By now, I’m sure everyone knows that the young-adult dystopian novel, The Giver by Lois Lowry, is on the big screen this weekend. Based on the preview, I already have grouchy preconceived notions about the beloved novel turned film. Regardless, it still prompted a trip down memory lane for me. With the slue of dystopian novels becoming movies, I’m not surprised The Giver is being adapted into a film. The interesting thing, however, is that it was The Giver that allowed the young adult dystopian genre to flourish today. The novel was originally published in 1993 and soon took root in Young Adult readers.The Giver has been a staple in middle school language arts classrooms for years. Many critics at the time of its publishing argued it wouldn’t hold up to the passage of time. Yet, 21 years later, The Giver still has the impact and literary weight it did when it first came out.
The Giver was a maverick of its time, and was published at the beginning of what I think has now become the golden age of Young Adult literature. This novel portrayed the futuristic lives of teenagers in a dystopian world and asked kids to question the present world around them. It’s a book of questions. What happens to a people who are cut away from their emotions and their bodies? What happens when you disconnect an entire people from their history? What happens when you have access to knowledge? Who does it belong to? Who has power? These are all questions that teenagers explore when reading the novel. For many, it was the first time they started to empathize with the realities outside of themselves, and explore how their inner worlds worked into the larger context of society.
One aspect of the novel that struck me when I was a young adult was use of emotions, in particular, pain. Who are we without our pain? For a teenager, this is a novel concept. Adolescents are in the throes of trying to figure out their autonomy as they question the authority around them. They have a keen sense of pain and passion and, because of this, The Giver validates the teenage experience.
As an adult, I have had the pleasure of teaching The Giver in the classroom. I’ve watched as students worked their way through The Giver, and come to conclusions, outrage and debate as they journeyed through the book. I watched as they connected to Jonas. I could feel their turmoil as they connected their history class, current events, and their own narratives together and find new connections they hadn’t thought of before. It is inspiring for me because I could see the direct relationship a book had on the expansion of someone’s world. Many students were hungry for more books after they had finished. They wanted to read books like 1984, Brave New World, and Parable of the Sower. Some students of mine who are now in college write science fiction. Granted, I can’t speak to whether or not this inspired them to do change the world, but I can see the hint of a spark still lingering in their eyes. What sort of stories are they now creating?
Without The Giver, there would be no Hunger Games, no Divergent, and no Feed. That’s the lovely thing about stories – they don’t exist in temporal vacuums. They are a tapestry, a community, a communication of our hopes, dreams, and possibilities. Sometimes these novels are like a call and response. Lowry sent out a call with The Giver and the narratives that came after were a response, which then sent more calls out to be answered. We can never stop examining our lives and the world around us, and books like The GIver keeps the conversation going.
I am curious, readers of Hush; what is your relationship to dystopian literature? Did The Giver impact you in any way? Are you excited about the movie? What other novels have impacted your lives? Leave your thoughts below.