The Giver

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The Giver
The Giver Cover.gif
Author Lois Lowry
Cover artist Cliff Nielsen
Country United States
Language English
Genre Soft science fiction, Dystopian fiction, Social Science
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 179 p. (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-553-57133-8 (paperback edition)
LC Class PZ7.L9673 Gi 1993
Followed by Gathering Blue

The Giver is a 1993 USA children's novel by Lois Lowry. It is set in a society which is at first presented as a utopian society and gradually appears more and more dystopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to "Sameness," a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives.

Jonas is selected to inherit the position of "Receiver of Memory," the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make.

When Jonas meets the previous receiver—The "Giver"—he is confused in many ways. Additionally, the Giver is able to break some rules, such as turning off the speaker which listens to peoples' conversations in their homes, and lying to people of the community.

As Jonas receives the memories from the Giver, he discovers the power of knowledge. The people in his community are happy because they do not know of a better life, and the knowledge of what they are missing out on could create major chaos. He faces a dilemma: should he stay with the community and the safe, consistent but shallow life it offers, or should he run away in pursuit of a life full of love, differences, choices, and knowledge, but also potentially full of danger?

The Giver won the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold more than 5.3 million copies.[1] In Australia, Canada, and the United States, it is a part of many middle school reading lists, but it is also on many challenged book lists and appeared on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books of the 1990s.[2]

The novel forms a loose quartet[3] with three other books set in the same future era: Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012).


Jonas, just like the other Elevens (other children aged eleven), is apprehensive about the upcoming Ceremony of Twelve when he and his peers will be given the roles they will hold for the rest of their adult lives in their immaculately organized, tightly run society known as the "Community." In the Community, eccentricities in behavior, appearance, or personality are strongly opposed — even outlawed. However, the rules appear to be readily accepted by all, including Jonas. So it is without real protest that he initially accepts his selection as the Receiver of Memories, a job he is told will be filled with pain and the training for which will isolate him from his family and friends forever.

Yet, under the guidance of the present Receiver, a surprisingly kind man who has the same rare, pale eyes as Jonas, the boy absorbs memories that induce for the first time feelings of true happiness and love. Also, for the first time, Jonas knows what it is to see colors, to feel sunshine or see a rainbow, and to experience snow and the thrill of riding a sled down a hill. But then he is given the painful memories: war, pain, death, loneliness, and starvation. These are memories of the Community's deep past. Jonas learns that the Community engineered a society of "sameness" to protect its people against this past, yet he begins to understand the tremendous loss he and his people have endured by giving their memories away, embracing "sameness" and using "climate control". In his "community," which is under extreme control there is no suffering, hunger, war, and, as you will soon see, no color, music, or love. Everything is controlled by "the Elders," which are looked upon in a very positive light, they even control whom you will marry, whom you receive as children, and what you will be "assigned" as a job.[4] Jonas aches with this newfound wisdom and his desire for a life Elsewhere blossoms. But the final blow for Jonas comes when he asks the Receiver (who now calls himself "The Giver") what "release" is. The Giver says that he could show him, and allows Jonas to watch a present-day tape of his own father, a seemingly kind and loving man, "releasing" a baby twin by giving him a lethal injection. Like any other "aberration" from sameness, identical twins are against the rules, so the smaller of the two is dispatched like garbage, without the one who conducted the release understanding the true meaning of the action. Together, Jonas and the Giver come to the understanding that the time for change is now, that the Community has lost its way and must have its memories returned. The only way to make this happen is if Jonas leaves the Community, at which time the memories he has been given will flood back into the people. Jonas wants the Giver to escape with him, but the Giver insists that he will be needed to help the people manage the memories, or they will destroy themselves. The Giver also wants to remain behind so that when his work is done, he can be with a child, his daughter: Rosemary, a girl with pale eyes who ten years earlier had failed in her training to become the new Receiver of Memories and who had asked to be released (the memories of pain having overwhelmed her).

The Giver devises a plot in which Jonas will escape to Elsewhere, an unknown land that exists beyond the boundaries of the Communities. The Giver will make it appear as if Jonas drowned in the river so that the search for him will be limited. In the meantime, the Giver will give Jonas memories of strength and courage to sustain him and save up his meals as Jonas's food and water supply for his journey.

