Matt's Reviews > The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry
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Mar 06, 2014

it was ok
bookshelves: fantasy, science-fiction, young-adult
Recommended for: People who want to analyze how not to write sci-fi
Read in September, 2008

** spoiler alert ** If there are no wrong answers, can we really say that something has any meaning?

It is very easy to start an interesting science fiction story. Simply begin with a mystery. Don't explain things to the reader and leave them in a state of wonder. In this way, everything will seem interesting, intriguing, and worth exploring. Tap into the reader’s powers of imagination and allow them to make your story interesting in ways you need not imagine, and perhaps cannot create. This is a good plan for starting a science fiction story. Lots of science fiction stories begin in this way. On television, almost all of them do – ‘X-Files’, ‘Lost’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘The 4400’, ‘The truth is out there.’ ‘They have a plan.’

‘The Giver’ starts in this way. In the first few pages as the setting unfolded, I was struck by the parallels to China after the cultural revolution – the bicycles, the uniform-like clothing, the regulated life, the shame based culture, and ‘the sameness’. I also thought of China, because I immediately grasped that this had to be a culture which was designed to gently crash its population. There were many clues that the world was heavily overpopulated and the primary goal of the culture so described was to crash the population without descending into society destroying anarchy - the highly regulated birthrate, which was insufficient to sustain the population. To sustain the population, more than 17 out of each 25 females would have to be assigned to be birth mothers, and this clearly wasn’t the case. The replacement rate for a society is about 2.3 live births per female (maybe 2.1 in a society that is safe and careful) – clearly they were implied to be below this ratio so clearly this was a society that was trying to shed population.

Equally clearly, this was a society that engaged in widespread euthanasia for the most trivial of causes, which hints at a culture which doesn’t value life because people are in such abundance that they can be readily disposed of. I suspected that ‘Release’ was euthanasia almost immediately from the context in which it was introduced, and this was almost immediately confirmed when it was revealed that infants were subject to ‘release’. Clearly, infants can't be meaningfully banished, so clearly release was euthanasia. So I was intrigued by the story. I wanted to see what happened to Jonas and his naive family who had so poised themselves on the edge of a great family wrecking tragedy in just the first few dozen pages of the story. I wanted to receive from the storyteller answers to the questions that the story was poising, if not some great profound message then at least some story that followed from what she began.

But it was not to be. The first clue that the whole construct was to eventually come crashing down was that Jonas clearly didn’t understand ‘release’ to mean ‘euthanasia’. Nor in fact did anyone seem to know what ‘release’ meant. This shocked me, because in the context of the setting it was virtually impossible that he and everyone else did not know. I could very easily imagine a stable society where human life was not prized – after all, societies that believe that human life is intrinsically valuable are historically far less common than ones that don’t. We know that the society is life affirming, both because we are told how pained and shocked they are by loss and by the fact that Jonas responds to scenes of death with pity and anger. What I could not believe in was a society which held the concept of ‘precision of language’ so tightly and so centrally that the protagonist could not imagine lying could in fact be founded on lies. That’s impossible. No society like that can long endure. Some technological explanation would be required to explain how the society managed to hide the truth from itself. If release took place in some conscious state of mind, then surely the dispensers of Justice, the Nurturers, the Caregivers, and the sanitation workers would all know the lie, and all suspect – as Jonas did – that they were being lied to as well. Surely all of these would suspect what their own future release would actually entail, and surely at least some of them would reject it. Surely some not inconsequential number of new children, reared to value precision of language and to affirm the value of life, would rebel at the audacity of the lie if nothing else. Even in a society that knew nothing of love, even if only the society had as much feeling as the members of the family displayed, and even if people only valued others as much as the Community was shown to value others, surely some level of attachment would exist between people. Soma or not, the seeds of pain, tragedy, conflict and rebellion are present if ever the truth is known to anyone.

