Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Giver by Lois Lowry

My recent reading of The Willoughbys (see my review here) inspired me to re-read one of my favorite books by Lois Lowry, The Giver. After reading the lighthearted and irreverant The Willoughbys reading The Giver left me astounded at Lois Lowry's versatility and complete and utter brilliance as an author. Do I sound a little stalkerish here?

Here's a brief rundown The Giver if you haven't read it. (And if you haven't read it, you should. Seriously.)

The book begins when Jonas is about to turn 12. He's very nervous because this year at the Ceremony of Twelve, all of the "Twelves" will find out what career path has been chosen for him. You see, Jonas lives in a futuristic Utopian society where everything is carefully planned from the parents you receive to your spouse to the age when you receive a bike. There is no pain, no suffering, and those who do not fit in the community are "released" to "Elsewhere."

At the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas' friends receive careers that perfectly complement their personalities, but Jonas receives the most honorable position of The Receiver of Memories. This important person receives all of the memories of the world--good, bad, happy, sad--and an old man, the current Receiver of Memories, must pass them onto Jonas. Through "The Giver," Jonas learns what snow is, what sunshine feels like, and what the color red is. But along with these happy/comforting memories, he must experience pain as he sees the horrors of warfare, starvation, and more. Jonas soon realizes the unjustness of the perfect society in which he lives, and he and The Giver develop a plan to make things different. However, as with most "perfect plans," things don't go the way they're supposed to, and a perilous journey lies ahead for Jonas.

Through this simplistic, yet gripping narrative, Lois Lowry brings us a thought-provoking book that stays with you for a while. What are the risks of living in a "perfect" society? What are the benefits of "sameness?" What sacrifices must be made to have a society free of pain and worries?
Back in my days as an English teacher, I developed a unit of instruction based on this book for my 7th graders. The boys and girls alike really enjoyed the book, and it led to many in-depth discussions. One of their favorite activities was to write a final chapter to the book, detailing what happens to Jonas. I was always pleasantly surprised at their creativity, their different interpretations, and the care they took to write this final piece.

I highly recommend this book.

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