Their plan is changed when Jonas learns that Gabriel, the baby staying with his family unit, will be "released" the following morning. Jonas has become attached to the baby, who also has unusual pale eyes, and feels he has no choice but to escape with the infant. Without the memories of strength and courage promised by the Giver, Jonas steals his father's bike and leaves with Gabriel to find the Elsewhere. Their escape ride is fraught with dangers, and the two are near death from cold and starvation when they reach the border of what Jonas believes must be Elsewhere. Using his ability to "see beyond," a gift that he does not quite understand, he finds a sled waiting for him at the top of a snowy hill. He and Gabriel ride the sled down towards a house filled with coloured lights and warmth and love and a Christmas tree, and for the first time he hears something he knows must be music. The book ends abruptly and mysteriously here with these final two sentences: "Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo."[5]


  • Jonas - a 12 year-old boy who is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory.
  • The Giver - the previous Receiver of Memory, who holds the memories, happy times and pains, and helps Jonas escape.
  • Gabriel - a baby to be released. Jonas takes Gabriel with him to save him. He is number thirty-six.
  • Lily - an 8 year-old girl who is also Jonas's sister.
  • Jonas' mother- A lawyer.
  • Jonas' father- a nurturer (baby caretaker)
  • Fiona - The girl Jonas likes.
  • Asher- Jonas' best friend.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

The critical reception of Lowry's work has been polarized. On the other hand, The Giver has become something of a canonical work among educators who believe that young adult audiences respond best to contemporary literature.[citation needed] These teachers postulate that "teenagers need a separate body of literature written to speak directly to the adolescent experience [...] and plots that revolve around realistic, contemporary topics". According to this view, a "classics-only" curriculum can stunt a developing reader's appetite for reading, though some teachers argue the opposite viewpoint, and press to keep older works on the reading lists.[6]

Lowry's novel has also found a home in "City Reads" programs, library-sponsored reading clubs on city-wide or larger scales. Waukesha County, Dane County and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin chose to read The Giver, for example, as did Middletown, Connecticut; Bloomington, Illinois; Valparaiso, Indiana; Rochester, Minnesota; Central Valley, New York; Centre County, Pennsylvania; Montgomery County, Maryland and others.[7][8]

Some adult reviewers writing for adults have commented that the story is not likely to stand up to the sort of probing literary criticism used in "serious" circles. Karen Ray, writing in the New York Times, detects "occasional logical lapses", but quickly adds that the book "is sure to keep older children reading."[9] Young adult fiction author Debra Doyle was more critical stating that "Personal taste aside, The Giver fails the Plausibility Test", and that "Things are the way they are (in the novel) because The Author is Making A Point; things work out the way they do because The Author's Point Requires It."[10]

Natalie Babbitt of the Washington Post was more forgiving, calling Lowry's work "a warning in narrative form", saying:

The story has been told before in a variety of forms—Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind—but not, to my knowledge, for children. It's well worth telling, especially by a writer of Lowry's great skill. If it is exceedingly fragile—if, in other words, some situations do not survive that well-known suspension of disbelief—well, so be it. The Giver has things to say that cannot be said too often, and I hope there will be many, many young people who will be willing to listen.[11]

Awards, nominations, and recognition[edit]

Lowry won many awards for her work on The Giver, including the following:

A 2004 study found that it was a common read-aloud book for sixth-graders in schools in San Diego County, California.[14] Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."[15] It was one of the "Top 100 Chapter Books" of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.[16]


Oregon Children's Theatre (Portland, Oregon) premiered a stage adaptation of The Giver by Eric Coble in March 2006. Subsequent productions of Coble's one-hour script have been presented by The Coterie Theatre (Missouri), First Stage (Wisconsin), Nashville Children's Theatre (Tennessee), People's Light and Theatre (Pennsylvania), Theatre of Youth (Buffalo, New York), Stages Repertory (Texas), B Street Theatre (Sacramento, California), and others throughout the U.S..

