Book Review - The Giver

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 2000, Volume 17, pages 216-218. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - The Giver. 

Lois Lowry. New York: Laurel-Leaf Books, a Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1994, 180 pages.

The Giver is an award-winning story for young adults and teens with a mature themea "perfect," utopian society runs the risk of eliminating the richness and creativity in its human subjects. Lois Lowry wraps her narrative around Jonas, who comes of age at twelve to become a citizen-in-training in the "Community." The Community is an obscurely defined habitat and culture where weather, landscape, lifestyle, conduct, food, and daily medication have been prescribed since an ancient era"back, back, back" is how the citizens phrase that primordial time. Children, ranked as Ones through Twelves, receive bicycles only as Nines. Infants selected for the Community do not live with birthmothers, but with assigned parents who can raise only one male and one female.

The Community has no hills, no sunshine, no wild animals, no snow, no potentially painful feelings like loveno extreme that might cause suffering. Injuries and illness of any kind are treated at the Nurturing Center, but anyone deemed unfit for the community is "released" or lives Elsewhere. Release, Jonas learns after his awesome "Assignment" to be "the Receiver," means euthanasia by injection at the "Center." All such ceremonies are recorded for the Hall of Closed Records. Elsewhere is a place far, far away where non-Community humans and animals live, but Citizens remember nothing about that culture.

Ancient memories are magically contained in one member of the Committee of Elders. He or she is the Receiver (of memories) whose primary function is to advise the Committee to avoid policies that might return the Community to that ancient, painful era. After his singular Assignment, Jonas meets his mentor, now the Giver, who begins a magical process that could take years of daily sessions to transfer vivid, realistic experiences into Jonas's memory bank. Each time the old Giver releases a memory, he is released of one more pleasure or pain that he carried for the Community. Jonas begins to feel love, death, sunshine, cold, and all other sensations in hundreds of scenes for the first time. For example, he absorbs death as a soldier on a battlefield and he enjoys sailing on an ocean. Jonas also has access to thousands of old books and records no one else in the Community, not even the Elders, can examine.

The story reaches its dramatic peak when Jonas decides to save a tiny child now listed for release. He and the Giver both decide it is time to change the Community by releasing the memories back to all its citizens. This can only be done when a Receiver no longer exists or escapes to Elsewhere. Jonas chooses escape. He steals his father's bicycle with the child carrier on it and peddles past the river, past similar Communities, and into the wilderness where he crosses a mountain to Elsewhere. The story ends before we know the actual fate of the Community, but we do know that one brave young man has saved a child and is now entering an uncertain life in a more natural human setting.

In the tradition of futuristic novels like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, Lowry illustrates the hidden dangers and destructive elements of a totalistic society. Former members of our modern cults will easily identify with Jonas, the young hero who recovers his authentic soul from the superficially happy world of the Community.

Joseph Szimhart

Cult Information Specialist and Consultant

Pottstown, PA

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 17, 2000