Hello, everyone! My name is Cassandra Henken and I'm a guest of Tanya's. She asked me to write a little something for all of you about my favorite YA books, and I immediately thought of Lois Lowry's The Giver. Please enjoy this book review.
For more about me and my work, visit my website cassandrahenkenediting.com. Hope to see you there!
When it comes to talking about great authors, I always give a shoutout to Lois Lowry. She’s been a popular writer of kids’ books for decades, with notable titles such as Number the Stars, Gossamer, and her debut novel, A Summer to Die.
She is best known, though, for The Giver Quartet. The first novel in the series, The Giver, was published in 1994 and won the Newbery Medal. I am proud to consider The Giver and its sequels among some of my favorite books. I first read them in middle school, and I still enjoy them as an adult.
I’ve always believed literature meant for children has something to offer adults, too. Let’s be honest, sometimes adults need to be reminded of simple lessons like being kind to others, maintaining individuality, and being grateful for the little things.
The Giver goes beyond that. Reading it for the first time felt like a sucker punch to the stomach. I was probably too young to fully grasp the importance of the themes, but they still had a profound effect on me. They still do. I probably appreciate the book more as an adult than I did as a kid because I’m able to understand it better.
The Giver is about a boy named Jonas who is on the cusp of turning twelve years old. This is an important time in his life, and the lives of the other eleven-year-olds, with big changes on the horizon. In Jonas’ community, twelve is when kids stop being kids and become young adults. At twelve, they’re assigned their life’s work and begin training in their fields. Jonas is given an unprecedented job—he is the chosen Receiver of Memories. He must report to The Giver, who will pass to him all the memories of their society.
Jonas’ community is, on the outside, perfect. It knows no pain, no fear, no hunger, no war. To achieve this utopia, the community had to give up individuality and the freedom of choice. Their careers, spouses, and children are chosen for them. Jonas, his family, friends, and the rest of the community know nothing about joy and the warmth of love.
Everything is about Sameness. There are strict rules everyone must adhere to, and if they don’t, they are “released” from the community. Babies are written off if they cannot sleep through the night. Elders, once their usefulness is used up, are locked away. Once they reach an age too old, they’re also sent away.
Jonas is different, though. He, unlike the other members of his community, has light eyes. He notices things others don’t, feels things others cannot understand. That’s why the Council chooses him to be the Receiver of Memories.
And then there’s Gabriel, the baby his dad brings home every night because he doesn’t fit in with the other babies down at the Nurturing Center. Gabriel also has light eyes and is an unhappy baby; he cries all night long. There have even been discussions of Gabriel being “released.”
Due to his work with The Giver and some painful realizations of what “release” actually entails, Jonas must make a choice: stay in the community or leave it, taking Gabriel and the memories of their past with him.
Let’s look at three main themes of The Giver.
The Individual vs. Society
Jonas’ community is founded on the idea of Sameness. Over many generations, differences were eliminated. Most everyone has the same color of hair and eyes—except for The Giver, Jonas, and Gabriel. People in certain age groups wear the same type of clothing and have their hair cut in the same style. Feelings like love, attraction, and ambition don’t exist. Because of Sameness, no one in the community knows any pain or loneliness, but no one knows true happiness either.
Freedom of Choice
As I mentioned before, no one in Jonas’ community makes choices. They can’t even choose what food they’d like to eat—meals are sent to each household daily. As children, the Council watches to see what skills they have and assigns them a career accordingly. To get married, you need to apply for a spouse and one is chosen for you based on compatibility. Each married couple is allotted two children: one boy and one girl. Again, the community members must apply for their children, and their children are assigned. Without the ability to make choices, no one in the community experiences the consequences of making a poor decision. They are guaranteed a stable life, albeit an empty one.
The Importance of Memory
The council members of Jonas’ community decided to give up the community’s memories. The Giver is the only person left who knows both the pain of the past and hope for the future. Jonas is assigned to learn these memories. The Giver isn’t getting any younger and the community must have a receptacle to hold the memories, otherwise, their whole way of life will come unhinged. Throughout his training, Jonas slowly realizes that without memories, people can’t learn from mistakes, celebrate accomplishments, or know love or happiness. Lowry emphasizes how precious memory is and its power to influence, guide, and enrich life.
The Giver is a whopping 179 pages and is written at a sixth-grade reading level. I encourage adults to read it anyway. Read it slowly. Soak it in. Feel the weight of the words. Read it with a friend or two and discuss the themes within. Yes, it’s a kids’ book, but it’s an important one that discusses a lot of heavy topics I believe are relevant in today’s political climate.