The Giver

I’d been hearing a lot about The Giver but I’d never read it; it kept popping up in book lists, Facebook memes, and assigned readings. Although I have often seen it recommended for middle school, perhaps because of the simplicity of the writing, it seems as though its dystopian vision might be better understood by older teens. Some of The Giver’s many awards and honors include ALA Best Books for Young Adults 1994, ALA Notable Children’s Book 1994, and the 1994 Newberry Award (retrieved August 4th, 2009 from http://www.randomhouse.com/kids/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780385732550). Lois Lowry received the 2007 Margaret A. Edwards Award (retrieved August 4th, 2009 from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/margaretaedwards/maeprevious/edwards07.cfm).

Author: Lois Lowry
ISBN-10: 0440237688 ISBN-13: 9780440237686
City and Publisher: Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright Date: 1993
Author’s Website: http://www.loislowry.com/

Reader’s Annotation: In Jonas’ community there is no poverty or hunger; each citizen has an assigned job and an ordered life. When Jonas is chosen for a very unique occupation, he begins to see the world in an entirely new light.

Plot Summary: Jonas lives with his family unit and attends school with all the other Elevens. He does not lie, shares as is his duty in the feelings ritual and the dreams ritual, and attends to the precision of his language. But he cannot help but feel apprehensive for the ritual of Twelve, when he will receive his job assignment and become a trainee citizen. When he is told his new job has been chosen for him, rather than assigned, he does not know that his entire world will crumble.

Critical Evaluation: The Giver is a haunting, creepy book. It is told simply, in plain language, which only serves to underscore the slow realization that the reader is being sucked in to a world of automatons. At first the community is strange but not entirely awful. There are many rules, and they are rigorously enforced and followed. One by one the wrongness grows horrifying. Life and death are scheduled. Children and spouses are received by submitting an application. At the first sign of feelings, children are medicated. The utopia is hollow. The book gets a little muddled at the end. The clear storytelling and the clear lines of the community create an expectation for an ordered ending. Instead the book flows out like a burst dam, and the reader and characters are left in a torrent of confused possibilities.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 10 and up
Curriculum Ties: The Giver is assigned reading for many middle school English classes. For older teens, the book may be written a bit simplistically for English class, but the complexity of ideas is sure to spark an interesting discussion. The Giver might be an interesting addition to a high school creative writing class, as a lesson in conveying complex themes through metaphor and inference.
Booktalking Ideas: Describe Jonas’ world and ask teens to imagine living there.

Genre: Science Fiction
Sub Genre/Themes: Utopia/Dystopia

Challenge Issues:
To some readers The Giver might be devoid of controversy. There is no sex, and the drugs and violence are restrained within the society. But The Giver was actually one of the most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000. Many parents of middle schoolers felt that the themes were too adult for their children. Lowry describes a world with population control, wherein only a few women are designated as birth mothers, the elderly and nonconforming babies are “released” via lethal injection, and families are assigned two children only. She also hints at drugs which repress sexual desire. Parents may have the perception that there are homoerotic overtones in any description of a boy taking off his shirt in front of an older man. Some of these issues were related to the age of the teens being assigned the book and may not be a problem for parents of fifteen to eighteen year olds. For parents who still have trouble with the book, the courts have ruled to support the inclusion of such books within school libraries because “our Constitution does not permit the official suppression of ideas.” (Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico in DeMitchell & Carney, 2005, p. 161).
Reference for Challenge Issues:
DeMitchell, T., & Carney, J. (2005, October). Harry Potter and the public school library.
Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 159-165. Retrieved July 26, 2009, from Academic Search
Premier database.

About the Author: Lois Lowry has written over thirty books for young people, many of which deal with difficult issues. Born the middle child, the solitude she experienced growing up allowed her to develop her imagination. Lowry lost her oldest son, a fighter pilot, in a plane crash. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (More details at http://www.loislowry.com/bio.html)

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