The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Once in a while a book comes along that totally blows me away. The Giver is just that book. I have passed this book sitting on the shelves for years knowing it had won the Newbery Book Award, an award given by the Association of Library Service to Children, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Every Newbery Award-winning book that I have read has been absolutely wonderful so I knew this book had to be good.
Unfortunately, the old cover of this book deterred me for years. The cover was black with an old man’s face on the cover. The man has a long white beard and never looked like the kind wizard I hoped he would be but rather a sideways glancing reserved old scary man that I didn’t think I wanted a literary relationship with. Now, I am adult and know that you should never judge a book by its cover but that is exactly what I did for years.
Inspired to pick this book up once I knew the author was headed to the Nantucket Book Festival this year, I ended up reading this book the week of the Boston bombings. It turns out that The Giver offered me great peace in a week of unthinkable violence.
This story follows the main character Jonas, an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a perfect society called Sameness, with no pain, no crime, no unhappiness. The community runs by common agreement to its rules; some freedom is sacrificed for security and safety; joy and emotion are sacrificed for the avoidance of misery. The community can't even imagine a time in which there was war, hunger, and disease, but also never experiences color, weather, or strong emotions.
In the perfect future world in which Jonas lives, twelve-year-old children are given their life assignments at the Ceremony of Twelve. Jonas is shocked when he is chosen to be the new Receiver of Memories, a mysterious position of honor held by only one person at a time. Through this he discovers secrets about the past and the choices that make this world possible.
Jonas is trained by the previous Receiver, now called the Giver, the old man on the cover that I was deterred by. It turns out the Giver is a wise and caring old man though he is troubled by the emotions and memories he has carried through his position as the Receiver. The training consists of transferring to him memories of a past—deep memories of love, family, snow, happiness, color, and emotion. All of these simple experiences that we take for granted but make us human and provide richness to our lives. It was these moments in the book that I found so comforting during the bombings. The desire for a world to always be at peace and for no one to ever suffer were balanced beautifully in with the shallowness of the experience of life this perfect world would offer. The book however, does not spell out the conclusion that the reader will make.
Jonas and the Giver make some tough choices and together and concoct a plan to change the way their world works, but this choice is not without huge consequences. This book leaves the question of is this the right thing to do up to the reader. There is no neat and tidy ending to this book. It leaves you to decide what the right choice is.
This book blew me away because I was expecting a children’s book. A simply story that rolled right along. I did not expect the depth of emotion and insight that the book offered nor the questions I was left with after finishing the book. Needless to say I ran our right away and picked up the next book in the series, Gathering Blue.
I highly recommend this book to an adult reader. I am not sure that I can broadly recommend it to a child. You know your child best so please feel confident to make that decision for yourself. Parents need to know that there is a disturbing scene in which Jonas witnesses his father euthanizing a baby by injecting it with a needle in the head. There are also mild sexual references. But the overall story is so deep and touching that I would encourage an adult to read it and then decide if it is right for your children. I am so glad that I finally picked up this book and learned who that white bearded old man really was- reflective, wise, experienced and colored by all life has to offer be it pain or pleasure, joy or heartache. This book captures the beauty and gift of life and cleverly disguises it as a children’s book.
Lois Lowry has also written a little something for everyone from the youngest reader up. Be sure to check her out at the Book Festival and pick up a book or two for the readers in your house.
Sunny Daily is a the mother of two children, a doula, a childbirth teacher, an EMT, and aspiring midwife. Choosing to be TV free my entire adult life, books have offered me entertainment, education, an escape, a job, ideas to share, and been a great way to live the lives of all the people I have met in books.