Imagine if you were told that, as of age twelve, you had to get a job... and then keep it for the rest of your life. Terrifying? Try this: imagine if you were always been watched over by an obscure governing force. Yikes? It gets worse: imagine if you lived in a world that was literally black and white, Pleasantville-style.
All of this is horrific, but The Giver is the gift that keeps on giving (you nightmares): imagine a society where there are no emotions. No love, no hatred, to lust, no envy, no annoyance.
Excuse us while we spend the next day under our comforter, quaking in fear.
Lois Lowry published The Giver in 1993. At the time, she had already won a Newbery Medal for her earlier novel, Number the Stars, in 1990. But, because two is always better than one, she won a second Newbery for The Giver.
The Giver tells the story of a young boy named Jonas living in a highly controlled community some time in the future. The novel fits into a larger genre of cautionary tales called "dystopian literature." A utopia is a society in which everything is perfect, so a dystopia is the opposite: everything has gone wrong. The novel explores Jonas's encounter with memories of "the past," a time much like ours, in which people still had the freedom of choice.
And, because anything intended for young adults that mentions sex or government is often labeled "controversial," it was banned. A lot.
That's hilarious, right? A novel about a society that bans seasons, free will, music, colors, emotions and books... was banned.
But despite the initial controversy—or maybe, hey: because of it—The Giver is one of the most popular YA books around. And it's not just for young adults, either—The Giver is studied even in college-level Philosophy and Political Science classes. So whether you're a lover of YA or a scholar of Kant, a middle-school student or a wise old grandma, you should read The Giver.
If only because you can.
Life hurts. A lot.
We know that statement's a downer, but it's also undeniably true. From the first horrors of childhood (bruised knees, mandatory broccoli, watching Bambi's mother die) to the indignities of adolescence (getting a nosebleed in front of the whole class, forgetting yoir homework, moving to a new school and having to eat lunch by yourself) the world seems to reinforce the Princess Bride quote "Life is pain."
And sometimes you might fantasize about a world without pain. Where you don't have make the hard choices. Or be lonely. Or feel unsure. Or worry about... anything.
But before you start wishing too hard for a Shangri-La of perpetual summer and ease, pick up The Giver. Read it.
Because The Giver shows us what that kind of world would look like and—spoiler—it ain't pretty. In fact, it's hideous.
When you don't have to worry about anything, states The Giver, that means you don't have to worry about failing... but you also never experience the joy of success and pride. If you're never unsure, you never wait queasily for your crush to text you... but you also never get the elation that comes when that text is "What are you doing? I miss you!" Sure, when you're never lonely you never feel timid and unlovable... but you also never get to experience the warm fuzzies you get when your friend says "You look down. Let's get ice cream and watch all the Adventure Time."
And sure, when you never have to make a hard choice, that means you'll never make the wrong choice. But you'll never make the right choice either. (And when we say "right choice" we mean "adopting a tiny kitten named Baby Beluga even though we were broke.")
Basically The Giver states that, without clouds, there would be no silver linings. Oh, and don't worry about getting bored—Lois Lowry inserts that oh-so-life-affirming message into a page-turner filled with dystopian horror, doctors that kill babies, young love, and a daring escape plot.
The classic Carl Nelson cover image.
Newbery Award Speech
Read Lois Lowry's acceptance speech for the 1994 Newbery Medal.
Lois Lowry's Homepage
Here you'll find blogs, info about her other books, and snippy answers to FAQs.
The Giver, 2014
Fair warning: this adaptation takes a whole lot of liberties with the text.