Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"The Giver" by Lois Lowry

The kids and I read The Giver as a bedtime story over the past few weeks. My oldest child couldn't stand the slow pace and read ahead, finishing the book weeks ago. I love it when that happens! Though it very rarely does. The only problem with that is, as with Holes by Louis Sachar, sometimes I don't end up finishing the book myself. But I finished this one!

The Giver is the story of eleven-year-old Jonas, who lives in a perfect community pervaded by Sameness. Everyone is equal, there is no pain, each person's job is chosen for them--even family members are put together through a selection process!--and there is no music, no color, and no emotion. Jonas is selected to be the community's Receiver of Memory, and the more he learns, the more he realizes that his way of life is far from flawless; it's more dystopian than utopian.

The story left me with a lot of unanswered questions. We never learn how the community came to be, its location (was it on Earth?), how extensive it was, why it was made, who created the rules, how they controlled the weather, whether Elsewhere really existed. Though I wish the book had explained these things, I must admit the story is full and complete even without further elucidation.

Except for the end of the book, which I want to talk about. I will try to be as un-spoilery as possible, but it's going to be difficult, so you may want to skip this paragraph if you plan to read the book. I won't say exactly what happened at the end, but I will say that it is somewhat ambiguous. I asked my kids what they thought had happened. My oldest took it at face value: Jonas reached his destination. Bookworm Child was ambivalent: maybe Jonas reached Elsewhere, or maybe he had gone in a circle and was back at his own community. Neither of them thought what had crossed my mind, though, which was the story of The Little Match Girl.


mummazappa said...

I've been interested in this since reading Matched (and loving it) and then finding out everyone says this is the better version. Good to know there's some ambiguity, it's nice to have a heads up!

Ti said...

I haven't read this book, but a member of my book group told me I HAD to read it and it still sits untouched on my shelf.

I'm not sure when I'll work it in.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Love this book! I read it for the first time when I was in jr. high. I also saw it performed as a play last year, which was really cool.

About the ending, I wondered if it was a Little Match Girl style too, but I went to a book signing with Lowry last year and she answered that question. She said he reached Elsewhere. If you want more info about that whole world, there are two companion books, Gathering Blue and The Messenger. Neither is as good, but I found them interesting because, like you, I wanted to know more about that world.

She said...

I know I read this is in (i think) elementary school, but I only remember very little about it. I think the one scene that pops out is the one where the girl has to give the old person a bath. I think. I don't know. Obviously I need to read it again. Thanks for reminding me!

curlygeek04 said...

I loved The Giver although it's been a while since I read it -- it gives you so much to think about. I love that you read it with your kids.

Kathy said...

Zap--I haven't read Matched, but I've heard about it. Seems to me that maybe Matched is geared more towards teens, while The Giver spans age groups a bit better? I could be wrong, though.

Ti--of course you already know this, since it's on your shelf, but it's a pretty short one. Shouldn't be too hard to squeeze in when you get a chance.

Melissa--I didn't know there was a play version! Cool. Where did you see it? So . . . does either follow-up book delve into that world's past? I may have to read them just to get answers to my questions!

She--I think you'll enjoy a re-read, if it's been that long since the last time you read it. It would be interesting to see how much of it comes back to you.

Curly--I wasn't *absolutely* sure I should read it with my kids, but I went ahead and tried it anyway, and it was fine. There was one part where I started to get squirmy (when Jonas started having *new feelings* for his friend) but they gave him a pill to squash those feelings before I had to explain it. ;)

Kristi said...

I've been wanting to read this for a while, but haven't gotten around to it. That's good to know that your oldest loved it so much to read ahead. I love when kids really get pulled in by a book.

Enbrethiliel said...


It was the utter lack of a backstory that keeps me from counting The Giver among Dystopian novels I think are any good. (It has been a while since my last reread, though, so perhaps I should give it another chance.)

I know that good books often leave us with more questions than answers, but I think that this one leaves us with too many of the wrong questions. The kind we ask when the writer doesn't fill in all the holes.

As for the ending, I'm one of those who think it was happy. I was surprised when a cousin who had to read it for school said that his entire class had agreed that The Giver ends similarly to The Little Match Girl.

Kathy said...

Kristi--I love it too! Especially when it's my oldest, since he is *not* my bookworm. He doesn't *not* like to read, but he doesn't especially like reading, either. So when he does it by choice, I do a little dance inside.

Enbrethiliel--that's an interesting idea--that this book leaves us with the wrong questions--and I'm inclined to think you're right. Although it does make the prospect of a sequel more intriguing. And--I wonder how much a person's interpretation of the end depends on their general outlook on life? Are you a happy optimist? :)

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm probably a cynic these days, but I was definitely an optimist when I first read The Giver. ;-)

Kathy said...

Well, then, perhaps my theory holds! Although . . . I would normally tend to say I'm a happy optimist too (when actually I'm probably more of a happy realist), and if I interpreted the ending as a parallel to The Little Match Girl, there goes my theory.