HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, reissued in 2012
Related website: www.randomhouse.com/teens (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Said to be for ages 11-14 but I would say 15 and up
Rating: 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Lowry, Lois. The Giver (published in 1993 by Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Ave. S., New York City, NY 10003; republished in 2002 by Dell Laurel-Leaf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York City, NY 10036). Jonas, an eleven-almost-twelve-year-old boy lives in the Community with his father, mother, and younger sister Lily. It is a planned utopian society governed by Sameness, with no war, fear, or pain, but also no choices. The weather is perfectly controlled, no hills exist, no live animals are seen, and there is even no color or music. At age twelve, all people are assigned their roles in the community. The old, young children who do not thrive, and even those who rebel are “released.” Jonas is singled out to receive special training from the Receiver, who alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life and now becomes “the Giver,” so that Jonas can be trained as the new Receiver. Jonas’s father is a nurturer and the family has been caring for a newborn named Gabriel who is not thriving, so the decision is eventually made that the infant will be released. Now that he has received the truth, how will Jonas react when he learns what it really means to be released? And what will he do?
My first introduction to this book was in a 2003 article entitled “America’s Failing Public School System” by then sixteen-year-old Ashley Anderson, who wrote, “We were assigned books like The Giver by Lois Lowry, which gave details about killing babies and living in a world where no one was special and a person’s worth was based on his/her ability to conform to the group. Was I being conditioned? After reading this letter in a shortened form in the newspaper last week, two public school teachers fired back with a letter of their own….They criticized my remarks about The Giver being inappropriate reading. They said, ‘The Giver is certainly about much more than “killing babies.” In fact the reader should realize the novel is based on what would happen if our individuality, freedom and world were taken away. It’s theme is similar to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and 1984 by George Orwell.’ I wonder if they know that Lois Lowry’s book is being read to children as young as 6 years old and sometimes younger? How can a child that young understand the significance of what’s being read to them. After reading it, I was really shaken up, wondering why I was reading something like that when I was only in the seventh grade.”
At the same time, Betty Burger, for whom I have the greatest respect, used The Giver for “Living Literature” in the March/April, 2003, issue of Homeschooling Today, saying, “We give up both our liberties and our responsibilities to be safe. What happens to a culture that does this? The Giver by Lois Lowry answers that question. The answer should frighten you. What is most frightening is that we are getting closer to ‘safety’ every day.” And on the Homeschooling with the Trivium e-mail list, a woman named Clara wrote, apparently responding to someone who called The Giver “a horrific book,” and said, “Why I do not believe The Giver is a horrific book. One of the things I have learned to appreciate from home educating moms is the freedom we have to agree to disagree….I read the book. I consider it to be written for 11-14 year olds, more or less. That is to say, it is not heavy in tone. It is not long, nor filled with deep complex sentences. The book depicts a society that is completely controlled….This book raises excellent questions and being an easily read book it lends itself to discussion because the child is not burdened with trying to extract ideas from complex writing….The reviews I read years ago gave the impression that this book extolled infanticide and control. I have not found that to be the case. My only caveat is that I never encourage anybody to just hand this book to a child to read. This book is best experienced as a conversation and an introduction to deep ideas about life, humanity, and society.”
Now that I have read the book myself, I can express my own opinion about this 1994 Newbery Medal winner. The Giver is well-written and quite interesting to read. However, to be truthful, I really did not care for it. And I think that my reaction basically involves the issue of age-appropriateness. The book is said to be written on an age nine to eleven reading level and is usually listed as being for age twelve and above, so it was apparently aimed at middle-grade students. However, I noticed that the Random House edition which I read is found in their “Teens” section, and Mrs. Burger recommended it basically for upper grades. There may be some value in the book for high school students to consider the consequences of a controlled society where people give up freedom for safety. However, there are certain aspects of the story—the infanticide, the euthanasia, and some rather oblique sexual references—which I think, agreeing with Ashley Anderson, are just too heavy and thus are not appropriate for younger readers. Also, the ending is rather odd. Whether it is happy or not I guess all depends on the eye of the beholder. Is The Giver a horrific book? Not necessarily, although it has some things horrible to contemplate in it. Is it a useful book? Perhaps, under certain circumstances. Is it a good book? Each person will have to make up his or her own mind on that question. I do agree with the assessment of Barb Brandes and Deb Ekstrand in And the Winner Is…: A Guide to Newbery Medal Winners from a Christian Perspective: “For mature audiences, as there is an episode of euthanasia. The story questions values we take for granted. Caution, and probably pre-reading recommended.” There are three “companion” novels–Gathering Blue, Messenger, and now Son.