While this review does not contain direct spoilers, there are several elements of the story revealed in it. Please read at your own discretion.
It’s really hard to review a book that is so critically acclaimed to be a children’s masterpiece. Not only that, but an award winning one, as well as the fact that I’m well beyond the intended age group. But I will try my best.
First of all, this book is geared toward middle school kids, approximately around the age of 10-14. And I’m reading it at the age of 24 – haha! It was available when I was that age, but I was much more interested in Redwall by Brian Jacques as well as Harry Potter. I was aware that it was in the school library and while I always intended to pick it up, I never got around to it. Until just recently, when I found out it was being made into a movie. In preparation for it – because I REALLY don’t like seeing a movie before reading the material it was based off – I borrowed the torn and battered copy from the library. It was obviously well loved and it was clear that many people had checked it out in the past. So, I became pretty optimistic.
The Giver is set in the future, in which a young boy, named Jonas, is turning twelve and about to get his assignment for his job, which he will have for the rest of his life until he becomes an elder. His society is seen as a “utopian” by all the members who live there. “Sameness” has been achieved, in which everyone seems to look alike and the landscape is alike. No one is allowed to tell lies to each other. When born, children are taken from the “Birth Mothers” and placed with families who have applied to have children. Only two children are allowed per couple, one boy and one girl. The children are separated based into age groups, in which the kids get different responsibilities. At the age of eleven, Jonas had been volunteering in his free time, in order to discover what he liked doing in life. However, children aren’t allowed to decide their fate – the counsel does it for them. At the Ceremony for Twelves, Jonas discovers he’s to be The Receiver, a special job in which he will start to know how the past unfolded and many secrets that are kept from everyday people. After that, he meets with The Giver (the previous Receiver) to discover new ideas, feelings, and sensations that have long been lost to others. For example, Jonas first learns about colors through The Giver, as well as the sensation of snow. Not only that, but he learns of the chilling truth of what happens to troublemakers who are “Released” after causing issues within the society, as well as those who are too old.
This book is a pretty easy and quick read – I read it in a few hours. But despite how short the book was, it left me with quite a few questions about Jonas’ world. Sensations such as color, as well as the decisions to lie and the ability to sympathize with others is something that in innately human. Lowry never gave us any answer as to how this big change occurred in the world, other than the fact that “Sameness” occurred. But how can you weed out color from people’s vision? How can you keep others from being envious or empathetic - their very humanity? I just didn’t understand how this could ever happen. I could sort of understand why Jonas never knew of snow – as it was hinted that global warming had occurred, but why was it so essential for people to forget something as little as snow? At one point, it was mentioned that skin tone had been changed to where everyone was the same now, and I can understand the intentions behind that, as there have been many battles and war fought over differences between people. But why snow?
Anyway, I suppose I’m looking too much into in and asking too many questions. Middle grade kids probably wouldn’t be asking the same things I am, but that still doesn’t mean that the children don’t deserve an answer to these questions. But then again, perhaps that was Lowry’s intent the whole time, to keep the book open ended and to keep children guessing and thinking about the deeper meaning of the book. Not only that, but the ending of the book is left completely open to interpretation. Some books do this very well, such as The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, but in this instance, I really don’t like it. I didn’t spend the whole day reading the book to not get an answer to the story.
In the end, I can definitely see how this book won the awards it did and how it can be considered required reading for young children. It was well before it’s time and I applaud Lowry for writing a book that can really challenge children. But was this book for me? Probably not. It was compelling, but frustrating. I sort of wish I would’ve read it when I was younger – I can’t help but wonder if I could have liked it better.