The Giver



The Giver

by Lois Lowry

Random House: 1993

179 pp.

Age: 10+

Interests: science fiction, dystopia, morality, questioning authority, freedom

Next: the rest of ‘The Giver Quartet’: Messenger, Gathering Blue, Son

More science fiction: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engle, The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, The Martian Chronicles or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Also by this author: Number the Stars, Autumn Street, The Silent Boy

In a futuristic society twelve-year-old Jonas is about to be assigned a career. To his surprise he is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory, a job he knows nothing about. There is only one Receiver of Memory for the whole community, and Jonas will receive the memories from the last Receiver, now an old man. What he discovers – as he absorbs all the memories and emotions of generations past – is what life was like for people before life became so regimented, controlled, and stripped of pain, hardship, sorrow, freedom and joy. Jonas makes a bold decision to let loose the memories, and save himself from a lifetime of anguish.

A truly creepy novel about a seeming utopia which is revealed to be darkly dystopian as the story unfolds. This book prompts many questions: What is an ideal community? What would it take to banish all pain? Is life without pain better? How much liberty would you be willing to give up to have an easy life? Why do people obey rules? What is the cost of blind obedience to authority?

This book reminds me of a lot of those dark and edgy 70s sci-fi movies (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, Omega Man) that painted such a bleak view of the so-called advancements of the future. This book’s strength lies in its simplicity, and how well the rather complicated system of rules is revealed bit by bit through the first few chapters. It’s particularly interesting how everyone in the community, our hero included, is perfectly content to obey the rules. They are perfectly content to do as they are told every minute of the day, and in return they live a life entirely free from want, worry, sorrow or pain. Unfortunately they have also lost all emotional depth; music, art, even the perception of colour is lost to them.

Jonas is like everyone else, and enjoys his life in the community at the beginning of the book. He is not a natural rebel, but is thrown into that role when he really sees and feels what everyone has lost, and learns that everything he’s been told is a lie.

This is not difficult to read but could be quite conceptually challenging for 10 year olds. There is even an ambiguous ending for the reader to deal with. This book has commonly been assigned reading in middle schools (in Canada, Australia and the U.S.), but is also on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books, presumably because of its attitudes toward authority. (There is no sexual or violent content in the book. No bad language either.)

Lowry wrote three subsequent titles to form what she calls ‘The Giver Quartet’ – they are not actual sequels, but rather stories about other characters in that same futuristic world.

(available at


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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