Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Flashback: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Books don't have to be new to be deserving of a review! On Fridays I flashback to some of my favorite books of all-time.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, Lois Lowry's The Giver is one of the most celebrated works of children's and young adult literature.  Set in a future society where poverty and sadness do not exist and no one has ever known deprivation of any sort, twelve-year-old Jonas comes to discover that this seeming happiness comes at a great cost.  As he comes to understand the true nature of the world he lives in he is finds himself questioning whether the benefits of the "utopia" outweigh the loss of freedom, individuality and choice.

I'm pretty sure that every student at my middle school has read The Giver.  If they didn't read it in 5th grade before arriving at the middle school, there's lots of pressure from other students, and okay, from me, for them to read The Giver ASAP.  It has come to be "the" introduction to dystopic literature.  It's less violent and shorter than Hunger Games, and with younger characters, I think it feels more accessible.  I've yet to come across a student who hasn't absolutely loved The Giver (though I'm sure they must exist).  I think that younger young adult readers find The Giver to be a bit more sophisticated than their usual fare and are excited by the idea that their reading is literally exposing them to new worlds and asking them to think critically about the structure of society and whether the folks who are in charge really know what they're doing.  It's always nice to feel mature and to feel like you're reaching new levels in your reading.

Another classic.  Another controversy.  According to the American Library AssociationThe Giver was the #11 most challenged book in the 1990s and the #23 most challenged book in the 2000s.  While the ALA rankings do not include specific information about the grounds for the book challenges, Scholastic (the publisher) has a little reading guide (all parts of it are available online if you just edit the "pt4" part of the link to be "pt1" through "pt7") that discusses censorship of the book and notes the society's use of euthanasia for infants who fail to thrive and older persons who have outgrown their usefulness to society as reasons for challenges.  Also interesting to note is that the Scholastic reading guide addresses The Giver's ambiguous ending.  I'm going to completely avoid spoilers here, but say that Lowry is quoted as saying that she wanted the ending to be ambiguous and that that's why she won't write a sequel...which of course she did wind up doing*!

Anyway, if you haven't yet read The Giver, you should.  The fall 2012 release of Son (the fourth book in the fancily titled, but not yet available as a complete boxed set, "Giver Quartet") is just one tiny reason why The Giver is getting media coverage.  The schmancy new covers are another.  But the real reason folks are still talking about The Giver is because it's so good.

*The reading guide was published in 2003 though, so I'll kind of cut her slack.  I haven't read Gathering Blue, which was published in 2000, but I imagine it must not touch on what may or may not have happened at the end of The Giver.  Messenger, which I have read, and which totally seals the ending, wasn't published until 2004.  Son, which even more fully seals the ending, wasn't released until just this year, so maybe she changed her mind.  And she's allowed to do that.    

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  1. also, Rosemary's suicide! (as a reason for a challenge)

    I've been describing The Giver as a "thoughtful dystopia" to folks recently, especially those who (in a sort of backward reasoning) seem to think of it as "just another Hunger Games." Because it *is* violent, but the violence is used in a different way - in fact, in the opposite way - than in HG. It's not to point out how desensitized we are to's to show how one, huge, violent thing - in a world where violence is hidden - becomes a reason to take action. Also, I love how we have to figure so much out - about what's special about the way Jonas sees the apple, about what all the words mean ("release," etc).

    I think if I had to choose just one middle-grade book to represent late 20th century children's lit, The Giver would be it.

  2. Oh! And one more important thing about The Giver, which you say above but which bears repeating: unlike a lot of contemporary YA(ish) dystopias, it presents the *good* reasons to have a hyper-controlled society. I feel like a lot of more contemporary stuff skips this idea, making the oppressive government evil/bad/etc. And in the process, loses out on some really interesting ideas.

    (I'm quite talky these days, aren't I?)