1994: The Giver (To Remember or Not to Remember)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4.5/5

The 1994 Newbery Medal Winner is one of the best known, The Giver. The society in which it is set initially appears a modestly happy one, with a strict structure in which everyone is content. The book opens with Jonas approaching his twelfth year, when children are assigned to a profession. At the ceremony at which placements are announced, Jonas is initially skipped, then is informed that he was selected as the Receiver, the person who holds memories for the community.

The current Receiver, who takes the title the Giver, gifts Jonas with memories from long before the current society. They allow Jonas to experience much more profound emotions than others in his society, showing him what it truly means to love. In the process, Jonas comes to question the current order. He finds out that those who are “released” are really just killed. When Gabriel, a child fostered at his house, is unexpectedly scheduled for release, Jonas takes him and runs away to safety, an action which Jonas and the Giver hope will force the community to deal with its own memories and bring about positive change.

This book is exquisite. Until the final chapters, there is little action but the storytelling and the evolution of Jonas’s understanding of his society are perfect. The book is deceptively simple initially, depicting a child’s anxiety over what he is going to (be assigned to) do with his life. Lowry slowly strips bare humanity, showing a society that chose security and Sameness over individuality, in so doing losing profound emotion as well as color vision, music, and much more. The Giver makes you consider the trade-offs between security and self-determination, echoing similar tensions between capitalism and communism.

This is highly recommended for late elementary and middle school readers, as well as a general audience. The themes are interesting and challenging for everyone, but will be of particular interest to those who enjoy dystopian fiction and novels which explore society and politics.

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