In the “perfect” world of The Giver, a variety of rules and practices enforce “sameness,” emotional suppression, and strictly directed lives. Children are produced by breeders and then assigned to parents who have been carefully matched to each other on the basis of fit. (Hormonal “stirrings” that might predispose people to make decisions based on love or lust are strictly controlled by a universally administered suppressant at puberty.) At age twelve, all children are given their future career assignments, and they begin, after school, to prepare for their orchestrated lives. These lives are orchestrated, however, without any music. And without colors, or animals, or pain, or anger, or even death. And most importantly, without love.
All this is destined to change after Jonas, a precocious eleven-year-old, is given the assignment of Receiver of Memory at the career ceremony. In the process of being infused with memories of life before “sameness” by the previous Receiver (now called the Giver), Jonas is horrified by the lie of their “perfect” world. He decides that he wants a choice about what kind of life to live. Having “known” (through the transmittal of memories) love, hate, war, betrayal, death, and emotions of all sorts, the repercussions of a rebellion by Jonas are huge.
Discussion: This winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal raises so many questions about feelings, relationships, society, and government that it is hard to imagine a better teaching tool. What is the cost of perfection? Are the things you must sacrifice worth the safety and serenity you gain? If so many people are opposed to diversity, is it really a good thing, or not? How is happiness defined, anyway? Do any of us really use the capacity we have in our imperfect world to see, or do we take the colors and sounds and smells of life for granted? It’s a short book, but the questions I’ve listed are only a small sampling of those raised by the story.
Evaluation: Ah, here’s the rub. I was loving this book all the way until the end, when the author neglected to tie up the plot into a neat box with a ribbon for me; I tend to get unhappy over an ambiguous ending.
But Dear Reader(s), I am not alone! I read an interview with Lois Lowry in which she was asked why she wrote [the subsequent book] The Messenger. This is her reply:
“People didn’t like the ambiguity of THE GIVER’s conclusion. And they let me know it, in hundreds — probably thousands, by now — of letters and e-mails. Now, I don’t generally cater to the reading public’s whims and wishes. But readers’ reaction affected me, I think, in that it made me want to sort out things for myself. …”
I feel so much better now!
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 1993
Note: This book has been rated Middle Grade on up, with the caveat that there is some content of a sexual nature. Opinions seem to be divided between those who maintain the reading level is appropriate for the middle school age group, and those who, because of the content, prefer age 12 as the lower cut-off recommendation.
Some of Many Awards:
Newbery Medal (1994)
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Children’s Literature (1994)
Golden Duck Award for Hal Clement Award for Young Adult (1994)
Garden State Book Award for Teen Fiction Grades 6-8 (1996)
Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award (1996)
Buckeye Children’s Book Award for Grade 6-8 (1997)
Grand Canyon Reader Award for Teen Book (1995)
Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award for Grade 6-9 (1995)
Golden Sower Award for Young Adult (1995)
Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award for Grades 3-8 (1995)
New Mexico Land of Enchantment Award (1997)
William Allen White Children’s Book Award (1996)
Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Nominee (1996)
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor for Fiction (1993)