Nothing about the story makes any sense. None of it bears any amount of scrutiny at all. The more seriously you consider it, the more stupid and illogical the whole thing becomes. We are given to believe that the society has no conception of warfare, to the point that it cannot recognize a child’s war game for what it is, and yet we are also given to believe that they train pilots in flying what is implied to be a fighter craft and that the community maintains anti-aircraft weapons on a state of high alert such that they could shoot down such a fighter craft on a moments notice. We are given to believe that all wild animals are unknown to the community, yet we are also given to believe that potential pest species like squirrels and birds are not in fact extinct. How do you possibly keep them out of the community if they exist in any numbers elsewhere? We are given to believe that technology exists sufficient to fill in the oceans and control the weather and replace the natural biosphere with something capable of sustaining humanity, but that technological innovation continues in primitive culture. We are given to believe that they are worried about overpopulation and starvation, and yet also that most of the world is empty and uninhabited or that this inherently xenophobic community lives in isolation if in fact it doesn’t span the whole of the Earth. We are given to believe that this is a fully industrial society, yet the community at most has a few thousands of people. Surely thousands of such communities must exist to maintain an aerospace industry, to say nothing of weather controllers. Why is no thought given to the hundreds of other Receivers of Memory which must exist in their own small circles of communities in the larger Community? Surely any plan which ignores the small communities place in the larger is foredoomed to failure? Surely the Receiver of Memory knows what a purge or a pogrom is?

How are we to believe that Jonas’s father, whose compassion for little Gabriel is so great that he risks breaking the rules for his sake, whose compassion for little Gabriel is so great that he risks face by going to the committee to plead for Gabriel’s life, whose compassion for little Gabriel is so great that he discomforts himself and his whole family for a year for the sake of the child, is the same man who so easily abandons that same child at a single setback when he has witnessed the child grow and prosper? Doesn’t it seem far easier to believe that this same man, who is openly scornful of the skills and nurturing ability of the night crew, would more readily blame the night crew for Gabriel’s discomfort? I can only conclude, just as I can only conclude about the illogical fact that no one knows what release is, that everything is plastic within the dictates of the plot. Jonas’s father feels and acts one way when the needs of the plot require it and feels and acts in different ways when the needs of the plot require something else. What I can’t believe is that this is any sort of whole and internally consistent character or setting. Every single thing when held up to the light falls apart. There is not one page which is even as substantial as tissue paper.

It is almost impossible to draw meaning from nonsense, so it is no wonder that people have wondered at the ending. What happens? The great virtue of the story as far as modern educators are probably concerned is that there are no wrong answers. What ever you wish to imagine is true is every bit as good of answer as any other. Perhaps he lives. Perhaps he finds a community which lives in the old ways, knowing choice – and war and conflict (which probably explains why the community needs anti-aircraft defenses). But more likely from the context he dies. Perhaps he is delusional. Perhaps he gets to the bottom and lies down in the deepening snow which the runners can no longer be pushed through and he dies. Perhaps he dies and goes to heaven, maybe even the heaven of the one whose birthday is celebrated by the implied Holiday. Perhaps it is even the case that he was sent to his death by the cynical Giver, who knew his death was necessary to release the memories he contained by to the community. Perhaps he didn’t just die, but was slaughtered as the sacrificial lamb – killed by a murderous lie from the one he trusted too well. For my entry in the meaningless answers contest, I propose that the whole thing was just a dream. This seems the easiest way to explain the contradictions. A dream doesn’t have to make sense. And the biggest clue that it is a dream is of course that Jonas sees the world in black and white, with only the occasional flashes of recognized color around important colorful things as is typical of that sort of black and white dream. Perhaps Jonas will wake up and engage in dream sharing with his family, and they will laugh at the silliness and then go to the ceremony of twelves. Or perhaps the whole community is only a dream, and Jonas will wake up and go downstairs and open his Christmas presents with his family.
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Comments (showing 1-37 of 37) (37 new)

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Rhea Great review! I chuckled at your ending choices.

Rhea Great review! I chuckled at your ending choices.

Maribeth Great review. The concept of the book was not bad (I even liked it for the first several pages), but the gaping holes in the story were impossible to swallow.

Sarah She wanted to leave the ending open, but she did resolve it after all in her two companions, Gathering Blue and Messenger, which you will probably also rip apart if you read *chuckle*
I disagree, but it's your opinion.

message 5: by Liz (new) - added it

Liz Wow. I haven't read this book since I was about twelve or thirteen. This analysis... it's fantastic. Well done!

