I must confess that I truly did not know what I was getting into when I started this blog back in December, 2008. I had read several book blogs for a couple of months — I enjoyed reading them — I enjoyed reading books — I find writing cathartic — it seemed like a good fit for me. What I did not expect to find was the wonderful camaraderie of this blogging community — the huge number of books that I would add to my TBR list each and every week — and a deep appreciation of ALL genres of literature, including Young Adult (YA) novels.
My (incorrect) assumption used to be that YA novels were written for the 11-16 year old crowd and those who are older than that are too “mature” for the adolescent content. OH MY — I have been proven wrong on several accounts. I am absolutely LOVING the Harry Potter audiobooks — and The Giver is definitely not just for the YA audience!
I finished reading this book about 2 weeks ago, but I was finding it difficult to formulate a review. Since I read the book for my high school book club, I decided to delay my review posting until we met as a group to discuss the book. One of the students in the class chose this as one of her all-time favorite books, and that is how it came to be our final book selection for the academic year.
Here is a summary of the book, as it appears in a Bookrags PDF file:
Where Jonas lives, life is safe, orderly, and predictable. Rules are strictly adhered to;every aspect of a person’s life is carefully planned. People rarely make choices on their own; everything is decided for them by the community. There is no snow or sunshine, no colors or music, no animals or nature.
People in the community take special care to avoid doing or saying anything different.In the community, one must not say anything that causes discomfort to others, and one must use language precisely. Husbands and wives are matched as couples by a Committee of Elders who reviews each individual to see if a person’s characteristics will be compatible with those of his mate. Exactly two children−one male and one female−are assigned to each family unit. The elderly live at the House of the Old.
When Jonas and other Elevens become Twelves in December, they receive their Assignments that assign them to their particular fields of profession. Jonas is assigned to become a Receiver of Memories. He will be the one person in the community who has access to all the memories of the past. The Receiver has knowledge of things that no one in the community has access to, but the Receiver also has the responsibility to shoulder the burden of sorrow and pain that the memories bring.
Gradually, through the memories he receives from The Giver, Jonas comes to realize the various truths about the community. He realizes that it is unfair to deprive people of ever being able to make choices for themselves about their own lives. He understands that the people of the community have no genuine feelings. Feelings have never been a part of their lives. He also learns that there are different ways to live. Through the memories, he sees people in the past living differently, and feels that the community must change.
Reactions were quite mixed in yesterday’s class. Several students began by saying that the ending was “lame.” They enjoyed the first portion of the book — but felt that the ending was weak. Why? Well, after several probing questions and 50 minutes of discussion I think it came down to this: these students want a nice, tidy ending. They did not like the fact that the story ended so abruptly. What is really quite interesting is that they did not equate this “abrupt” ending with an ambiguous ending. They did not see that there are two ways to interpret it. Most of my students chose to interpret the book in an optimistic way: Jonas sees the Christmas lights and this is the start of a new life. There was one student, however, who viewed the lights as a final hallucination before his death.
The book did provoke great discussion from nearly all 6 students. The themes of euthanasia (disguised by the clever euphemism “Release”) and Utopian vs Dystopian societies were discussed at length. It was very rewarding for me as a teacher to hear students analyze what they read with the Christian worldview with which they have grown up. Our conclusion is that God’s perfect plan is indeed, perfect. While freedom of choice makes for an imperfect world, a world void of choice – or feelings (good and bad) makes for a hopeless one.
I personally found the book to be very thought-provoking and one that I know I will want to re-read (possibly multiple times). While the somewhat simple/straight-forward writing style is geared toward the YA market, I think the subject matter is quite mature. Lois Lowry wrote the book in 1993, and if memory serves me correctly, the media was focused on Dr. Kevorkian (mercy killing), David Koresh (secluded societies who abide by their own laws) and animal cloning. Middle school students in the 1990s were exposed to such issues and I think this fictional story provided an outlet for them to voice their own concerns and opinions on these controversial topics in a non-confrontational way.
While I think these topics are not foreign to our 21st century middle schoolers, I would caution parents to consider reading this book along with your student so that you can help your child understand and interpret some of the more disturbing scenes. I am sure it will provide some wonderful opportunities for mature discussion and sharing of faith and/or value systems.