"The Giver" by Lois Lowry

My future bride is a schoolteacher, and she was telling me about this book - and how it has been banned in some school districts. She says that it is as profound as “1984” and “Brave New World”. I have not read it yet, but I am seriously intrigued…a children’s book as important as Orwell and Huxley?

Whaddya think?

Lovable Rogue

My Perfect Child[sup]TM[/sup] read it in middle school - she loved it! It’s on my “to read” list - afraid that’s all I know about it.

It’s awfully good, but it’s a children’s book. I’d put it on a par with A Wrinkle in Time, which is no faint praise. But it ain’t Huxley or Orwell.

The scene where the protagonist gets a weird flash as the ball flies through the air and you realize that he’s seeing COLOR for the first time is awfully cool, I admit.

It’s been banned in some school districts? I’m surprised. Did she say why?

I would guess that school districts would ban it for Jonas’s dream about Fiona. Can’t have elementary school students reading about that.

Of course, I got my copy of it from my elementary school library, so I suppose it’s not too horrid for all 5th graders, right?

And didn’t it talk about euthanizing children or something? It’s been a while since I read it, so I don’t remember the details, but I do remember it was a great book, if a bit intense at times. I can certainly see why it would be banned.

I read this book out loud to a fifth grade class. There is one scene of a baby being euthanized and some very mild sexual imagery. It has an over all dark tone to it, and an ambiguous ending which may or may not be describing the death of the protagonist. It’s a weird book.

It’s great book, read it if you have the chance!!

Never heard about it being banned. And I don’t think it’s quite on par with “Brave New World” or “1984.” But I wrote a long (20 pages) paper comparing those two books, “The Giver”, and several other utopian books. I have to say, “The Giver” was far and away the most enjoyable book to read, if not the deepest.

I personally think it is one of the best young adult books I’ve read. I’m not spoiling by talking about the euthanizing of the baby scene, since it’s already been mentioned - it is one of the most wrenching scenes I’ve ever read in a book. Not because it’s particularly gruesome or anything, but because of the differences in the way two characters view the incident (Jonas and his father).

I don’t know if it is as profound as Huxley or Orwell, but it certainly has the same tone to it - sort of a cautionary Big Brother Is Watching thing going on. I think it’s more accessible to younger readers than either 1984 or Brave New World. Besides, much of what makes those books interesting now is that their vision of the future is now our real-time past. The Giver is set in a vague enough future time that it retains the spookiness of " it could happen."

I read this about 2 weeks ago. IMHO it is better than “1984”. It certainly makes one think. I have recommended it to my 10 year old son. I may end up reading it to him because I can’t wait for him to read it himself.

I think I need to re-read it, because when I read it, I was less than impressed. I don’t remember why, exactly, except everybody loved it and it won awards and people were gushing and my teachers were so sure that I would enjoy it and when I finished it I just went…meh.

The American Library Association lists The Giver as the third most frequently challenged book for young adults from 1990-2000. I had to read this one for a college course, and found it to be very intersting. Now, more then ever, its portrayal of a world where personal freedoms, creativity, choices and individuality are not only discouraged but punishable, in order to create a ‘safer’ and ‘more orderly’ society, seems to have the potential for truth. Among the other reasons cited, I would guess this book has also been challegened because it encourages children to defy authority and disobey rules, even if they are unjust.

It’s one of the best children’s books of the 20th century, and IMO the best SF children’s book ever written.


Some reasons why the book is frequently challenged:


  1. Euthanasia/Capital Punishment: It isn’t just a child being euthanised. The term the book uses is ‘released’, which the readers come to realize means “killed”, and this is the ultimate fate of every person in the community. The elderly are released when they reach the point that they are determined to no longer be useful. Criminals are released for major crimes or for a series of minor crimes. Children who don’t meet standards are released.

It’s implied that the community, or possibly a group of communities (it isn’t clear) is at war, and when one of the pilots accidently overflies the community, he’s released.