Jess Veazey I really enjoyed this review! While I adore this book to no end, it was really interesting reading your take on it. I especially liked the last paragraph. ♪

Jenny Don't forget, Fiona apparently knew what 'release' meant having been taught during her time at the old home. Why she didn't tell her friends about it I can't imagine. Any normal kid would blab in a second.

message 8: by Ol (new)

Ol Great review. It is a need for a normal mind to tell if the king is naked or if he has a beautiful dress. You spotted the "nakedness" here and explained it clearly. While many others hate, admire or semi-religiously worship... an empty place.
Please, write more reviews and rate other books. It will me and others to find interesting books to read.

Gavin One comment though - the people in the community are emotionless (the pills to stop the stirrings if you recall) so that would explain why they exhibit only taught behaviour. 'Release' by the father is taught behaviour and as the Giver says, he knows nothing else.

I think you're trying to make the book something it wasn't intended to be IMO. Lowry wasn't attempting to write a fully crafted dystopian novel. She has simply used this premise to express valuable, albeit, straight forward insight as to what it is to be human.

message 10: by Matt (last edited Sep 04, 2012 08:24AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt "One comment though - the people in the community are emotionless..."

If in fact Lowry had protrayed the community and its members as emotionless, that might have made the story more believable. However, there is plenty of evidence of emotion in the story, mostly because it is in my opinion impossible to write intelligent beings without emotion and even if you could, they would be so obviously flat and characterless that you couldn't sympathize with them. I made mention of the supposed reduction in depth of feeling by the drug therapy in my review, and dismissed it as being inadequate to explain the contridictions.

One of the biggest problems here is neither Lowry nor you seem to know what emotion is, probably because its not something that is taught and is so common that it would be like explaining water to a fish. But it is important here. Emotion is not only the large hystrionic displays we associate with displaying emotions. These are more show and display than true emotion, and most adults learn how counterproductive these are and avoid producing these shows as a means of conveying our feelings. Instead, emotion is really one of the two cognitive pathways by which humans analyze data and make sense of it. For any observation, any intelligent being has to make two valuations. The first, what we call rational thought answers the question, "What is it?". The second, what we call emotional thought answers the question, "What does it mean to me?" Emotional thought is necessary for any goal driven behavior, which is the reason why when Sci-Fi offers up supposedly unemotional characters in the form of Spock or Data in practice these characters are actually driven by various emotions which can be observed from the text. When the author wants us to see that they are feeling emotions, then the author - very humanly - has them produce big emotional displays and outcrys that are the social markers of emotion that tell other members of our social band what we are feeling and how we need to be related to. But those outwards signs are not the emotions themselves. Lowry is largely guilty of the same problem, having her characters display all sorts of emotional contexts - self pride, nervousness, uncertainty, fear, desire, disgust, courage, stubbornness, grief, happiness, possessiveness, compassion, etc. - and then wanting us to believe that just because there was no show, or just because the drugs reduce the depth of feeling sufficiently that there isn't a need for the show that somehow the motivations and thoughts aren't there. But you can't on one hand show us characters whose minds aren't empty and then in the next moment show them with empty minds and make it all that believable.

Real human emotion runs metaphoricly both hot and cold. The 'hot' emotion is when you are motivated to make an immediate large display, like a two year old that throws a tantrum to say how angry he is but who can control it as long as no one else is in the room. Or less ignobly perhaps when grief overtakes you and forces sobs and tears out of you. But more usually, emotion runs cold, giving you motivations without the need for big physical displays. So far as we can tell, the drugs in the story only prevent emotion from running hot - curbing physical lust, reducing physical sobbing, dampening the sharp sting of pain, reducing angry outbursts and displays. But they don't elimenate the entire cognitive pathway that tells people what things mean until it becomes useful in the story for that to happen.

The Giver is frankly wrong. Jonas's Father is a bit of a rebel, who repeatedly bucks the system and repeatedly engages in behavior contrary to what is ordinary in the community. Jonas's Father repeatedly displays extraordinary compassion, more than many people who aren't on drugs do, and risks his standing in the community at several points. The problem this creates is less over whether the drugs can control the father figures emotional life, but over whether they can control the fundamental contridiction in the society. Again, if Lowry had not tried to convince us that the society was basically life affirming, then it wouldn't have been a difficulty. But Lowry tries to create a bigger emotional blow for the reader by hiding her 'twist' by making the society not seem so dystopian at first - consider the response of the society to accidental death, or the focus on the precision of language. Lowry provides no believable means for people not understanding what 'release' means on a logical level, even if they don't understand it as murder on an emotional level.

