Book Review: The Giver
WARNING: This book review contains spoilers!
The Giver is a classic children’s novel about a twelve-year-old boy who learns the deep complexity of his dystopian world. Written by Lois Lowry, author of, Number the Stars. It’s the first book in The Giver Quartet series and received the John Newbery Medal.
The book’s premise:
“Jonas’ world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war, fear, or pain. There are no choices. Every person has an assigned role in The Community.
Singled out to become the next Receiver of Memories, Jonas receives special training from the current Receiver. He alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now it’s time for the old Receiver to give Jonas the truth. There is no turning back.”
I heard about this book back in middle school and in high school, but never read it until recently. The book cover is a little strange to me because it’s a picture of an old man, and what seems like a torn page of a picture in the left corner of the book. At first, I was unsure if I was going to like this book or not.
Now that I read this novel, I give it a three-star rating. Why do you ask? Well, I’ll explain.
First, it was hard to decipher whether it was a young adult novel or a middle-grade novel. If you do a search engine inquiry through Google and type in “the giver,” you will see that it says it is a young adult novel. Personally, I do not think it’s a young adult.
It’s more middle grade. The story is about a twelve-year-old boy who learns from the Old Man’s memories the many complexities to our world. There is very little to no romance involved, and it’s pretty straight forward in terms of the plot. So, for argument’s sake, The Giver is an upper middle-grade novel.
Second, after reading the entire story, which took me two days to read and analyze, I had many mixed feelings about the novel.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book. It had a clear beginning, middle, and end. I knew what the story’s agenda was about. These are all good points to consider. However, I felt like it was missing something. I can’t put my finger on what it was.
Perhaps the information about the characters and the world was sparse? I did not like the ambiguous ending. After I read it, I understood why, but for me, as a writer and a reader, I prefer a clear ending.
The emotional connection with any of the characters wasn’t there. I expected to feel more sympathetic for The Giver, the old Receiver of Memories, and Jonas.
I also wanted to know more backstory about the Community and the world that Jonas lived in. How did the Community start? Why did the world go into Sameness and not into the Elsewhere? Where did the Released people go?
There were some touching moments within the story, but even then, it wasn’t strong enough to get a reaction out of me. The Giver tells Jonas about Rosemary, his daughter. The Old Man explains to him how Rosemary was the Receiver of Memories and why they released her.
When The Giver gave Jonas happy memories, I expected to feel something. Instead, I felt emotionally disconnected from the scene.
However, there were some awkward and some dark scenes in the book. Those resonated with me more so than the touching ones. The moments when Jonas has a ritual with his family in describing their feelings for the day and he speaks of dreams in the morning. I did feel uncomfortable. Lowry did a good job of creating uneasiness in those moments.
The one scene that terrified me and got a reaction out of me happens towards the end of the book. Jonas, with The Giver, watches a video of his father preparing the Released ceremony with a pair of twins. One twin goes away with the nurse, and Jonas’ father takes the other twin. Initially, Jonas thinks that his father will clean the baby up and make him comfy. Instead, he sees his father giving a lethal injection to a vein in the baby’s forehead. The baby dies in Jonas’ father’s arms.
There were several intense themes the book touched upon, such as the importance of individual differences and the gravity of human emotions.
The book also discussed the weightiness of morals. Jonas often debated on when to tell the truth and when to tell a lie. He also considered when telling the truth or a lie was ethical and socially proper. It makes sense why a “children’s book” with these themes was taught in schools.
Finally, I felt the world where Jonas lived didn’t feel believable. It didn’t present the alternative possibilities, such as a world without Sameness, a world without Release. The choice is either here, with Sameness and no color, or Elsewhere, with pain and suffering.
The story never mentions anything about the consequences of not living in the Community. What would happen if someone tried to escape the Community?
I did like The Giver, but it was certainly not my favorite. It had a great plot, and the world-building was interesting. The writing is up to standards, and it’s pretty easy to read. If you haven’t read this book yet as a school assignment, consider giving it a go.