Plot summary: Eleven-year-old Jonas lives in a world where everything and everyone has their assigned place. When a child turns twelve, they are given a job based on their skills or aptitudes. Marriages are assigned based on personality, and only two children are allowed per household. When it is time for Jonas and the other elevens to have their Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas is shocked when the Chief Elder skips his number and does reveal Jonas’ assigned task. Later, the Chief Elder pulls Jonas aside and tells him that he has been selected for a special task: he is to become the “Receiver of Memory.” Jonas then meets the Giver, the only person in Jonas’ world who can do things that have been removed, like hear music, see color, and feel pain. Jonas begins training with the Giver, learning about things he never imagined. During his training, Jonas’ family briefly takes care of a baby, Gabriel, who Jonas discovers can also receive memories and sensations. When Jonas learns that Gabriel is scheduled to be “released,” or euthanized, he must decide whether or not to leave his perfect world to save the young boy.
Review: Lowry’s Newbery Medal Winner, The Giver, is a complex but incredibly interesting novel for young readers that is likely different from anything they have ever experienced before. The concept of the “perfect” society where everything is planned is now relatively common in literature, and more contemporary titles for tweens and teens have used this concept as well. The Giver is different in tone, however, from many of these other stories. The reader begins not realizing what kind of world Jonas actually lives in. Only later in the novel is it revealed that Jonas has never seen color or experienced pain, and these revelations are more climactic as a result of Lowry’s timing. The things Jonas experiences will likely cause young readers to think more about their own societies and how structured or un-structured they are in comparison. This thoughtful and original novel is a must-read for tweens, especially those interested in science-fiction.
Reading level: Grades 5-9
Similar titles: Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.
Personal thoughts: When I first read this novel in the 5th grade it absolutely blew my mind. I have never heard of anything like it, and thought it was utterly fascinating. Getting the chance to experience it again as an adult was fun. I am huge fan of Lois Lowry, but this is by far my favorite of her many novels. I think she does an excellent job of creating a thought provoking story that is still age appropriate for young readers.
Themes: “Perfect” society, government control, technology, sensations/experiences.
Awards/Reviews: Newbery Award Medal Winner (1994), positive reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and The New York Times.
Series Information: Loose trilogy including The Giver (1994), Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004).
Jonas – Begins the story as an eleven-year-old waiting for his job assignment when he turns twelve. To his surprise, he becomes the Receiver of Memories, a task he has never heard of, and learns about things he never knew existed in his society (color, music, pain).
The Giver – Becomes Jonas’ mentor, passing on his memories and sensations for Jonas to experience and hold onto.
Gabriel – A young baby who Jonas realizes can receive memories. Jonas is very fond of the baby and wants to save him when he discovers he is to be euthanized.
Asher – Jonas’ best friend. He is given the assignment of Assistant Director of Recreation.
Fiona – Another friend of Jonas. She is given the assignment of Caretaker of the Old.
Annotation: Jonas is shocked when he learns he is to become the next Receiver of Memories and will experience things he never knew existed in his world (pain, color, music, love.)