And, even if I conceded that you could reconcile all of this, that is only one of many many flaws in the stories logic.

"She has simply used this premise to express valuable, albeit, straight forward insight as to what it is to be human."

But I don't concede that she has done this. All science fiction is fundamentally about thinking about what it means to be human by constrasting humanity with things that are not (in this case the supposedly emotionless humans of the invented society). I have no idea what you mean by "a fully crafted dystopian novel". I do know that Lowry hasn't convinced me that she has much in the way of valuable insight into what it is to be human. What is this valuable insight of which you speak?

Lauren I like your ending too!!!! And no one can say its dumb because there is no ending and Lois wanted the reader 2 night chose the ending!!!!!

message 12: by Allyssa (new)

Allyssa I'm reading the ppl with my class and we are just past the middle where Jonas finds the Giver dead right? I think you might have spoiled it for me but I won't tell....:P

Moeaye Awesome. :)

message 14: by Bearbike137 (new)

Bearbike137 Matt - your review is incredible. Who are you? :-) I want to be in your book group, dude. As I read "The Giver", I grew more and more bothered by the story, but I could not quite put my finger on why that was. Well, you nailed it. Thanks, again.

Andrew I think that there is an aristocratical society hidden from the others that controls the leaders you see. I bet that they use a form of mind suppressing stuff to keep them slaves. That causes them to lose their will and individuality. It also causes them to not see color. Also, adults get more than others, so they lose all empathy and morals. This causes the character changes. Perhaps the medicine. It implies that the medicine is not good for the keeper of memories. Maybe it is mass produced junk and special people are able to resist it. Like old clothes. They found a way to take everything from the old times and store it on a single living memory card, and at the same time deal with a potentially rebellious group.

message 16: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Bonner Just a couple of comments, and they will not be too snarky because I was not a big fan of the book either.

1. The title of your review is ludicrous. Maybe it could be "for: People who want to analyze how not to write sci-fi for Matt." This is a hugely popular book with tons of fans, so the author was obviously successful in writing a popular science fiction novel.

2. You stated that you did not understand how nobody knew what "release" meant. My understand of the book was that many, if not most, if not all adults knew that release meant euthanasia. Jonas's dad knew, and did not care. The girl that was one of his best friends was already being trained to release people at the house of the old by the age of 13, and apparently did not care. Even if it is only people that "need to know" that know what release is, finding out does not seem to have any negative effect on their happiness or world view. They do not have the emotions or experiences to care. Is Jonas's dad going to go kicking and screaming to release because he knows it means death? No, he is going to have a good party, go into a back room, and never come out.

message 17: by Matt (last edited Aug 05, 2014 10:39AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt "This is a hugely popular book with tons of fans, so the author was obviously successful in writing a popular science fiction novel."

Band wagon fallacy. If you are going to pull the "It's good because its popular.", then I'm going to counter with, "My review is correct because my review is popular." After all, I'm one of the top 5 most popular reviewers on this book. And I'm not the outlier. The most popular review by far blasts this book far more than I do, and goes as far as to accuse it of not merely being a badly written book but an evil book. So, since the majority can't be wrong, clearly the title of the review isn't ridiculous. Tons of book fans can't be wrong right? The majority hated the book. Don't argue with the bandwagon!

Incidentally, Keely has written a lot of good reviews, but the review he gives The Giver is one of the worst despite its popularity. He's a great writer, but in my opinion he falls victim in the review to assuming the text has some clear meaning, and projects himself way too much into the text to find it. I think he's a clear example of the sort of problems that the text has - it can mean anything you want so it doesn't really mean anything. Which of course makes it perfect for modern American school.

