Aug 24, 2008

The Giver by Lois Lowry

“Well…” Jonas had to stop and think it through. “If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one?”
He looked down at himself, at the colorless fabric of his clothing. “But it’s all the same, always.”
Then he laughed a little. “I know it’s not important, what you hear. It doesn’t matter. But—”
“It’s the choosing that it’s important, isn’t it?” The Giver asked him.
Jonas nodded.
This story takes place in a mechanical and shallow futuristic society. This is a society in which every child is assigned an occupation when they turn twelve. Jonas, our protagonist, is assigned as the next Receiver of Memory. He meets The Giver, a man who carries all memories of the past – memories of things that no longer have a place in an ordinary citizen’s life. Things like colour, snow, rain, animals, love, war, suffering, hunger, the knowledge of death.

For the next few years, The Giver will pass these memories on to Jonas. The community needs a Receiver of Memory so that they have someone to turn to for advice if they ever come across a situation they haven’t dealt with before. At the same time, the existence of someone who carries the burden of memory means that no one else has to feel its weight.

But of course, the loss of these memories is also the loss of so much more. It is only during his training, when Jonas begins to realize what life was once like before the Sameness, that he realizes how much is missing in his community’s life. Colour. Feelings. Spontaneity. The ability to make choices. Uniqueness. Diversity.

As Jonas’ eyes begin to open, so do the reader’s. Lois Lowry initially presents this future society as a happy one, and then slowly uncovers what hides behind that appearance of happiness. I think that this technique makes this story an even more powerful one. The way things are gradually revealed – particularly the meaning of expressions that are recurrently used throughout the story, like “release” – is especially creepy.

The Giver is a story about the importance of memory, of emotions, of diversity. Of making choices, even if they turn out to be wrong ones. Of suffering, even. Of being allowed to experience life’s full emotional range. It’s a story about all the things that make us human, and what would happen if they were taken away.

And it’s a subtle and intelligent book; a book in which nothing is overstated or over explained. I’m always happy when authors respect their readers’ intelligence, but I’m particularly happy when children’s authors don’t give in to the temptation of making everything much too obvious just because they’re writing for children.

I think that most people have read The Giver, and so know just how powerful a book it is, and for how long the issues it raises remain in one’s mind. If, like me, you’ve waited this long to discover it, I really recommend that you wait no more.

And to think that I had never heard of The Giver – or of Lois Lowry – until I started blogging! Many thanks to everyone who recommended it.

Other Blog Reviews:
…epiphany…
Everyday Reads
Rhinoa’s Ramblings
Nothing of Importance
Words by Annie
Valentina’s Room
Trish's Reading Nook
Bold Blue Adventure
Becky's Book Reviews
Bookfoolery and Babble

Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Maw Books
Lost in a Good Story

Passion for the Page
The Well-Read Child
So Many Books, So Little Time
Back to Books
One More Chapter
Books.Lists.Life
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Fuzzy Cricket
Kristina's Favourites

(Have I missed yours? If so, please let me know and I’ll add it to this list.)

30 comments:

  1. One of these days I want to read the rest of her books. As it stands right now, this is the only one I have had the chance to read. She looks like she has a lot of other great stuff to enjoy... One of these days!

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  2. I cried so hard at the end of it!
    http://bookslistslife.blogspot.com/2007/05/giver-by-lois-lowry.html

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  3. Another powerful review again Nymeth! Great job as always. Thanks again for putting up my link :)

    And yay, you're reading Freakonomics! Enjoy! I never got around to reviewing that one I think, but it was a great, great read for me :)

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  4. Great review! My mom and I were just talking about this book the other day, trying to remember exactly what it was about. I obviously need to read it again because I couldn't remember any of it!

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  5. Great Review, Nymeth! I loved this book. And you are right. I think it's important that Lowry didn't feel the need to hand-hold the audience, though when I found out what Releasing meant, I was stunnded. Not what I was expecting. And not the tidy ending I was hoping for. And yet, I don't think I would have changed a thing!

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  6. Kailana: I want to read more of her books too. I've only read this and Number the Stars so far and I loved both. And many of her others sound wonderful too.

    Lisa: I perfectly understand why. Thanks for the link!

    Lightheaded: Thank you :) And I'm really enjoying Freakonomics so far! It's different from what I expected, though to be honest I'm not quite sure what it was that I expected :)

    Andrea: You do need to re-read it! I think this is one of those books that are probably even more enjoyable the second time around.

    Stephanie: I wasn't expecting "releasing" to be what it was either...it was quite a shock. But like you I wouldn't change a thing.

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  7. I wrote an essay on this book in grade eight, actually... and I still remember it as one of the better books I read when I was younger. Did you know that there are two sequels to The Giver? I only just found out a month or two ago -- now I'm excited to read them.

    On a separate note, I notice that you've got an outdated link to me in your sidebar. Would you mind changing the link for shereadsbooks.wordpress.com to shereadsbooks.org? I am happily and finally at my own domain -- and now trying to chase down what links I can.

    Thanks, Nymeth :)

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  8. I had never heard of Lois Lowry either till last year when I started blogging:) It came up as a result of a book quiz I took so I though I *had* to read it!

    I knew you would have liked it, and I know exactly what you mean when you talk about subtlety in children's books. I like when they challenge and stimulate,instead of preach.
    Great review as always :)

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  9. I taught 6th grade for 16 years, and my favorite projects and class discussions in recent years had to do with The Giver. It's an incredible book that gets young people (or a reader of any age!) thinking. It's an amazing piece of literature.

