The Giver, by Lois Lowry, 1993, Book Review

Imagine a world that is efficient, safe and painless. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? No one is rude, crime is not a problem, no one ever goes hungry. Every member of the community contributes in a helpful, organized manner, and life glides along as easily as sled runners on a snowy hill. Except there are no hills. They’re too impractical for shipping. And there is no snow. Climate control has eliminated such food production problems. Sameness—in human and object—is the rule, because sameness most benefits the community.

Still sound good? This is the world Jonas lives in. It’s all he’s known since his days as a Newchild, when he was given to his parents to begin their family unit. A few years later, when he was a Four, his little sister completed their family—one girl and one boy, as stated in the rules. Each year marked some new development in his training, but now, as an almost-Twelve, after years of being observed and monitored by the Elders, he’s anxious to receive his occupational Assignment that will determine the rest of his life.

The Assignment changes everything.

As the new Receiver of Memories, it will be Jonas’s burden to hold the memories of the entire world so others in the community need not suffer them. Because the memories of ages past hold pain. The pain of grief and loss, of hunger and war. Overwhelming memories long forgotten. But along with the pain comes images of color, music, and love, and Jonas begins to realize what his people have given up for the sake of comfort.

This is a powerful, powerful book. Not one that leaves a reader with warm fuzzies, but truly unique and profound. Does pleasure balance pain? Can there be one without the other? How much freedom should be given up to ensure safety? Should the institution of family be restructured? Should birth limits be enforced? Should we be sheltered from death? Should death be taken on as a responsibility to ensure the greater good? Just how far should a society go when working toward that goal?

This Newbery winner explores these questions in a very emotional way. Content is appropriately handled, but it can be blunt and shocking. Points are illustrated with some disturbing images including war, poaching, and of the murder of a baby. Like the other books in the trilogy, this one is written at about a fourth grade reading level, but I would recommend middle school as the minimal age to consider such deep social themes. This one, in fact, is the most disturbing of the three, but it is invaluable as a tool for promoting the discussion of a whole host of issues kids will face as they mature into adulthood.

I highly, highly recommend The Giver for readers 12+.

My reviews of the series:

Book two: Gathering Blue
Book three: Messenger
And there’s now a Book four: Son

14 thoughts on “The Giver, by Lois Lowry, 1993, Book Review

  1. I agree with you that this is a powerful book. It is one that really makes you think about life and society. I still have to read the others in the series- but I have them waiting to be read. Great review!

  2. This book was rather difficult for me to read, but it was beautifully written and very thought-provoking. I know several young people who read and enjoyed it, but they were older than MG. I think it was a little too intense for the MG crowd, and possibly over their heads for understanding. I enjoyed your review of it and thought you described it well.

  3. There is so much great about this book–its fascinating story along with so much to discuss concerning topics it covers. And…I had the pleasure of hearing Lois Lowry talk about a year ago. She is awesome to listen to!

  4. Wow… what a thought provoking concept! Even your review makes me stop and think. I have not heard of this book, and my kids are a little young, but will keep it in mind for later years! Thanks for sharing!

  5. You got me on this one — I have to read it. I love the concept. Reminds of a movie in the 70s with Julie Christie, where books were banned/burned and people met secretly with mentors to memorize the books from sages that kept the memories.

    Also just finished “A Wrinkle in Time.” It was a first of it’s kind and broke the rules in the 60s. But it didn’t Wow me. I was kind of disappointed. I would have rather been sitting with one of your books. Still haven’t read the Color of Freedom.

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