And finally, once again, I don't think the text actually does a good job displaying the community members as actually being emotionless, unfeeling, and illogical. The central element of the plot depends on the father's unreasonable in context compassion. The story opens with a community display of grief. The community isn't unfeeling automatons. It would be perfectly reasonable if in Jonas's dad went to his release perfectly happy and content with that, if the author had created a society that was openly affirming of euthanasia and which spent all the years of a person's life building an acceptance of it in them. That would be believable. (That has also been done many times before.) A society with 13 year old unfeeling killers? Again, perfectly reasonable. There are plenty of real world examples. Instead the author choose to create a society that was openly affirming of life but which concealed a deadly secret. Why? Plot. Not because it made any kind of sense, but because the story 'needed' it. Jonas is just a normal American kid who happens to be in a radically different society. That isn't reasonable. This sort of thing doesn't just happen once in the story though - it happens all the time. The author never remembers what she's established in prior scenes and never considers the implications of her scenes. In one scene she has fighter jets and anti-aircraft defenses. In another scene she has kids playing a mock war game with no understanding of what they are playing. She has a community with weather control technology and an aerospace industry and apparently only about 200-300 people in it. She has a birth rate that is well below the replacement rate and yet miles of uninhabited wilderness. Her protagonist has never so much as seen a squirrel yet encounters them only a short ways out of town. It's all impossible to reconcile. "Need to know" is a good theory, but it doesn't begin to explain the contradictions.

Bodhi I think you're paying attention to the wrong things and it's preventing you from enjoying the book as much. If your running through an interesting story with a friend and you come across a hole, don't stop and stare into the abyss! You'll be stuck laughing amusedly to yourself about the author leaving such a large hole in the story while your friend jumps past it and enjoys the scenery until he gets to the end. Maybe there's a drug you can take to help you forget about the inconsistencies that seem to nag at you.

The author shouldn't have to study population dynamics to write a story about pain, memories, choices, human motivation, etc. If you didn't get the gist of the author's intentions, I believe it was thus: the society was stable, everyone had a role, thus it necessary to have a replacement rate by giving each family two children.

message 19: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt What are the wrong things? When you write a story, I would hope that it is with the intention of having your audience pay attention to the whole story. If there is part of the story it is wrong to pay attention to, they have a phrase for that - bad writing. Better by far to leave it out than put in something that the audience isn't supposed to pay attention to.

Do you know how to damn a work of art with faint praise? Say that, "It makes you think." There is no smaller praise that you can give to a book. I'm thinking all the time. I never stop thinking. It would be far bigger praise to say of a story, "It made me stop thinking." That a story, "Makes you think.", requires no talent at all and is not a redeeming or valuable feature. I think about everything I encounter and I generally trust everyone else does the same. In fact, I suspect that it is less the truth that, "A book makes you think.", that when people say that, they mean exactly what you say more honestly here: "I don't like how you are thinking about the book."

I'm sure that there are drugs that can help me forget about inconsistencies, bad logic, fallacies, and trite philosophies. Alcohol is one such drug. It helps you not to think. You ought not be surprised to learn that I avoid such drugs in general as I find the degradation of my faculties unpleasant rather than pleasant.

An author that is unwilling to put the work into studying population dynamics, should not put into the story an invented mode of reproduction. An author that is unwilling to put the work into studying history and sociology, should not put into their work an invented social structure. An author with the intention of saying something profound about humanity, should at least know her subject. Because the author did none of these things, she ended up saying nothing. She said it well, but it was in the end all so much artificially sweetened pabulum without nourishment.

If she had said anything substantial at all about pain, memories, choices, and human motivation I would have given her far more stars. But she didn't. You see she invented all this crap to avoid saying anything substantial. The society works by magic. If the society works because of some magic drug with power of plot effects, then it says nothing at all useful about reality. The plot happens solely because the writer wills it, and not because it has any bearing on pain, memories, choices, and human motivation.

message 20: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Bonner Matt wrote: ""This is a hugely popular book with tons of fans, so the author was obviously successful in writing a popular science fiction novel."

Band wagon fallacy. If you are going to pull the "It's good b..."

I did not insinuate that it is good because it is popular, but "good" is subjective. I did not like the book. The premise was unexplored and incomplete, as were the characters. When the novel was 90% finished it felt as though it should have been more like 50% done, with an ending seeming to have been tacked on hastily because the author knew how to set up a decent story but not how actually write one to completion.
In order to be the Bandwagon Fallacy I would have to say "it must be good because so many people love it." What I am saying is that many people love it, so the author must have done something right to impress those people. Unfortunately I fell for the Bandwagon Fallacy and the Appeal to Authority Fallacy in that the book came so highly recommended from people whose taste in books I generally trust when I decided to read the book. I assumed that the book was going to be good, and I was wrong.

