The Giver by Lois Lowry

The GiverInformation

Goodreads: The Giver
Series: The Giver Quartet #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 1993


In Jonas’s world, there is no choice.  Each life follows a predetermined path marked by various ceremonies, culminating in the assignation of jobs to each girl and boy at the age of twelve.  Jonas awaits his assignment with trepidation, only to learn that his life, for the first time, is about to diverge wildly from that of his peers.  He has been selected as the next Receiver, the vessel who holds the memories of the past and who alone knows true pleasure and true pain.  Jonas initially longs to discover the truth about his society, but he may find that some memories are too much bear alone.


Every reading of The Giver is a powerful experience.  Even a knowledge of the plot cannot keep the story from seeming fresh, suspenseful, and relevant every time.  From the opening pages to the famous final scene, The Giver engages readers with a thought-provoking plot combined with a cast of sympathetic characters, whom it seems impossible not to consider friends.  By turns painful, uplifting, horrifying, and hopeful, The Giver is one of those books that will always stay with you.

Lois Lowry draws readers immediately into Jonas’s world, introducing a society that seems peaceful and even pleasant on the surface, if a little strictly regulated.  Hers may be the quintessential dystopia.  There are no obvious signs of decay and corruption, no overt tyrannical presence, no strange disappearances or evidence of oppression, not even bizarre rules that seem to scream out the citizens asking “Why, why do you live like this?”  An inattentive reader could easily miss the subtle signs of wrongness.  And it is brilliant.  One moment you are reading what seems to be a very sensible, even helpful conversation and the next you are realizing that, actually, the conversation is rather shallow and seems to contain gaps.  But blink for a moment and it’s gone.  For once, readers of a dystopia can understand why no one has ever rebelled against their society.

The ability for readers to enter Jonas’s world in such a way is what makes this dystopia truly scary.  Too often readers can easily dismiss the actions of characters, arguing that, of course, if they were in that situation, they assuredly would have put things right.  No one, after all, wants to think they could ever adopt mob mentality or even just wander thoughtlessly or lazily into a moral outrage.  But Jonas’s world seems not only innocuous but perhaps even desirable.  That image raises a host of other questions such as whether pain has value, whether people should have the freedom to choose even if that means choosing wrongly, and whether difference can actually be beneficial.  And, of course, the ultimate question of what love really is.

These general questions become pertinent to the readers through the individualized case of Jonas and the people he loves–the people he loves without questions even though some readers may not think they deserve it.  But that is the whole point.  Seeing through Jonas’s eyes, readers too can come to know his family and friends and to appreciate their good qualities even though their ignorance.  Love in this world is scarce, but once found, freely given.  Love could be no other.  And love is enough to set Jonas on a quest to help his family and friends, even if he will never know the outcome of his actions and even if he has to sacrifice everything.  It is beautiful, poignant, and ultimately ineffable.

Dystopias have become quite popular in recent years due to the success of The Hunger Games, but Lowry’s 1993 book still stands out, primarily because of Jonas’s conviction.  While other heroes often find themselves forced by their dystopian governments to take action or simply need three books’ worth of convincing to take a stand, Jonas, once he recognizes the problem, knows he has no choice but to fix it, and he never looks back.  Such moral courage seems increasingly rare, perhaps because some think it an unbelievable characteristic.  But Jonas is not meant to be merely believable but also inspiring.  His choice, his sacrifices make The Giver my favorite dystopian, even after all this time.

10 thoughts on “The Giver by Lois Lowry

  1. revgeorge says:

    Another very good review. I’ve had “The Giver” sitting around on my Kindle for awhile but haven’t started it. Frankly, I got a bit burned out on dystopic books.

    I assume you’ll be seeing the movie? I saw the trailers the many times I was watching Godzilla. 🙂


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, the dystopia trend is starting to take its toll. 😉 Still, I give The Giver a pass since it came out before the genre got so big. I’m not sure I’ll see the movie, though. The trailers didn’t look that good and I’m not convinced it’s a book that will translate well to film. If someone invites me, I’ll see the film in theatres. Otherwise, I’ll most likely wait to borrow the DVD from the library.


  2. Lianne @ says:

    I’ve seen this book around the school libraries growing up but I never quite got around to reading it. I had no idea that it had a dystopian slant to it until recently. Hopefully I’ll get around to it one of these days 🙂 Great review!


  3. DoingDewey says:

    I haven’t read this yet but your review is beautiful and makes me want to read it more than anything else I’ve heard. Although I wasn’t as blown away by The Handmaid’s Tale as I expected to be, something I really loved about it was that the author’s description of the way the dystopia came to be was believable. That’s often not the case in the dystopians I’ve read but it sounds like a strong point of this book.


    • Krysta says:

      The specifics of how the dystopia evolved aren’t really given. Readers just know generally that there was a desire to eradicate pain and suffering. But I think the strong point of The Giver as a dystopia is that it really seems to have happened. No one, for instance, really gets sick and if anyone experiences a tiny pain by accident, relief is speedily delivered. Hunger has apparently been eradicated. So when Jonas begins to question whether the citizens deserve autonomy, he is in a sense deciding whether he will, in the process of bringing back choice, destroy a system that has guaranteed food and good health to the majority of the people. I don’t recall such a choice in the other dystopias I’ve read. It generally seems more black-and-white in other books (though, ironically, it also seems to take the protagonists longer to realize what they’re up against).


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