  1. Torture: Jonas is actively tortured by the Giver. The Giver stores memories of intense emotion, both good and bad, for the community. He passes on these memories to Jonas. As the Giver must be the repository of all of these memories, Jonas must experience over a period of years every possible painful experience a person can so that the Community can be protected from them.

  2. Family structure: Couples are assigned to each other, and their children are created through artificial reproduction and assigned to a family at the correct age, resulting in families in which nobody is related. Husband and wife don’t have sex.

  3. Sex: Sex is banned. As soon as a child starts having sexual desires, he or she reports it to a parent and is started on drugs to eliminate the desire entirely.

  4. Conformity/Uniformity: Everyone is expected to behave in essentially the same way. People aren’t valued as individuals (thought they are told and believe they are) but for how well they perform their function in society. Thus, though there are different jobs in the community out of necessity, everyone is expected to exist within a very narrow band of conformity.

People in the community almost universally see all of these things as good for the people and the community (with the exception of being ‘released’ which most believe means 'sent someplace else). This community acceptance of the status quo is sometimes misinterpreted as the book promoting these ideals.

  1. Finally, Jonas rebels, taking a baby about to be released and running away. He escapes the community, but in the process is caught unprepared outside the weather controlled community (weather controlled as in there isn’t any–perfect weather all the time) and both he and the baby die in a snowstorm.*

The book has a very dark tone, which offends some self-appointed censors, and the totalitarian society offends others. Others are offended that it isn’t just a case of the community being evil–it has many positive aspects to it–so that it isn’t a simple case of good vs. evil, but about a person forced to make a moral choice–which has been interpreted as “teaching values”.

*As he and the baby are close to freezing to death, Jonas begins to see the same things he saw in happy memories given to him early in the story–the pleasent memories that he kept returning to again and again in painful times earlier in the book, and which he kept asking the Giver for more of. This is either the most inappropriate pasted on happy ending of all time, or he dies hallucinating with no one coming to his rescue. Many take the ending at face value, but I think they’re missing the point.[/spoiler]

I found it to be dull and depressing. I didn’t find it nearly as profound as 1984. Of course, I am now in a part of my life where future dystopias are dull and depressing.

Number Six: Thanks for all that…I read the book about three years ago, after my 9-year-old recommended it to everyone else in the family.

Both she and her grandmother wanted to believe the happier of the two readings that you propose re: the ending; being a cranky old bastard, my take on it was the UNhappy alternative.

I too found this to be a wonderful book, well worth your time to read. Do it. The ending is nicely ambiguous, only a “tacked on happy ending” to those who have to have one.
(Sometimes childrens or YA - Young Adult - books can be extremely worthwhile. I thought Tuck Everlasting, for ex, dealt with its theme much better & more succinctly than adult books/stories on eternal life. The problem of course with type of literature is wading thru the dreck.)

Apropos of nothing, Lois Lowry was on the old Art Fleming Jeopardy, and (like myself brag, brag) she also ended up losing on a Sports Final Jeopardy.

I really like “The Giver.” My now ex-wife recommended it to me when we started dating, and it lead to my reading all the Newberry Award winners back to about 1970. The more recent ones seem to me to be quite dull, compared to what had won in the past. (full disclosure, I haven’t read any of them since “Holes”).

Lowry also won for “Number the Stars” which is about the smuggling of Jews during WWII, and is also very good.

Semi-hijack over.


I read this book recently and it gave me the creeps. I found it very disturbing, but probably a child wouldn’t be as bothered by the same things I was. I won’t stop my kids from reading it when they’re older, but I won’t promote it either. The part that bothered me most was:

When they told the story about the toddler who kept accidently asking for a “smack” instead of a “snack”. The teachers obliged him and smacked him, with the punishment escalating viciously each time he made the mistake, until he finally stopped talking completely. He later started talking again and they were all so pleased that he had learned to be precise in what he asked for.

The euthanized baby scene was pretty rough too. Since I’ve had children of my own I find it difficult to read about any kind of child abuse.