Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
Pages:  179
My age recommendation: 5th grade through adult
Awards: Newbury Medal
Other novels by the author: Number the Stars, The Messenger

I believe that too often, young adult literature is discounted as being for "kids" or without enough substance to keep adults engaged.  Having actually grown out of caring what Stephen King bangs out on a keyboard, and very hesitant to spend exorbitant amounts on authors I've never heard of, I decided to take my 12 year old daughter's advice and read a book that she read for a book report in 6th grade last year.  I made the same assumptions, it was going to be too childish to keep my attention though her description of it was intriguing.  The essential elements of life were not going to be touched on at all because those things are not "for children" in the minds of most adults.  And besides, it was on the approved reading list for the Accelerated Reader program!

I could not have been more wrong.  What followed over the two days I took to read this bleak and heart-wrenching tale of a future so far away that it almost seems a part of the past was a tear-filled, anxious journey through what could be an all too real destiny for the human race.

Confined to remain in one of the Communities, young Jonas is preparing for the Ceremony of the Twelves, when he will be given his adult job and no longer be considered a child.  He is a good student, obedient, rarely in need of Chastisement.  He cares for his younger sister, a Six named Lily.  But his orderly life is about to be tossed into mortal turmoil when he finds that he has not been selected for a job, but Chosen to be the Receiver of all the memories that have been painstakingly erased from the human consciousness over centuries: memories of war, broken bones, sunburns, death, the loss of loved ones, hunger, poverty, and fear.  But other memories are there, too, waiting to change his life forever:  memories of colors, sexuality, love, exhilaration, and celebrated differences between human beings.

In the world where Jonas lives, Climate Control and Sameness became important issues hundreds of years before his birth.  Colors were erased from human perception so that everyone and everything took on shades of gray.  The landscape became even, flat, without rises and hills and mountains and valleys.  Food is distributed in equal amounts to every Citizen.  Children are called Males and Females.  Pills are subscribed daily to suppress Stirrings of desire and sexuality.  The job of Birthmother to produce newchildren for the Family Units is one without honor.  Rain, snow, storms, and temperature change do not exist in the memories of anyone except the Receiver of the memories who is destined to live in sadness and pain and loneliness, bearing the memories so no one else has to.

The Giver has many elements of George Orwell's 1984 and George Lucas' THX 1138.  It paints the picture of a future that on the surface seems ideal, without describing exactly what life is like for the Citizens of the Community.  As life begins to unfold and the eyes of Jonas are opened, we become aware that with all of the pain in our world, we could not erase it without erasing the joy as well.  Racial differences are obscured, but gone is the realization of beauty in every human being, in sparkling eyes, in varying shades of hair and skin.  In those conditions, we do become just Citizens, Male and Female, not men and women and human beings.

The book is short but is full of substance.  There are also two companion books, not sequels, but stories of other Citizens that I want to track down and read soon.  The author's use of language is captivating and her ability to make the reader feel shock, anger, and amazement is uncanny.  Fans of futuristic fantasy, sci-fi, and social commentary would love this novel.

This book was captivating.  I recommend it wholeheartedly to adults and young people 11 and over.  It was one of the best books I've read in a while.  Lois Lowry brings new ideas to concepts that have worried humanity for generations.  Be prepared to look at life differently.


  1. As Gregg said, it does sound grim. But as you know, that's pretty much like catnip for me. I wanna read this thing. Great review, you've sold me on it! =)