24 January, 2022

Featured Author Review: ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry


The Giver
Lois Lowry
Published in 1993 from Bantam Books

“Once, back in the time of the memories…”

The Giver is a Newberry Award-winning dystopian novel featuring a child protagonist who is chosen to receive the memories of ages past in order to aid and advise his community in the future.  Ostensibly a novel for adolescents, this moving story has something for readers of any age.

In Jonas’ world, everyone is the same.  There is no color, race, or emotion.  Family size is controlled, child-birth is regulated, language is simple and precise, and the rules are absolute.  Everyone is given a job when they reach the age of twelve, and soon-to-be-twelve Jonas is anxious about his upcoming assignment.  We learn that Jonas is different from his peers in subtle and eventually all-too-important ways: he has lighter eyes, and occasionally sees flashes of something he can’t quite explain – a change in the fabric of the world that unsettles him.

Then, his assignment is announced.  Receiver of Memories.  And one day, he will be the new Giver of Memories, the most revered person in the community.  For Jonas, it is a terrifying privilege, as the Giver is a figure shrouded in mystery, cut off from the world all of his days.  Jonas begins his training and soon his entire life is turned upside down as he learns that the comforting Sameness which keeps his community docile and content is not what it seems to be.  He learns that there was another time, “before,” where things called color, love, pain, war, happiness, and sadness existed.  Soon, Jonas begins to wonder if the “before” time is attainable once again – and whether or not it would be better to live with the pain and suffering in order to have choice.

When I was eleven, I wrote a book report about The Giver.  This assignment was unique in that we were all asked to decorate our own book covers to encase our individual reports – as if our report was a book itself.  I still have that project, saved in a keepsake box, and the drawing I made for The Giver is still there.  I drew the young boy, Jonas, being pulled in two directions, like the flag in a game of tug-of-war. Pulling him from one side: sameness.  Pulling him from the other side: color, pain, love, and war.  My eleven-year-old-self decided to boil the plot of the book down to that essential struggle, that far-from-simple choice that Jonas has to make for himself in the end.  Jonas learns so much over the course of The Giver, about humanity’s history, about his own community, about his family and about himself.  But what spoke to me the most when I was eleven was that final choice: to allow the sameness to continue, or to choose another path and bring back the memories from the past.  That choice still sticks with me today, seventeen years after I first read the novel.

Lowry prefaces her book with this dedication: “For all the children to whom we entrust the future.”  The memories that the Giver bestows on Jonas are not just a history, they are a legacy.  Stories passed down from generation to generation are all one truly has to bestow upon the future.  And as the Giver says: “Memories need to be shared.”  This allegorical undercurrent to the plot contributes to the timeless message of the book: that the shared experiences of our past are essential to our humanity.  A true masterpiece of children’s literature, The Giver speaks to the need for community, learning, and understanding within us all.

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