That being said, most people disagree with me. If someone wanted to write a popular science fiction novel, then they could do worse than to look to at a novel that is hugely popular. I hated Divergent as well, for many of the same reasons, but you cannot call the author unsuccessful at writing a science fiction novel that millions of people believe is good.

As far as the population being aware of "release" as euthanasia, or it being known by citizens with a "need to know," I was not suggesting that this is not inconsistent. They are supposed to have no awareness or memory of bad things such as death or murder, but there are plenty of people in the community that deal with death every day with no bad consequences, and they must have memories of killing people if they have procedures that they have memorized to carry out the act.
Also, while Jonas wonders whether his dad had instructions giving him "permission to lie," the ability to lie should not have been possible in the general population without undermining the whole purpose of "sameness" and the lack of emotions. In order to have sameness be the founding and most important trait in the community you must have near 100% compliance and belief in its' value. If a large portion of citizens have things that they are allowed to know about that other people are not then the whole concept of sameness is undermined, and that portion of the population cannot be expected to enforce or teach sameness to the next generation.

These are all small points though. To rip the story apart you just have to look at the memories. What are they? Are they physical things? They must be if they float around in the atmosphere making people unhappy. How many memories does The Receiver have? All of them? Some of them? Enough to have one memory that is representative of each "type" of experience? Who decides what memories are kept if it is not all of them? What happens to the memories that the Receiver does not have? If memories of past generations are permanent things then the complete memories of billions of people must be floating around the world somewhere. Are the memories magical? They are to Jonas, who can remember a fire and physically warm himself up, or remember food and satiate his hunger. It is a shame that he "passed" these memories to Gabe, he could have just "thought warm" and let Gabe absorb his magical memory body heat endlessly. I guess that this was not possible because of the "range" that the memories have. Apparently if you get too far away from your community the memories escape back into the atmosphere to head back the the community and confuse people, and this distance can be reached by an adolescent on a bike. So does this mean that the Receiver is connected to the minds of the community? Their. . . . what, force, energy, chi, or whatever?
All these questions and hundreds more will not be answered in The Giver.

I still stand by the idea that people did know about "release." We personally were made aware of several people that must know about it. What I am not saying is that the knowledge of it is not a plot hole, or that it does not contradict other things in the book.

I also stand by the idea that the author does not know how to write a novel for you, and does not know how to write a novel for me, but she does know how to write a novel that is beloved by millions. Those millions of people just happen to be wrong. :)

Bodhi I found my copy of The Giver and have finished rereading it. I also wrote a response and lost it somewhere in cyberspace. So the following may not be as complete, although it could possibly be more succinct.

The flaws in the plot and certain logical errors were more apparent. If you are young enough, and still a little naive, this book can reward you with a creative and well-written emotional journey with a character that the target audience can relate to.

List of problem areas:
Birthmothers(mathematical), lack of sunshine and animals, the importance of the bike repair shop, knowing the main character can "see beyond" and then having to explain it to the Giver, lack of questioning around euthanasia, the war game being much too overtly based on war, the coincidence of two babies being released nearly simultaneously, and, of course, the ending.

The ideas of seeing in color and transferring memories simply require a leap of faith in order to enjoy the story.

The mathematical error around reproduction just showed me that the author wasn't paying much attention. But this is made worse by the fact that I saw the latter part of the book as an attempt to dehumanize people who are pro-choice.

The takeaway is that, as an adult with a certain level of social awareness and the ability to infer what the author is doing behind the scenes, pulling in various elements to make the plot work, you simply can't appreciate how much an adolescent might be able to relate to the story.