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  10. I'm really glad you got around to this and enjoyed it. I loved her Anastasia series when I was younger and re-read them in 2007. I hadn't really heard of much else by her (except A Summer to Die) and the blogging world opened me up to this serise and Number the Stars which is also very good. I hope you read Gathering Blue and Messenger too.

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  11. I knew that you'd enjoy this one. I absolutely loved it and can't wait to read more Lowry. I have Gossamer all lined up for the RIP challenge and I have Gathering Blue sitting patiently for me too. The Willoughbys looks really good too. I hadn't discovered her either until I started blogging, so don't feel bad about that :p

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  12. You definitely captured Lowry's message! I find that children authors these days know how to approach their audience, making their work both meaningful and entertaining. I'm very glad you enjoyed this book. :]

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  13. Thanks for another great review, Nymeth! This one sounds like a great read since so many bloggers had read and reviewed it.

    I'm not familiar with Lois Lowry's books but will definitely keep a look out for his books in future.

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  14. Christine: I heard about the sequels from some other bloggers and I really look forward to reading them. And thanks for the updated link - that would explain why no new posts of yours had showed up on my reader in a while. I changed the link and resubscribed :)

    Valentina: I think I remember that quiz. And yes, I'm not a fan of books that preach or spoonfeed things to readers, and this one does anything but that!

    Robin: It must be so rewarding to see your students discover this one. I suspect that this might be one of those books that could help convert a reluctant reader into an enthusiastic one.

    Rhinoa: I loved Number the Stars too. I want to read the rest of this trilogy soon.

    Chris: I've been meaning to read Gossamer ever since someone reviewed it for RIP last year. I didn't remember it when making my list, but that doesn't mean I won't get to it :P

    Orchidus: I have the impression that children's (and YA) books have been getting more subtle, meaningful and challenging too.

    Melody: I think you'll really enjoy this one!

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  15. I had the opportunity to read this one a couple of years ago but decided to pass on it. Your review has me rethinking my choice.

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  16. Great review! I think you make a good point about this book. Lowry managed to make this book subtle enough that the reader is drawn in. You don't realize that it is a dystopia at first, it seems so perfect! And she lets the child reading it make their own interpretation, which I really like about this book as well.

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  17. I didn't like this book so much, but I can't really put my finger on why. I gave you a blog award today. :)

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  18. I read this book probably a dozen times when I was in school, but it had completely dropped off my radar - thanks for jogging my memory...yet again, a great review...

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  19. Literary Feline: Do read it if you get another chance! I think you'd enjoy it.

    Kim: Yes, everything seems perfect at first, and the way she slowly turns it around is just so masterful.

    Jeane: Aww, thank you so much :)

    Ken: This is a book that definitely deserved to ve re-read! I'm glad to have reminded you of it.

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  20. Once again, you wrote the perfect review for a book! Of course, I expect nothing less. :) But seriously, you just have a way of saying everything I wish I knew how to say, but can never find the right words for. So glad you enjoyed it!

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  21. I read this book a couple of years ago, and it was DEFINITELY thought provoking! I would say it is one of my favorite dystopian books, but I don't know if I would really consider it appropriate for young adults??

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  22. I haven't read The Giver, but I have read The Silent Boy and Gossamer by Lois Lowry. Gossamer has had a lasting impact on me. I found it disturbing, and it continues to haunt me.

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  23. Debi: Awww, thank you. But you know, I really think you find the right words much more often than you realize.

    Laura: How come? I think it's dark, but not nightmare-inducing dark, and the themes are all handled really well. I guess some young readers would handle it better than others, but that's how if often is.

    Charley: That makes me all the more curious about it. I normally really enjoy haunting books.

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  24. I wouldn't say it was too scary for young readers, but I think the themes are better for slightly older or more mature readers. I had a cousin who read this in 5th grade (she was 10), and she was really disturbed by several scenes, such as what happened in the baby scene. I guess it probably really depends on the maturity level of the "young adult."

    I've been surprised at some of the YA books I have read recently--some of the language or situations seem very adult. But then again, I was very sheltered as a child, so I think what I read and enjoyed when I was young (i.e. Little House and Anne of GG) is very different than what young adults read today. I sound like an old lady!! :)

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  25. "And it’s a subtle and intelligent book; a book in which nothing is overstated or over explained." I think that this is part of the beauty of this book and why it works so well.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Nymeth. I don't think I had heard of this one before blogging--and if I did, I didn't know what it was about and probably would have never read it (although I loved Number the Stars in school when I was little). That is one of the things that I cherish so much about blogging--the different discoveries!

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  26. Laura: You're right, I think older children would appreciate all the questions the book raises better. But like you also said, it depends on the particular child. And yes, the baby scene was disturbing! But still, I'm impressed that Lowry managed to write a book like this and made it generally accessible for children. I have also been noticing that YA books have been dealing with serious or dark topics more and more...I wonder if it has to do with the fact that kids are exposed to things like violence earlier and more frequently than they were a few generations ago. And worry not, you don't sound like an old lady :)

    Trish: Me too! Some of my favourite reads of the year were books I wouldn't have picked up if they hadn't been recommended by fellow bloggers.

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  27. I loved this book so much. I read it a few years ago, but it has stuck with me! I often think about it.

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  28. Teddy Rose, I think it will stay with me too.

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  29. I'm so glad you liked this! I also only heard of it through other blogs, I can't believe I would have missed it if I hadn't started blogging! You're right about the technique Lowry used to reveal more information as we went along, it was powerful. I think it's great that this book is used in classrooms and that kids actually discuss the issues raised, like diversity. Maybe that will help us avoid futures like the one in this book!

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  30. Here's mine:
    http://kristinasfavorites.blogspot.com/2008/01/giver-by-lois-lowry.html

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.