I hated Ms. Power’s 8th grade English class. I had recently moved from a small middle school where everyone wanted to learn to a school in northern Virginia where perhaps 15 percent of my fellow classmates cared about learning and cared about the magic of books (the latter of which was slightly more important to me). I was that kid who read books under her desk during most classes, so English class was supposed to be my haven, my sanctuary, the best damn part of my blocked schedule. Instead I was stuck in a class with girls who talked about “Twilight” and boys who sat back in their chairs and groaned every time we talked about poetry. And then we read “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it revolutionized the atmosphere and my peers’ love for literature, it was the first time that I saw the majority of my class respond to a book. In fact, it was only the second time that I had ever seen an entire classroom respond to a book in such a powerful manner.
Although the book was published the year most of my classmates were born (1993), this novel seems to have surpassed the constraints of a publication date. For those of you who didn’t have to read this book in your younger days, “The Giver” starts off as a presentation of a seemingly utopian society; a society that has eliminated all types of pain and strife, war, and even the act of choosing in an effort to create peaceful harmony, or “Sameness,” as it is referred to. Each member of society is assigned a role to fulfill and for years this system seems to have been effective in achieving its aims. The novel is told from the perspective of 12-year-old Jonas, who has been given the role of “Receiver of Memory.” Soon Jonas meets the “Giver,” or the man who holds all of the memories of what society was like before their seemingly utopian community existed. As Jonas learns more about what the world used to be like—and what pain, suffering and, alternatively, happiness and love looked and felt like—he soon finds himself facing a dilemma: Is it better to shield people from the pains of life and, by doing so, deny them the happiness that exists at the opposite end of the spectrum? By denying people the ability to make their own decisions, are you helping maintain peace or are you denying the fundamentals of what it means to be human?
While “The Giver” has certainly been a classroom favorite for over a decade, it has recently gained more popularity with the film adaption that opens in theaters on August 15th. With Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift cast alongside relative newcomers Brenton Thwaites (Jonas) and Odeya Rush (Fiona), the film has the potential to be above average (regardless of whether you believe in Ms. Swift’s true acting potential). At the end of the month we will look back at the questions listed below and, for those that have seen the movie, compare the film adaptation to the book. Now, we all know that film adaptations can never fully match the brilliance of the original book, so I ask you, reader, to keep an open mind. Perspective—whether based on morals, beliefs, or age—is a key element of the novel, as is how we remember and understand our memories. So if “The Giver” hasn’t been on your radar since your days as a youngster, pick it up again! You never know what magic you will rediscover.
Questions to think about while reading:
- Perhaps one of the greatest themes in the novel is a dystopian society disguised as utopian. Do you believe utopia is a possible goal? If so, why? If not, why has the idea of a utopia remained present for centuries in such a variety of literature?
- A prominent theme in other dystopian literature (such as “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”) is a distrust of authority which we see in the relationship between Jonas and the “Elders.” Do you think that utopia’s are unachievable as long as there is some sort of authority group present? Or is a governing body crucial to creating a utopia?
- What are your thoughts on the ending of the novel?
- Why do you think this novel is important for younger children to read? Do you think it remains an important piece of literature for adults?
Make sure to follow LD on Twitter @litdarling for updates on our discussion and remember to use the #ReadwithLD hashtag. Happy reading, Darlings!