Georgia You do realize this is a children's book? It is often first read in 5th or 6th grade – around Jonas age - and that is its intended audience. While many books can span generations and readership, I don't think you can judge all books with the same criteria. Are there holes in the plots of Dr. Seuss books? Are there holes in Harry Potter? Yes. Breaking this book apart, like you have, doesn't do it justice.

message 23: by Matt (last edited Apr 04, 2016 11:39AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” ― C.S. Lewis

"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond." ― C.S. Lewis

I do not have a condescending view of the mentality of children. Adults said that Harry Potter was too mature for children with too many obscure words and far too many pages. Children did not agree. When I was in the 5th or 6th grade, I enjoyed everything from Dr. Seuss to Twain to Edgar Allan Poe. A book intended for children should not be dumbed down in order to reach them, if in fact that is what occurred here which I deny. Even if it true that you can't judge all books with the same criteria, that doesn't mean that none of the same criteria applies. What makes good writing in a children's book is very much the same as what makes good writing in a book for adults.

What exactly are the plot holes in Dr. Seuss? He writes self-contained little fairy tales and nonsense rhymes. The world of Dr. Seuss explains itself by magic, yet this magic does not undermine his clear points. What are Lowry's clear points? What are Lowry's clear analogies? JK Rowling has some of the most formidable plotting and story structure in all of literature. There are few writer's of stories for adults that write more internally consistent and well plotted stories than Rowling. She invites comparison to Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens. Sure, she has to do some ad hoc hole patching at times because her world building isn't that great, but patch she does and the small holes (like how is it possible to be poor and a wizard) are never critical to her central plot anyway. Systematic explanations for magic or technology aren't necessarily required of a story, which is why I didn't dwell long on the problem of how being a receiver of memory actually works and treated that as a major plot hole.

Fundamentally, the problem with Lowry's story is it doesn't really mean anything and has no depths to explore. I suppose you could say that Lowry means to say that "Euthanasia is bad.", but really she doesn't even do that within the story. She just takes it as a given and never challenges it or addresses the issues it raises. That goes back to the strange idea that the society affirms plain speaking and accurate language, and affirms the value of life, but has no contradiction over the casual disregard of life. How does that work? More importantly, what does it mean? It isn't a given that a person raised in a society that casually disregards the value of life is distressed at the casual disregard of life. Remember, people used to take picnics and their families to hangings and no one thought it would distress them - no drugs or magic required. So why did the society try to hide its disregard of life? It would have been far more stabilizing to just teach children what release was and why it was good. The author doesn't even try to say. In short, until you address the fundamental flaw that the whole story is empty and contains only what you project into it to fill up that emptiness, trying to defend or excuse the holes in the story is pretty meaningless. My point is that the whole thing is an empty hole, and not merely that it has a few problems.

message 24: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt "The takeaway is that, as an adult with a certain level of social awareness and the ability to infer what the author is doing behind the scenes, pulling in various elements to make the plot work, you simply can't appreciate how much an adolescent might be able to relate to the story."

And my point is that the defender's of this book can't explain clearly what their adolescent selves saw in this book, nor can they explain why I should take that as being primarily about what was in the book to take away and not what was in the reader that they projected into to the book.

Keely (absurdly to my mind) calls this book 'nationalistic propaganda'. This clearly resonates with many readers, but I think only tells us something of Keely and similar readers because you can't sustain that view from the text. One reviewer called it an anti-abortion screed, despite the fact that the society in question doesn't seem to practice abortion and is apparently not discriminating in its callousness on the basis of age or any other factor. Again, seeing this as an anti-abortion screed tells us more of the thoughts of the reviewer than the thoughts of the writer, whose take on abortion I could not guess. A great many people support abortion who would not support forced infanticide.

And those with different and more positive take on the stories meaning are in no better position.

Bodhi What the Giver is about and what kids get out of it, by me.

There is a really cool society that is different from ours. "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all," is taken to a new extreme. Will society recognize my individuality and accept me? Wouldn't it just be easier if a trusted authority told everyone how to live?

The result is that even the 'adults' can make wrong choices. As a kid, I feel different from everyone else, am I special?

You are special. You probably have super powers others kids don't have, like seeing colors other kids can't and FEELING things that other kids haven't gone through.

If nobody understands me and these changes going on with my body, at least there will be one old man who will. He'll give me a secret plan to rebel against society and it will be planned perfectly. But obviously perfect doesn't exist in the real world, so the plan will fail and I will have to make my own decisions for the first time. Hopefully by then I will have acquired some WISDOM and COURAGE and super powers to keep me warm when I run away from home.

