The Giver: A Classic Sci-Fi Mystery Worth a Read

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Madeleine’s ScoreIt was okay—wouldn’t read it again
(3/5 cool points)

“They were satisfied with their lives which had none of the vibrance his own was taking on. And he was angry at himself, that he could not change that for them.”

When Jonas turned twelve, he was assigned his career, but he never expected to become the new Receiver of Memory. Nor did he expect that, once his training began, he would never be the same.

The Community is an orderly town–mates are assigned, children are created via unattached birthmothers and then given to Family Units, and every word spoken must be as precise as possible. There is no war, no hunger, no anger, and no pain. But what young Jonas discovers when he begins to receive memories of the old world from The Giver is that there’s also no joy, no color, no love, and perhaps even no meaning to life in The Community. 

As a children’s book, The Giver is successful at introducing the idea of a false utopia. It reminded me quite a bit of the classics Brave New World and 1984, which were the impactful dystopian tales I read as a young teen. The world-building is skillfully done in that Lois Lowry reveals the ins and outs of this world naturally over time. 

This novel plays out more like a mystery than a full-on sci-fi, which is likely more successful at surprising kids reading it than adults. ***Spoiler Alert***It was not surprising to me what “release” actually means in The Community, but the way Jonas finds out is powerful and horrifying. Bad things happening to kids, especially infants, in novels is hard for me to stomach. But regardless, this particular scene elicited an emotional reaction from me, so it was certainly a successful reveal in that regard.***End Spoiler***

Where I struggled was in caring about any of the characters. However, I do wonder if that doesn’t somehow prove the author’s point that these characters aren’t really “people” at all; they’re empty, bereft of struggle. Trying to root for them becomes nearly impossible when there’s nothing relatable or likable about them. Admittedly, there’s a bit more that’s relatable about Jonas and The Giver, as there should be. But even so, it felt as if these two characters needed more development for me to really care about them the way one must care for a protagonist. The only characters I truly felt anything for were the infants in the story who had not yet been corrupted by the sterile ideals of The Community. Indeed, these were the characters I rooted for because they still had hope for a life worth living. I wanted Jonas to be successful for Gabe’s sake more than anything else. 

Finally, I have mixed feelings about the ending. For me, it’s irritating when an author leaves an ending up for interpretation. While literature teachers adore interpreting such endings, as a reader, it’s frustrating to not know for sure what happened. Thankfully, there are sequels, but the one that clears everything up didn’t come out until many years after the first book. How frustrating for so many young readers to wait until they grew up to know the ending! 

The Giver is a worthwhile read for parents and older kids to tackle together. There are deep topics in Lowry’s dystopian sci-fi classic that warrant discussion.