The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver is a 1993 American young adult utopian/dystopian novel by Lois Lowry. It is set in a society which at first appears to be utopian but is revealed to be dystopian as the story progresses. The novel follows a 12-year-old boy named Jonas. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness”, a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, as there may be times where one must draw upon the wisdom gained from history to aid the community’s decision making. Jonas struggles with concepts of all the new emotions and things introduced to him: whether they are inherently good, evil, or in between, and whether it is even possible to have one without the other. The Community lacks any color, memory, climate, or terrain, all in an effort to preserve structure, order, and a true sense of equality beyond personal individuality.
The Giver won the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide as of 2014. In Australia, Canada, and the United States, it is on many middle school reading lists, but it is also frequently challenged and it ranked number 11 on the American Library Association list of the most challenged books of the 1990s. A 2012 survey based in the U.S. designated it the fourth-best children’s novel of all time.
In 2014, a film adaptation was released, starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep and Brenton Thwaites. The novel forms a loose quartet with three other books set in the same future era, known as The Giver Quartet: Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012).
Literary significance and criticism
While critical reception of The Giver has been mixed, the novel has found a home in “City Reads” programs, library-sponsored reading clubs on citywide or larger scales.
Some reviewers have commented that the story lacks originality and is not likely to stand up to the sort of probing literary criticism used in “serious” circles, while others argue that books appealing to a young-adult audience are critical for building a developing reader’s appetite for reading. Karen Ray, writing in The New York Times, detects “occasional logical lapses”, but adds that the book “is sure to keep older children reading”. Young adult fiction author Debra Doyle was more critical, stating that “Personal taste aside, The Giver fails the Plausibility Test”, and that “Things are the way they are (in the novel) because The Author is Making A Point; things work out the way they do because The Author’s Point Requires It”.
Natalie Babbitt of The Washington Post was more forgiving, calling Lowry’s work “a warning in narrative form”, saying:
The story has been told before in a variety of forms—Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind—but not, to my knowledge, for children. It’s well worth telling, especially by a writer of Lowry’s great skill. If it is exceedingly fragile—if, in other words, some situations do not survive that well-known suspension of disbelief—well, so be it. The Giver has things to say that cannot be said too often, and I hope there will be many, many young people who will be willing to listen.