Book Review: The Giver
By: Lois Lowry
Published By: Random House
Publication Date: 1993
Page Count: 179
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Genre: Young Adult - Dystopian
I can see you right now, sitting there saying to yourself, “Jeez, another dystopian novel? Just what the literary world needs.” And you’re right, sort of. The Giver by Lois Lowery IS what the literary world needs more of. And even though it was written before I graduated from high school, it holds up as a compelling, suspenseful read even 20 years later.
Jonas, our eleven-year-old protagonist, lives in a world where everything is perfectly planned and orchestrated by the Committee of Elders. At first, everything seems wonderful. Everyone fits in; everyone has the job they are most suited to; everyone has the same material possessions (all Nines get bicycles and girls get rid of their hair ribbons); everyone is polite and kind to one another, because rudeness is forbidden. And when someone doesn’t fit in, either at birth or via rule infractions, they are Released from the community.
As the novel opens Jonas is anxiously anticipating the Ceremony. The yearly event where Newchildren are named and given to their families (each family gets a boy and a girl, after they apply for children), Nines get those bicycles (the only method of transportation in the community), and Twelves are given their Assignments (the jobs they will have until they retire to the House of the Old). Jonas is nervous about his Assignment, because he doesn’t believe he’s shown an aptitude for any one role. How will the Elders decide? And when he’s assigned to be the new Receiver of Memory, he has no idea what his future holds beyond the courage he’s been told his new job will require of him and pain he’s been told it involves.
Soon Jonas begins training with the current Receiver of Memory, who renames himself The Giver, and realizes his world will never be the same. Jonas’s role is to collect and hold all of the memories from the past. Memories of pleasure and of pain. Memories of war and of love. Memories of colors and animals and choice.
Lowery’s writing is spectacular for her middle-school audience, though it may lack some oompf if you’re used to more high-brow fare. I list The Giver as an independent reading choice for my 10th graders and some have complained that the book is “too easy” or not as well written as the other novels we’ve studied as a class this year, but ultimately they enjoy every bit of the story. So much of what Lowery delivers is surprising and shocking, even for someone who has read as much as many of us have. The Giver still makes you catch your breath at times.
Final Word: A fantastic, suspenseful, dystopian novel that is well, WELL worth the handful of hours it takes to read it!
Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.