role because he is brave and because he is different.
But maybe picking someone capable of independent thought to be entrusted with the entire memories of all mankind's history: the good, the bad and the very, very ugly, isn't the Committee's best idea...?
For that is the role of the Receiver: to be the repository of everything that the rest of the Community, including the Committee, is shielded from, handed down from the previous generation's Receiver who as he becomes the Giver is finally freed from his painful burden. But it seems quite clear even to young Jonas that, as the old Biblical adage goes, surely tis better to give than to receive...?
I've really only touched upon the barest premise of this tremendously affecting work. I can see why the prose original has sold millions of copies since its release in 1993 and won myriad awards including the prestigious Newbury Medal for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" for its author Lois Lowry in 1994. It's definitely an all-ages work this, though. I personally found it both deeply disturbing and immensely uplifting as everything Jonas has ever known is fundamentally challenged and his inherited beliefs shaken to their very foundations.
P. Craig Russell has taken on the immense challenge of adapting and illustrating this modern classic, and he has done so with all of the careful deliberation and lateral thinking which he brought to bear on THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG, as he makes abundantly clear when interviewed in the back of the book.
Initially, as I alluded to above, the story is only told in black and white, with some additional blue pencil for texture and emphasis. This is because the Community's emotional natures are so suppressed and lives been so deliberately homogenised that they can now only see in black and white. Jonas, however, begins to have small spontaneous flashes of colour vision appear to him, such as an occasional object like an apple, or a friend's hair. This is perceived as him having the ability to 'see beyond' and is further taken by the Committee as a sign of the veracity of their wise choice in making Jonas the new Receiver.
As more and more of the memories of humanity, painful and pleasurable alike, are passed to him by the Giver, and he ceases to take his medication prescribed to quell early romantic and sexual stirrings, Jonas' perceptions and emotions begin to rapidly open up and he starts to experience reality increasingly more vividly. There'll be substantially more colour by the time the book ends, but I don't really want to spoil anything as to explaining precisely why. Suffice to say as the book reaches its dramatic climax there's a delightful ambiguity to the ending which left me pondering deeply.
I can certainly see this is a book which would provoke a considerable amount of debate and discussion amongst young readers, particularly if it were put on a school syllabus, not least on the subject of empathy. Which is a subject more than a few adults could do with a refresher on, frankly.
P. Craig Russell's art, exceptional as always, should help to ensure this reaches a whole new audience and will hopefully serve to remind us all that love, free thought, individuality, novelty and a complete range of emotional experiences are all essential for lives to be fully lived.