Friday, November 30, 2007

THE GIVER (Genre: Fiction/Young Adult)

Bibliographic Data

Title: The Giver

Author: Lois Lowry


Publisher: Random House Children's Books

Publication Date: September 2002

ISBN: 9780440237686

Plot Summary:
Jonas lives in a futuristic society in which everyone's roles are predetermined by a committee. He is reaching an age in which he will be assigned his lifelong occupation and receive training for it. However, unlike his classmates, Jonas is chosen for a unique occupation within the community - he does not receive an assignment but rather a duty. As the Receiver, Jonas takes on the memories of the community and learns about the secrets, passions, and fears as well as other emotions that his society has forsaken in the pursuit of order.

Critical Analysis:
I am not a fan of apocalyptic books. In fact, when I read this book, my first thought upon completion of it was that it is simply a young adult version of Orwell's 1984. I was also reminded of the apocalyptic and futuristic film Soylent Green. The author chose to create a society in which there are little to no choices. No color, no feelings or emotions (although feelings are shared during the evening meal - but as Jonas comes to realize the "feelings" that they have within this society are not truly feelings at all.)

I found this book to be rather distasteful. First, it deals rather practically with the issue of euthanasia. The elderly are "released" upon their request. As Jonas discovers, in the case of the twin, "release" is not a sending off to another place to live in peace, but rather a medical procedure of putting oneself to sleep. The society sees little use or no use for duplicate humans, as in the case of the twin, of problematic children, such as Gabe, or for the elderly as they have lost their functionality. I'm not sure that the discussion of euthanasia is appropriate with younger young adult readers; my local librarian shared that seventh grade students in our ISD are reading this as a required text. While euthanasia is a topic that appears in the news, thirteen years old is a bit young, in our society in my opinion, to discuss putting humans "to sleep." Second, the book addresses the concept of independence in a rather cavalier manner: choice is taken from all citizens in this society by those who create the infrastructure. It is argued that the choice was removed because it was safer, that if people chose they might choose incorrectly. This particular theme will probably strike a chord with young adults who are beginning to experience freedom and independence in a very concrete manner, but I found the society in this book to be exceedingly oppressive and very socialistic. Finally, the book deals with sexuality and burgeoning sexuality in an oppressive manner. Because emotions often "muck up the waters", members within this society simply take a pill to prevent sexual feelings. Marriages are not made by choice but rather by a committee match based upon compability. Again, young adults are confronted with sexual feelings and in our society sexual images at this age and frequently earlier than young adulthood. While I was off-put by the book's society's choices regarding sexuality, I found that the topic would allow for an interesting, but guided, discusssion.

I did like the character of Jonas himself and that he recognized the value of independent thinking. One example of this was Jonas' choice to stop taking his "pill" so that he could enhance his receivership and the emotions that he felt and was learning to accept. Students will probably sympathize with Jonas because young adults experience many of the same emotions, challenges, and fears that Jonas experienced: uncertainty regarding career, challenges with dealing wtih emotions and change, fear of the unknown, frustration with authority and the status quo.

I think that this text is an excellent example of a book that could easily be tied into social studies for comparing socialist and capitalist societies as well as comparing the challenges of contemporary times to the decisions that led Jonas' society to become the society that it is/was.

Editorial Review:

Publishers Weekly
Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, this thought-provoking novel centers on a 12-year-old boy's gradual disillusionment with an outwardly utopian futuristic society; in a starred review, PW said, ``Lowry is once again in top form... unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers.'' Ages 10-up. (Sept.)
"Wrought with admir-able skill -- the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel."

Children's Literature
Lowry won the Newbery award for this book, her first science fiction story. Jonas is an adolescent living in a world that has a decidedly futuristic feel. When he turns twelve, he gets the job that will last him the rest of his life. He's the Receiver of Memory, the one who receives from the Giver all the memories of his society. Jonas is given great privileges, new privacy, and information that allow him (and readers) to see through the society's apparent Eden. At first his world seems great, but then, bit by bit, she tears away at the perfection she has built.

Children's Literature
Jonas lives in a perfect society. There is no pain, poverty, divorce, delinquency, etc. One's life's work is chosen by the Elders. At the Ceremony of 12, Jonas is shocked to learn that he has been awarded the most prestigious honor. His assignment will be that of Receiver of Memories. He studies with "the Giver," a man he comes to love. Within time he learns the horrifying secrets of his community and must make a decision that will test his courage, intelligence, and stamina. This is a stunning, provocative science fiction story that will inspire discussion. 1997 (orig.

The ALAN Review
Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, Lowry's thought-provoking fantasy challenges adolescents to explore important social and political issues. The Giver trains twelve-year-old Jonas as the next Receiver of Memory, the community's receptacle of past memories. This seemingly utopian society (without pain, poverty, unemployment, or disorder) is actually a body- and mind-controlling dystopia (without love, colors, sexual feelings, or memories of the past). In an exciting plot twist, Jonas courageously resolves his moral dilemma and affirms the human spirit's power to prevail, to celebrate love, and to transmit memories. From the book jacket's evocative photographic images-The Giver in black and white; trees in blazing color-to the suspenseful conclusion, this book is first-rate. Just as Lowry's Number the Stars (which received the 1990 Newbery Medal) portrays the Danish people's triumph over Nazi persecution, The Giver engages the reader in an equally inspiring victory over totalitarian inhumanity.

School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-- In a complete departure from her other novels, Lowry has written an intriguing story set in a society that is uniformly run by a Committee of Elders. Twelve-year-old Jonas's confidence in his comfortable ``normal'' existence as a member of this well-ordered community is shaken when he is assigned his life's work as the Receiver. The Giver, who passes on to Jonas the burden of being the holder for the community of all memory ``back and back and back,'' teaches him the cost of living in an environment that is ``without color, pain, or past.'' The tension leading up to the Ceremony, in which children are promoted not to another grade but to another stage in their life, and the drama and responsibility of the sessions with The Giver are gripping. The final flight for survival is as riveting as it is inevitable. The author makes real abstract concepts, such as the meaning of a life in which there are virtually no choices to be made and no experiences with deep feelings. This tightly plotted story and its believable characters will stay with readers for a long time. --Amy Kellman, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh


Use text to compare and contrast types of economic and governmental systems.

Compare and contrast Jonas' experiences with independence and authority with students' own current experiences.

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