Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Giver by Lois Lowry

There is lots of hype around about The Giver now that it is being made into a movie.  But that is not why I decided to revisit and reread this classic novel about a utopian society by Lois Lowry.  No, indeed!  I reread it because tonight is World Book Night 2014 and tonight I am a Giver - a book giver, that is.  In fact, tonight, all over the world, thousands of people will become givers just like me and will be handing out free books people who can and who want to read them.  This is a very different world than the one in Lowry's book, where only The Giver may read books, or possess memory, or see color, or have feelings.

The climate controlled society that 11 year-old Jonas lives in had chosen to live in a state of sameness long ago.  Now, all pain and suffering, all feeling has be eliminated.  There may be no more wars, but neither is there any of the good things about life - loving families, emotions, memories, the warmth of the summer sun, the cold of the first snowfall.   The world is colored in varying shades of gray and black, and a stilted politeness rules the day.  All children have the same December birthday, no matter when they are born, and on that day, each year, they go to the Ceremony where they are promoted to the next year.  For Jonas, this year is his Ceremony of Twelve where he will be assigned his life's career.

Jonas is the last to called because his life assignment is very different from the others.  Jonas is to be the new Receiver of Memory.  After his training, Jonas will replace the old Receiver of Memory, now called the Giver [of Memory].  Not only does the Receiver hold the collective memory of the whole community, he may also read all the books that no one else can see, and he must use his wisdom to advise the Committee of Elders when they require it.

Everyday after school, Jonas goes to see the Giver and receives more and more memories each day.  Soon, he knows things like pain of sunburn, the joy of sleigh riding, and, because the memories are becoming more and more painful for the Giver, Jonas learns about things like pain, starvation, war.  Once the Giver transfers memory to Jonas, they are lost to him, so his pain is relieved even as Jonas's increases.

At the same time that this is happening, Jonas' father begins brings home a newchild at the end of his workday to try and help it learn to sleep through the night.  He is given a year to do this or the child will be released.  No one really knows what being released means, but they all believe it means going to a wonderful place.  Jonas volunteers to have the baby, called Gabriel, sleep in his room and when the baby fusses, Jonas soothes it with some of the pleasant memories he has been given.

The more utopian a society seems to be, the more dystopian it really is.  Sure enough, the more memories Jonas acquires, the more unfair he sees the kind of life the community has chosen.  When he expresses his feelings to the Giver, he discovers that the Giver feels the same way.  He also tells Jonas that ff the Receiver of Memory leaves the community, he tells Jonas, the memories will all revert back to the community.  Little by little, a plan is hatched, but things suddenly change when Jonas witnesses his father releasing a new born twin baby, because twins are not allowed in the community) and learns that Gabriel, the baby he has become attached to, will also be released.

Jonas must make a big decision now.

The Giver is such a thought provoking novel about this community living in a state of sameness.  At first, life feels pleasant and serene, everything is orderly, done on schedule, and there are no sudden ups and downs, no disappointments, no pain.  It does feel utopian.  And, it takes a while before you realize that you don't know last names, nor place names - that would point to too much individuality, not enough sameness.  And it begins to not feel so wonderful anymore.  Jonas learns about life, about pleasure and pain through memory, and because he is an intelligent, thoughtful boy, he quickly sees that the community has been cheated out of these things.

When I read The Giver to my 4th grade class in the Bronx, they were stunned by the sameness of the community and it sparked lots of interesting dialogue in the classroom.  I also detected that there was some palpable rooting for Jonas as we read until we finished the book and  even heard some kids taking about it and Jonas in the schoolyard, which didn't even happen when we read Harry Potter.

The Giver, which won the Newbery in 1994, is also a favorite Banned Book each year somewhere in the country, which in a country that values freedom of speech, seems to be the height of irony.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library

By the way, I am pleased to say that I will be giving out Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  CNV is one of my favorite WWII novels, and also happens to be my favorite friendship story.

The Giver is book 1 of my 2014 Newbery Reading Challenge hosted by Smiling Shelves


  1. Both Little M and I loved The Giver. It's still one of my favourite 'dystopian' novels. I was also a World Book Night giver in the UK today, and this novel sprung to mind for me too :) Happy bookgiving, and great choice with Code Name Verity!

  2. An excellent choice to review...certainly powerful and thought provoking. Happy Book Giving Day!

  3. The Giver is mandatory reading for our 6th grade and my kids have loved it. I personally shy away from dystopian but my kids have dived into it via The Hunger Games and other books like it. But I think it was The Giver that got them started.


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