It has been several years since I first heard of The Giver, written by Lois Lowry. As I remember, it was when a friend told me that she dropped out of a reading club because they were reading this “weird” book called The Giver.
And while it could be called a bit “weird”, it was a stepping stone to the current dystopian literature craze that has been raging since Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games burst onto the scene in 2008, a good fifteen years after The Giver first published.
“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”
As we begin The Giver, we are introduced to Jonas, an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a futuristic, dystopian society where you are given a spouse, two children, a home, an occupation, and have no choices. It is a world with no pain, suffering, or sorrow– but it also lacks joy or love.
Throughout the book we are forced to contemplate what it would be like to live such a life? To have a life, but not truly live.
“For the first time in his twelve years of life, Jonas felt separate, different.”
At the end of their twelfth year, in a group ceremony (for there are no birthdays), children are given Assignments, the work they will do during their lifetime.
This is the only time that their differences are honored.
When Jonas is skipped over during the ceremony, he begins to worry. What has he done wrong?
But at the very end, he is singled out, set apart, selected to train to be the next Receiver of Memory, a position held by only one person at a time.
“Call me The Giver.”
The society in which Jonas lives is a society void of memories, save the ones held by The Giver, who begins to transfer them to Jonas, the new Receiver of Memory.
Jonas is surprised, scared, and delighted as he begins to experience the memories, which range from sledding in the snow, seeing colors, sunburns, and sailing to war and starvation.
But he begins to struggle, wondering why his society has deemed only one person should bear the pain, joy, and wisdom of the memories, rather than allowing everyone to bear their own bits of good and bad.
“Jonas was forced to flee.”
When Jonas finds out that an toddler being nurtured by his father in their home is scheduled to be “released”, he realizes it is time to act.
So he breaks the rules, stands for what is right, and risks everything. Will he escape? Where will he go? If he is caught, what price will he pay?
“I would like to see this morning’s release.”
A few words of caution to parents: while I believe The Giver to be a thought-provoking read, and quite beneficial for sparking discussions about the roles of government, society, and individuals, I would not recommend the book for children under the age of twelve. I simply do not think eight or nine year olds will be able to understand or benefit from some of the content of the book, despite Scholastic’s recommendation for third to fifth graders!
There are a few disturbing scenes in the book: namely when Jonas watches a video of his father (a Nurturer in his society, something similar to a neonatal nurse) euthanize a smaller twin in a procedure referred to as “release”, as well as the accompanying discussions of how those who care for the Old are trained to “release” the elderly, and the daughter of The Giver requested “release” and injected herself. While certainly not glorified in the book, these scenes illustrate a society that has cast aside the Scriptural principle of the Sanctity of Life (see Genesis 9:6, Exodus 20:13, Exodus 21:14, Ecclesiastes 3:2).
Also, it should be noted that Jonas experiences what is referred to as “Stirrings”, in which he begins to have feelings for a girl his age, at which time he is given a pill each day to eliminate all such “Stirrings”.
While perhaps not a powerful as it could have been, I found The Giver to be a very insightful and thought-provoking read. I would give the book a “B”.
Have you read The Giver? If so, what are your thoughts?