Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian Fiction
Year Published: 1993
I am a huge fan of dystopian fiction, and I've been meaning to read this book for a while. There isn't much of this genre written for younger readers, and this book is widely used in middle schools, or with lower functioning highschool students. I've been toying with the idea of reading it with my students one year, but it took me a while to finally read it.
Overall, I really liked this book. The "utopia" that Lowry creates is quite clever. At first, Jonas' world seems perfect--there is no pain, no loss, no fear. Everything is regulated by the government. The government assigns spouses to one another, children to family units (2 per unit), and decide which children are best suited for which jobs when they turn twelve. Everything is uniform--little girls wear the exact same ribbons in their hair until a certain age; all children receive a bike when they are nine. Newkids (infants) are birthed by women appointed to the "birthmother" job, then raised by Nurturers in a controlled environment before they are assigned to a family unit, and the Old are isolated from the others in a home where they are well-cared for, until eventually, they are "released" in a ceremony which they all look forward to.
Jonas is satisfied with this life, where all his needs are met. He has never envisioned anything different, until he is assigned his career as The Receiver--a rare yet honorable position in the Community. No one really knows what the Receiver's job is, but Jonas soon discovers that he is the "keeper of memories"--he actually holds the collective memories of the generations and generations that came before. As these memories are transmitted, Jonas begins to realize that his "perfect" society is lacking many things that existed before, including color, music, rain, sunshine, and love. He begins to understand pain and grief. And as he learns the truth about his Community, he is forced to make serious decisions about the worth of such a life.
The only thing I didn't like about this novel was the ending. After such a rich, creative novel, I found the ending to be ambiguous and anti-climactic. In some ways there is a poignancy to the open-endedness, but I found myself frustrated, wishing Lowry would have given me some answers instead of letting me fill in my own. That said, I still think this book is worth reading, and would recommend it to anyone middle school age or older.
Challenge/s: Young Adult, New Classics, Naming Challenge Convention, TBR (alt), Well Rounded
Book-a-Week #: 45
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