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The Giver

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For the 2014 film adaptation, see The Giver (film).
The Giver
The Giver first edition 1993.jpg
First edition (1993)
Author Lois Lowry
Cover artist Cliff Nielsen
Country United States
Language English
Series The Giver Quartet
Genre Young-adult fiction, Dystopian novel
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
ISBN 0-553-57133-8 (paperback edition)
LC Class PZ7.L9673 Gi 1993
Followed by Gathering Blue

The Giver is a 1993 American young-adult utopian/dystopian novel by Lois Lowry. It is set in a society which at first appears to be utopian but is revealed to be dystopian as the story progresses. The novel follows an 11-year-old boy named Jonas. 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, as there may be times where one must draw upon the wisdom gained from history to aid the community's decision making. Jonas struggles with concepts of all the new emotions and things introduced to him: whether they are inherently good, evil, or in between, and whether it is even possible to have one without the other. The Community lacks any color, memory, climate, or terrain, all in an effort to preserve structure, order, and a true sense of equality beyond personal individuality.[1]

The Giver won the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide as of 2014.[2] In Australia, Canada, and the United States, it is on many middle school reading lists,[3][4] but it is also frequently challenged and it ranked number 11 on the American Library Association list of the most challenged books of the 1990s.[5] A 2012 survey based in the U.S. designated it the fourth-best children's novel of all time.[6]

In 2014, a film adaptation was released, starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep and Brenton Thwaites.[7] The novel forms a loose quartet[8] with three other books set in the same future era, known as The Giver Quartet: Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012).


Jonas, who is eleven years old, is apprehensive about the upcoming Ceremony of Twelve, where he will be assigned his job or his "assignment in the community". In his society, little privacy is allowed; even private houses have two-way intercoms which can be used to listen in for infractions of the rules. However, the rules appear to be readily accepted by all, including Jonas. Unlike the rest of his classmates who are assigned to various positions, Jonas is selected for a rare and special position of Receiver. He then learns that he will be bestowed with memories unknown to the rest of the community by his predecessor.

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 a rainbow, and to experience snow and the thrill of riding a sled down a hill. However, he is also given darker memories of pain, starvation, war, and death. 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".

In his "community", which is under extreme control, there is no suffering, hunger, or war, but also no color, music, or love. Everything is controlled by "the Elders," who are looked upon in a very positive light, though they control who will marry whom, where children are placed, and what everyone will be "assigned" as a job. The people in the community do not have the freedom to choose. Jonas aches with this new found 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 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 and loneliness 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' food and water supply for his journey.[9]

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 colored lights and warmth and love and a Christmas tree, and for the first time he hears something he believes must be music. The ending is ambiguous, with Jonas depicted as experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. This leaves his and Gabriel's future unresolved. However, their fate is revealed in Messenger, a companion novel written much later.[10]

In 2009, at the National Book Festival, the author Lois Lowry joked during a Q&A, "Jonas is alive, by the way. You don't need to ask that question." [11]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

While critical reception of The Giver has been mixed, the novel has found a home in "City Reads" programs, library-sponsored reading clubs on citywide or larger scales.[12][13]

Some reviewers have commented that the story lacks originality and is not likely to stand up to the sort of probing literary criticism used in "serious" circles, while others argue that books appealing to a young-adult audience are critical for building a developing reader's appetite for reading.[14] Karen Ray, writing in The New York Times, detects "occasional logical lapses", but adds that the book "is sure to keep older children reading".[15] 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".[16]

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.[17]

Awards, nominations, and recognition[edit]

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

A 2004 study found that The Giver was a common read-aloud book for sixth-graders in schools in San Diego County, California.[20] Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named it one of "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children".[21] In 2012 it was ranked number four among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal.[6]


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 several American theatres.

