Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Original Release Date: January 1, 1993
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade Sci-fi
ISBN: 978-0547995663
Source: Library
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“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”

Thus opens this haunting novel in which a boy inhabits a seemingly ideal world: a world without conflict, poverty, unemployment, divorce, injustice, or inequality. It is a time in which family values are paramount, teenage rebellion is unheard of, and even good manners are a way of life.

December is the time of the annual Ceremony at which each twelve year old receives a life assignment determined by the Elders. Jonas watches his friend Fiona named Caretaker of the Old and his cheerful pal Asher labeled the Assistant Director of Recreation. But Jonas has been chosen for something special. When his selection leads him to an unnamed man -the man called only the Giver -he begins to sense the dark secrets that underlie the fragile perfection of his world.

Told with deceptive simplicity, this is the provocative story of a boy who experiences something incredible and undertakes something impossible. In the telling it questions every value we have taken for granted and reexamines our most deeply held beliefs.

Where do I even begin? I’m so mad it took me this long to read The Giver but I’m so glad that I finally did. I was immediately pulled into this utopian society, full of rich world building and such fluid storytelling with perfect pacing – which is not easy to do. It’s so easy to accept the society you live in when it’s all you know that exists. When all of the rules are set out before you and consequences to match for anyone who dare step out of line. With a control over the knowledge being shared and practiced. With assignments determining one’s future instead of the individuals determining their futures for themselves. The society Jonas lives in is built on lies to protect the people, one of those lies I found to be mind blowing. The assignment ceremony is supposed to be a day where the Elders honor the children’s differences. Quite the contrary. Instead, the children are being placed in work environments that best suit their strengths that best suit the livelihood of the utopia. It’s not about the people, it’s about keeping up the deception. Because nobody wants to deal.

Jonas was not assigned but selected. Selected to receive the memories no one else can bear if this society is to remain the way that it is. Only bearing the world’s pain leads to one’s own pain, anger, resentment, and isolation. Lois Lowry nails it in her execution of these lessons. Oh, these lessons. This message, this love letter to life, to living.

When the memories of the past are kept, wisdom is received and the future can be molded and take shape how the Elders desire. So it’s necessary. And let’s not forget, it’s an honor to be selected.

I am in awe that training for the Receiver begins at twelve years old. In many ways, I can understand this decision and in other ways I simply don’t want to. But with the bad comes the good, the “essential attributes” as its written in the book; intelligence, wisdom, integrity, courage. There’s so much for us to keep and let go of, control and surrender to – all of these things so incredibly intertwined – and to strip a person of choosing, of free will is the ultimate action anyone can make. The motive for this utopian society is security but safety is not black and white. That’s why I absolutely love the change Jonas sees in colors. This change in his sight is a symbol of so, so many things. Oh, perspective.

“I knew that there had been times in the past – terrible times – when people had destroyed others in haste, in fear, and had brought about their own destruction..”

I love the memory of a birthday and Jonas realizing the joy in celebrating being and being an individual. I love that after his perspective begins to widen, Jonas refuses to deny, refuses to give into fear or defeat. Towards the end, watching Jonas decide to climb up the hill, this is such an important moment for him. He has the power to decide. He decides. And he decides to keep going. To push through. To use all of his strength to get to where he wants to go. Another character in the book also has the same knowledge as Jonas and the newfound power to decide and chooses to be released, chooses to be the one to release herself. Instead of removing herself from the people in an isolating manner, she removes herself completely. It takes courage to make either decision. And to see both sides. Bravo to Lowry for showing her readers both sides.

“If he had stayed, he would have starved in other ways. He would have lived a life hungry for feelings, for color, for love.”

The Giver asks the question, “What does it mean to be alive?” and even questions if life is worth living with all of this pain we bear. In a world where love is meaningless and one is surrounded by people with paper hearts, the latter question holds weight but when love is an option, that love exists…The Giver gives you a newfound appreciation for warmth, happiness, love…a complete life.

As a Christian, it’s so wonderful to live in a world where my Receiver, God, lifts the burdens from me. I love this take on a world in which one human being takes it all on instead and how that one human being, who is trained to received and learn but can never really know all things is affected. What an interesting parallel and case study. I know I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what’s in this book and what’s of these characters. I’m looking forward to reading this book again and again, seeing so many things I didn’t see before, seeing so many things I did but in a new light. This is that kind of book. Simple yet wildly complex. Timeless. Valuable. No wonder it’s a classic.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is available today.