The Giver by Lois Lowry

Is it really middle school if you don’t have a dogeared copy of The Giver bouncing around in your backpack? Published in 1993 by Houghton Mifflin, Lois Lowry’s young adult dystopian novel was an international bestseller and introduced millions of young readers to the notion that the adults may not always have our best interests at heart. Lowry won the 1994 Newbery Medal, an important literary award for the year’s most important contribution to American literature for children. Despite being frequently challenged by parents and educators due to the controversial nature of the themes and plot, the novel lives on in the English class curriculums of American schoolteachers where it still finds new audiences ready to discover the secrets unlocked by the Giver.  

The plot of the novel is designed to be unsettling, especially for young minds who are accustomed to a traditional YA novel structure. It is seen through the eyes of the main character Jonas, a 12-year old boy who lives in a prescribed, utopian society in which everyone has a preassigned job to do. Jonas is given the unique assignment as the community’s next Receiver of Memory, which comes with a different set of rules and expectations than those shared by his adolescent friends. As he begins to learn more about what came before the “sameness” of his society, Jonas is required to confront moral questions including the choice between freedom and safety. As Jonas absorbs the memories of the past and learns more about the truth of the world around him, he begins to question the foundation it is based on: the notion that stability and uniformity are what’s best for people when it robs them of their individuality and ability to choose. The Giver is essentially the OG Hunger Games — but with a grizzled old bearded man who is responsible for the collective memory of mankind.

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