Books Change Lives: Guest post by Donna on The Giver by Lois Lowry

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

“…they were satisfied with their lives which had none of the vibrance his own was taking on. And he was angry at himself, that he could not change that for them.” – Lois Lowry’s The Giver

When I read Steph’s post about Books Change Lives month, one novel immediately came to mind, and I felt compelled to write about it.

I first read Lois Lowry’s The Giver in fifth grade, and though there are very few middle grade novels that have stuck with me over the years, I have never lost my awe for The Giver.

For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to read The Giver, here’s a brief synopsis:
Eleven-year-old Jonah lives in a futuristic society that has eliminated war, fear, pain, injustice, and hatred. Extensive rules govern all aspects of life in his community, but citizens understand that these rules allow for a peaceful, noncompetitive, harmonious world in which everyone’s needs are met; even spouses, children, and jobs are assigned. Anyone who breaks the rules or does not adapt is “released” into Elsewhere as punishment. This is the world of Sameness.

When Jonah takes part in the Ceremony of Twelve, in which the Council of Elders assigns every twelve-year-old a lifelong career, he is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory. In the community, there is one Receiver, the person whose job it is to remember life before Sameness (“back and back and back”), in case the Council ever needs advice. Jonah embarks on a journey in which The Giver (the current Receiver) passes on his memories—ones of suffering and loss, as well as love, joy, and beauty. Jonah begins to see the truth of his seemingly utopian world, and the price of Sameness, and he realizes that his life will never be the same.

As a young reader, the futuristic society in which Jonah lives and the idea of Sameness truly made me look twice at the world around me. At eleven or twelve years old, I contemplated weighty topics like free will, individuality, and personal freedoms. I giggled at the mention of “Stirrings”—the onset of hormonal changes that gives Jonah some risqué dreams about a girl in his class—and I marveled at the idea of a truly colorblind society.

But the beauty of The Giver is Lowry’s stunning ability to allow the reader to come to his or her own conclusions about Sameness. We are transported entirely into Jonah’s world, and in the beginning, Sameness doesn’t seem all that bad. We understand why people would want to live there, and so Jonah’s realizations of the dark sides of Sameness (the lack of meaningful emotions, complexity, passion, and choice) are also revelations to the reader. I was horrified to learn, with Jonah, that “release” meant death: he’d watched a video of his father, a Nurturer, euthanize a newborn identical twin and dump the body down a garbage chute—simply because two identical people would cause confusion in the community. My heart rebelled with Jonah’s as he decided to change his society and end Sameness.

As an “adult” and a YA writer, I still love reading The Giver. I would never call myself a sci-fi fan, or even a huge middle grade reader, but The Giver stands out as one of my all-time favorite books. Despite any imperfections that critics may find, the simple, direct style and intriguing ideas always leave me thinking about what’s familiar, what’s safe—and it reminds me to strive for more. Every single time I begin Jonah’s story, it’s like I never left. That’s what I call a life-changing book!


Donna is a YA writer nearing completion on her first novel, Multiple Choice, which follows three best friends (Maddy, Nina, & June) as they navigate their junior year of high school. The alternating chapters tell their intertwining stories and how their choices may affect their friendship forever. She’s one of four critique group members who blog at First Novels Club, which follows their adventures in writing, reading, networking, and the rest of life.

This guest post is part of Book Change Lives September, on Hey! Teenager of the Year. To read all the guest posts, click here.
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