A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lois Lowry earned the Newbery Medal for The Giver, the first of a four-part series that examines a flawed utopian society. The novel has a disturbing scene in which Jonas witnesses his father euthanizing a baby by injecting it with a needle in the head. There are also mild sexual references. But the overall story is riveting -- and the book is one of the most thought-provoking novels for children ever written.
What's the story?
Jonas lives in a perfect society--no pain, no crime, no unhappiness. But when he receives his life assignment to be the Receiver of Memories, he discovers secrets about the past, and the terrible choices that make this world possible.
In the perfect future world in which Jonas lives, 12-year-old children are given their life assignments at the Ceremony of Twelve. Jonas is shocked when he is chosen to be the new Receiver of Memories, a mysterious position of honor held by only one person at a time. He's trained by the previous Receiver, now called the Giver. The training consists of transferring to him memories of a past -- before the imposition of Sameness -- that the others in the community can't even imagine, in which there was war, hunger, and disease, but also color, weather, and strong emotions. Gradually Jonas comes to understand, and resent, the choices that had to be made to create his world, and the terrible secrets behind its perfection. Together he and the Giver concoct a plan to change the way his world works, but before they can carry it out Jonas is forced to make a decision that may destroy them all.
Is it any good?
This book examines a utopian society thoroughly and fairly; it is this fairness that makes the novel so riveting and thought-provoking, and so perfect for triggering discussions. The author is true to her determination not to stack the deck for readers; the ending is deliberately ambiguous, with allegorical overtones, leaving readers to decide what they want to believe.
Jonas' world is very appealing. The community runs by common agreement to its rules; some freedom is sacrificed for security; joy, for avoidance of misery. The choices, which provide the catalyst for discussion, all involve one central decision: to forgo the highs of life in order to get rid of the lows -- to find the middle way. There is a lot to be said for this, though Jonas, speaking presumably for the author, ultimately rejects it. Some children will agree with Jonas, but others will find themselves attracted to a life that is uniformly pleasant, if never exhilarating.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the utopian society depicted in the book.
Are the tradeoffs the people have made to get rid of the bad things in life really worth it?
What would you be willing to give up in order to have a safe, clean, peaceful society in which everyone is happy and cared for?
Do you think Jonas did the right thing?
Also, what do you think happens at the end?
For kids who love fantasy and dystopian novels
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