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[22] and Walden Media became the central production company.[23][24]

Diana Basmajian adapted the novel to full-length play format, and Prime Stage Theatre produced in 2006.[25]

Actor Ron Rifkin reads the text for the audiobook 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.[26]

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Minnesota Opera co-commissioned and premiered a new opera by Susan Kander based on the novel.[27] It was presented in Kansas City in January and Minneapolis on 27–29 April 2012, and was webcast on 18 May 2012.[28]


Main article: The Giver (film)

The film adaptation was given the green light in December 2012. Jeff Bridges had wanted to film the futuristic novel for several years, but encountered obstacles when Warner Bros. bought the rights in 2007. Jeff Bridges plays the title character[29] with Brenton Thwaites in the role of Jonas. Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Alexander Skarsgård and Taylor Swift round out the rest of the main cast.[30][31] It was released in North America on August 15, 2014. Jeff Bridges has said he has wanted to make the film for nearly 20 years, but originally wanted to direct it with his father Lloyd Bridges in the title role. The elder Bridges's 1998 death cancelled that plan and the film languished in development hell for another 15 years.


  1. ^ "Book Summary". Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  2. ^ "New Trailer hits for 'The Giver'. Kellvin Chavez. June 4, 2014. Latino-Review (
  3. ^ Gallardo, Pere; Russell, Elizabeth (2014-03-26). Yesterday's Tomorrows: On Utopia and Dystopia. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 9781443858779. 
  4. ^ O'Malley, Sheila (2014-08-15). "The Giver Review". Chicago Sun Times. 
  5. ^ "100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999 | Banned & Challenged Books". Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  6. ^ a b Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal ( Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
  7. ^ Noyce, Phillip (2014-08-15), The Giver, retrieved 2016-03-08 
  8. ^ Lois Lowry. "The Trilogy". Retrieved 2011-12-26. 
  9. ^ Ray;, Karen (1993-10-31). "CHILDREN'S BOOKS". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  10. ^ "The Giver Summary". Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  11. ^ "Lois Lowry - 2009 National Book Festival". YouTube. 2009-11-05. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  12. ^ "'One Book' Reading Promotion Projects", form the Library of Congress's Center for the Book
  13. ^ Judith Rosen, "Many Cities, Many Picks", Publishers Weekly March 10, 2003 p. 19.
  14. ^ Marie C. Franklin, "CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: Debate continues over merit of young-adult fare", The Boston Globe, February 23, 1997, p. G1.
  15. ^ Karen Ray, "Children's Books", The New York Times, October 31, 1993.
  16. ^ "Doyle's YA sf rant". Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  17. ^ Natalie Babbitt, "The Hidden Cost of Contentment", Washington Post May 9, 1993, p. X15.
  18. ^ "Past Regina Medal Recipients - Catholic Library Association". Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  19. ^ "Winner 1995-1996 - William Allen White Children's Book Awards | Emporia State University". Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  20. ^ Fisher, Douglas et al. (2004). "Interactive Read-Alouds: Is There a Common Set of Implementation Practices?" (PDF). The Reading Teacher. 58 (1): 8¬–17. doi:10.1598/rt.58.1.1. Retrieved August 19, 2012. 
  21. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved August 19, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Film reviews - Giverthe". Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  23. ^ "Jeff Bridges and Lancit Media to co-produce No. 1 best seller 'THE GIVER' as feature film", Entertainment Editors September 28, 1994
  24. ^ Ian Mohr, "Walden gives 'Giver' to Neumeier", Hollywood Reporter July 10, 2003
  25. ^ "Short Takes: 'Giver' thoughtful; Pillow Project Dance super". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 2, 2006. 
  26. ^ Delange, Suzanne (August 5, 2003). "'Transcript of Lois Lowry Interview'". Scholastic. 
  27. ^ [1] Archived April 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ "Minnesota Opera presents webcast of Susan Kander's The Giver on May 18 and 23" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  29. ^ Krasnow, David (December 20, 2012). "Lois Lowry Confirms Jeff Bridges to Film The Giver". Studio 360. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  30. ^ Mullins, Jenna (September 27, 2013). "Taylor Swift is a 'Giver,' not a taker". Retrieved 2013-09-27. 
  31. ^ Busis, Hillary (September 27, 2013). "Taylor Swift will co-star in long-awaited adaptation of 'The Giver'". Entertainment Weekly. 

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