Of course there will be dangers on the road, but against all odds, if I go through with an unplanned pregnancy I will protect that baby at all costs and when disaster strikes God will show his face and I will see cute little animals and He will give a me sled so I can coast away into His loving embrace and there will be lights and all the memories.

message 26: by Tod (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tod Lloyd whatever hap

Thomas Macgregor I first read this in Highschool, at that time I enjoyed the book. The main theme I remembered was freedom was worth dying(I assumed he died( And I'm sure that says more about me then anything else)) But the reason I hold this book in high regard is that it got me to read, it made me read 3 other books(the rest of the series) which is the magically part. This book started my reading career. Maybe it's not a great book or maybe its not the most completed book, but you have to start somewhere and not everyone can start with the lord of the rings(which I tried and failed, multiple times)

My biggest argument is nothing read is for not! No matter what you read no matter what it says you will learn something, about your self, the world, life, something will be gained.

message 28: by Matt (last edited Sep 26, 2014 06:09AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Thomas: Your first true novel, the one that grabs you, is always a special experience and one that often defies explanation because its as much about you as it is about the book.

The theme you assign to the book, "Freedom is worth dying for.", is as good of a take away as any but hard to sustain from the text. The final crisis of the book isn't precipitated by the protagonist chafing about his reduced freedom, but by the fact that Gabriel is going to die without freedom. In fact, Lowry makes a poor case against slavery and for freedom, since to do it she has to introduce a dystopian element of euthanasia and infanticide. (Compare with similar treatment of 'Minority Report' in the Hollywood movie where the use of procogs is made trivially bad by the grotesque horror of the punishments inflicted on the condemned.)

So perhaps the theme is, "It's worth sacrificing your life to save the lives of others.". But as I note in my review, from the first pages of the book we learn the society the protagonist is a part of is raised to believe in the affirmation of life, so it is society that has taught him - if not to love - then at least to value Gabriel's life. Also undermining your thesis is that it's not clear from the book that the protagonist actually does die (or for that matter that he saves Gabriel). In the sequel we learn he doesn't die, but the book itself only ends with him lying down in the snow to die having apparently failed in this mission to save Gabriel's life.

My own review gives what I think is the answer to the question I keep asking, when I write: "The great virtue of the story as far as modern educators are probably concerned is that there are no wrong answers. What ever you wish to imagine is true is every bit as good of answer as any other." I could have just as well written, "The great virtue of the story as far as modern readers are concerned..." The modern reader is by inclination and training taught to see themselves in the story, and The Giver is an excellent vehicle for that.

As for the last, some gains ought to be counted as loss. However, I wouldn't put this book in that category.

Maysun I really didn't like this book but I gave it 3 stars just because the beginning was very interesting and the concept was interesting. But she could at least write us a sequel where he is in a new community with nice people and choices and culture and color. Or where he woke up from a dream and actually he lives in a good futuristic place with choices and love.

Maysun I really didn't like this book but I gave it 3 stars just because the beginning was very interesting and the concept was interesting. But she could at least write us a sequel where he is in a new community with nice people and choices and culture and color. Or where he woke up from a dream and actually he lives in a good futuristic place with choices and love.

Ballerina60 you make really excellent points. i kept wondering where the semen was coming from. but i think the intent was a happy ending because he took Gabe with him. if he had left alone, i would have thought differently; but with Gabe i felt that Gabe was sort of the seeds of something new. but yes, lots of silliness in the book!

message 32: by Lee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lee Coleman great review.

message 33: by Holli (new) - rated it 1 star

Holli Thank you for telling it like it is. I hated this book and I wonder how I can despise a book that is so short! She is a terrible writer.

message 34: by Ivana (new)

Ivana Split It does seem like an interesting but badly developed premise. It does seem unlogical that in society where human life is underappreciated nobody would figure out that 'release' means 'eutanasia' and they wouldn't notice anything strang was happening...

message 35: by Sophie (new) - added it

Sophie With you there, it does give me a strange feeling though, I mean "released from the community" really means "released from life" but I guess that is their culture and they feel it is right so we accept that or we don't

message 36: by Sophie (new) - added it

Sophie It is what it is

message 37: by Sophie (new) - added it

Sophie But it is a very creative book and I am devouring it (not literally)

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