Wow. I don't even know where to start with my thoughts about this book - there is just so much in it, so many ideas, so much to talk about. And I read it with my eleven year old son, so I have a few of his thoughts to share, too.
My first reaction was "Thank goodness for the Newbery Project, because otherwise I might never have read The Giver" (or Holes, or Maniac Magee, or Out of the Dust or many other newly discovered classics). And The Giver was every bit as thought-provoking and compelling as the best adult science fiction I've read - it would be a shame to have missed this just because it's a children's (or YA) book.
Since so much has been written about The Giver already, I'm going to focus on a few of the things that struck me (and my son) most about Lowry's dystopia.
It's a culture of Sameness - where conformity is ruthlessly enforced. My son both laughed and was shocked at the "May I have a smack, please?" mistake (and the resulting punishment) that Jonas' friend Asher had as a Three. A three-year-old. Physically punished for weeks for a slip of the tongue. "That's harsh," my son said. (He suspected the meaning of Release by the end of the second or third chapter, by the way, but told me he was hoping it was something different).
I was taken aback by the idea of a society that didn't feel sunshine, and that had done away with weather and hills. Not to mention red apples, love, grandparents, decisions, and the past. Lois Lowry is one incredibly creative person, to have come up with this world (this brave new world? strange new world?) and its scarier than Stepford society. And she writes about it so cleanly (with such precision of language!), so eloquently.
My son questioned how people can think that living the way the people in the book did was normal, and we had a good discussion about how people can get used to all kinds of strange things as "normal". He thought the ending was happy. I'm happy to leave it ambiguous, and am already half way through Lowry's companion book (not a sequel, exactly), Gathering Blue. And will no doubt be reading Messenger after that.
I'd also like to note that I loved the cover of this book, since I've snarked about so many of the covers (especially the 70's and 80's reprints). It's nice to see a cover that actually "says" something about the story.
And here's a very cool coincidence - I thought this might be a book we wanted to keep, so instead of getting it from the library I requested a copy of it from paperbackswap.com. The book we got was not only signed by Lois Lowry, but was made out to someone who shares a name with my son. This book is definitely a keeper.