This is the story of Jonas, a boy who grew up in a utopia. In this community, there is no pain or fear or memories. The people are protected from everything in this perfect world. Choices are made for them. Spouses are selected for people and children are given out to each "family unit" once they had applied for them. At 12 years old, children are given their lifetime assignments. Jonas isn't sure what job he'll be best suited for, so he's worried about getting something he won't be good at. He is assigned with the role of Receiver of the Memories from The Giver. Jonas starts to learn of memories of war, loneliness and loss and he begins to reevaluate his community and the people governing them. When he realizes the most horrific thing he's ever experienced, he has a big decision to make about his future.
Before I reread this book for our assignment, I was thinking about what I remembered from it the first time I read it, sometime in middle school, I believe, and I only recalled one thing. I remembered the scene when Jonas is reading about the rules for his job as Receiver and how he flashes back to being a child. He is waiting in line for lunch and he says that he is starving.
Immediately he had been taken aside for a brief private lesson in language acquisition. He was not starving, it was pointed out. He was hungry. No one in the community was starving, had ever been starving, would ever be starving. To say "starving" was to speak a lie. (p. 70)I don't know why whenever I think of this book, that is the only thing I remember, but as I kept reading, I recalled details I had forgotten. I didn't remember Jonas remembering this scene again at the end of the book either, but I think it provides a nice connection.
In my educational psychology class we talked about Piaget and his four stages of development and I thought the stages each child goes through was very similar. In Piaget's model, each stage is rigid. Children don't develop faster or slower than these stages. In the book, all the children development the same at each level. At 7 they get their first button down jacket with the buttons on the front. At 8 their jacket has pockets because they are responsible enough to keep track of their own small objects. At 9 they get their bike. There is no room for negotiation. It is predetermined that every child when they get to this level has the new behavioral ability.
I think it is crazy that children find out what their job is going to be for the rest of their lives when they are 12. That is like a 6th or 7th grader being told what job they will have. Not picking which job, being told which job. It's hard to even imagine that. I did like that there was a considerable amount of care and consideration that went into the selection of each child's future. Three years of observations of the child as well as consideration of what volunteer activity the child did and excelled in was included in the evaluation.
When Jonas was selected to be the Receiver, I found the conversations he had with The Giver to be very powerful. They discussed how when the community didn't feel there was a use for something, they got rid of it.
It wasn't a practical thing, so it became obsolete when we went to Sameness. (p. 84)and later The Giver says,
We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with differences. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others." (p. 95).Jonas and The Giver also talked about what holding all of the memories meant for the community. They were in charge of protecting the community from the memories so that they wouldn't be burdened with images of warfare, hunger, and pain. The people who created this community were just trying to protect people from "making wrong choices".
Another thing I was thinking about while reading this book was the position of birthmothers. Being a birthmother was not a highly respected job. A woman had one baby, three years in a row and then did physical labor for the rest of her life. The girl in Jonas' group that was selected to be a birthmother was described as having "a strong body" and I was kind of confused by what exactly that meant. I also thought about who is the "birthfather"? They are never described in the book, but as we all well know, it takes two to make a baby. But maybe it doesn't take two to make a newchild?
The Giver is #23 on the American Library Association's list of the Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books from 2000-2009 as well as #11 on their list of Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books from 1990-1999. You can read more about the varying view points of the ongoing challenge at Kerlan Collection Censorship Portfolio (courtesy of Dr. Johnson!) There you can read the letters parents wrote regarding banning the book as well as letters from teachers, the school district, and Lois Lowry herself.
The sequel to this book is called Gathering Blue (2000) followed by The Messenger (2004). A fourth title, Son will be released in October 2012 as a grand finale of the quartet.
I remembered not enjoying this book as a child, but now coming at it with a different perspective, I think I got a lot more out of it!