In the fall of 1994, actor Bill Cosby and his ASIS Productions film company established an agreement with Lancit Media Productions to adapt The Giver to film. In the years following, members of the partnership changed and the production team grew in size, but little motion was seen toward making the film. At one point, screenwriter Ed Neumeier was signed to create the screenplay. Later, Neumeier was replaced by Todd Alcott[17] and Walden Media became the central production company.[18][19]

Diana Basmajian adapted the novel to full-length play format, and Prime Stage Theatre produced in 2006.[20]

A film is being adapted which was given the green light in December 2012. Jeff Bridges is set to play The Giver[21] and Brenton Thwaites will play Jonas, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgård, and Taylor Swift will also appear in the film.[22][23] It is scheduled for release in North America on August 15, 2014.

Actor Ron Rifkin reads the text for the audio book edition.

A PC computer game based on the novel was planned by Edutainment Software company Brøderbund in 1995, however it was plagued by delays. Eventually the game was scrapped following the company's sale to The Learning Company, however some audio clips of the game (the titular Giver was fully voice acted by American composer Ry Cooder) have made their way into other media.[24]

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Minnesota Opera co-commissioned and staged a new opera based on the novel in January 2012.[25] It was presented in Minneapolis on 27–29 April 2012, and was webcast live on 18 May 2012.[26]


  1. ^ Doll, Jen. "Reading Lois Lowry's 'The Giver' as an Adult". the Atlantic Wire. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  2. ^ [1],"100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999," ALA
  3. ^ Lois Lowry. "The Trilogy". Lois Lowry's website. Retrieved 2011-12-26. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Lowry, Lois. "The Giver". Retrieved April 9, 2014. 
  6. ^ Marie C. Franklin, "CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: Debate continues over merit of young-adult fare", Boston Globe February 23, 1997 p. G1.
  7. ^ "'One Book' Reading Promotion Projects", form the Library of Congress's Center for the Book
  8. ^ Judith Rosen, "Many Cities, Many Picks", Publishers Weekly March 10, 2003 p. 19.
  9. ^ Karen Ray, "Children's Books", New York Times October 31, 1993.
  10. ^ [2], Debra Doyle, SFF Net, accessed July 1, 2008
  11. ^ Natalie Babbitt, "The Hidden Cost of Contentment", Washington Post May 9, 1993, p. X15.
  12. ^ Catholic Library Association. "Past Regina Medal Recipients."
  13. ^ Emporia State University. "William Allen White Children's Book Awards. The Giver; Author. Lois Lowry."
  14. ^ Fisher, Douglas, et al. (2004). "Interactive Read-Alouds: Is There a Common Set of Implementation Practices?". The Reading Teacher 58 (1): 8¬–17. Retrieved August 19, 2012. 
  15. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved August 19, 2012. 
  16. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". School Library Journal "A Fuse #8 Production" blog. Retrieved August 19, 2012. 
  17. ^ Article on the film adaptation
  18. ^ "Jeff Bridges and Lancit Media to co-produce No. 1 best seller 'THE GIVER' as feature film", Entertainment Editors September 28, 1994
  19. ^ Ian Mohr, "Walden gives 'Giver' to Neumeier", Hollywood Reporter July 10, 2003
  20. ^ "Short Takes: 'Giver' thoughtful; Pillow Project Dance super". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 2, 2006. 
  21. ^ Krasnow, David (December 20, 2012). "Lois Lowry Confirms Jeff Bridges to Film The Giver". Studio 360. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  22. ^ Blum, Haley (September 27, 2013). "Taylor Swift is a 'Giver,' not a taker". Retrieved 2013-09-27. 
  23. ^ Busis, Hillary (September 27, 2013). "Taylor Swift will co-star in long-awaited adaptation of 'The Giver'". Entertainment Weekly. 
  24. ^ Delange, Suzanne (August 5, 2003). "'Transcript of Lois Lowry Interview'". Scholastic. 
  25. ^ [3] The Giver
  26. ^ [4] Minnesota Opera (website)

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Missing May
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Walk Two Moons
Preceded by
The Man Who Loved Clowns
Winner of the
William Allen White Children's Book Award

Succeeded by
Time For Andrew