The Giver

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The Giver
The Giver first edition 1993.jpg
First edition (1993)
AuthorLois Lowry
Cover artistCliff Nielsen
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Giver Quartet
GenreYoung adult fiction, Dystopian novel, Science fiction
PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Publication date
ISBN0-553-57133-8 (hardback and paperback edition)
LC ClassPS 3562 O923 G58 1993
Followed byGathering Blue 

The Giver is a 1993 American young adult dystopian novel written by Lois Lowry. It is set in a society which at first appears to be utopian but is revealed to be dystopian as the story progresses. The novel follows a 12-year-old boy named Jonas. The society has taken away pain and strife by converting to "Sameness", a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, as there may be times where one must draw upon the wisdom gained from history to aid the community's decision making. Jonas struggles with concepts of all the new emotions and things introduced to him: whether they are inherently good, evil, or in between, and whether it is even possible to have one without the other. The Community lacks any color, memory, climate, or terrain, all in an effort to preserve structure, order, and a true sense of equality beyond personal individuality.[1]

The Giver won the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide as of 2018.[2] In Australia, Canada, and the United States, it is on many middle school reading lists,[3][4] but it is also frequently challenged and it ranked number 11 on the American Library Association list of the most challenged books of the 1990s.[5] A 2012 survey based in the U.S. designated it the fourth-best children's novel of all time.[6]

In 2014, a film adaptation was released, starring Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep and Brenton Thwaites.[7] The novel forms a loose quartet[8] with three other books set in the same future era, known as The Giver Quartet: Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012).


Jonas, a 12-year-old boy, lives in a Community isolated from all except a few similar towns, where everyone from small infants to the Chief Elder has an assigned role. With the annual Ceremony of Twelve upcoming, he is nervous, for there he will be assigned his life's work. He seeks reassurance from his father, a Nurturer (who cares for the new babies, who are genetically engineered; thus, Jonas's parents are not biologically related to him), and his mother, an official in the Department of Justice. He is told that the Elders, who assign the children their careers, are always right.

The day finally arrives, and Jonas is assembled with his classmates in order of birth. All of the Community is present, and the Chief Elder presides. Jonas is stunned when his turn is passed by, and he is increasingly conspicuous and agonized until he is alone. The Chief Elder then explains that Jonas has not been given a normal assignment, but instead has been selected as the next Receiver of Memory, to be trained by the current one, who sits among the Elders, staring at Jonas, and who shares with the boy unusual pale eyes. The position of Receiver has high status and responsibility, and Jonas quickly finds himself growing distant from his classmates, including his close friends Asher and Fiona. The rules Jonas receives further separate him, as they allow him no time to play with his friends, and require him to keep his training secret. They also allow him to lie and withhold his feelings from his family, things generally not allowed in the regimented Community.

Once he begins it, Jonas's training makes clear his uniqueness, for the Receiver of Memory is just that—a person who bears the burden of the memories from all of history, and who is the only one allowed access to books beyond schoolbooks and the rulebook issued to every household. The current Receiver, who asks Jonas to call him the Giver, begins the process of transferring those memories to Jonas, for the ordinary person in the Community knows nothing of the past. These memories, and being the only Community member allowed access to books about the past, give the Receiver perspective to advise the Council of Elders. The first memory is of sliding down a snow-covered hill on a sled, pleasantness made shocking by the fact that Jonas has never seen a sled, or snow, or a hill—for the memories of even these things have been given up to assure security and conformity (called Sameness). Even color has been surrendered, and the Giver shows Jonas a rainbow. Less pleasantly, he gives Jonas memories of hunger and war, things alien to the boy. Hanging over Jonas's training is the fact that the Giver once before had an apprentice, named Rosemary, but the boy finds his parents and the Giver reluctant to discuss what happened to her.

Jonas's father is concerned about an infant at the Nurturing Center who is failing to thrive, and has received special permission to bring him home at night. The baby's name will be Gabriel if he grows strong enough to be assigned to a family. He has pale eyes, like Jonas and the Giver, and Jonas becomes attached to him, especially when Jonas finds that he is capable of being given memories. If Gabriel does not increase in strength, he will be "released from the Community"—in common speech, taken Elsewhere. This has happened to an off-course air pilot, to chronic rule breakers, to elderly people, and to the apprentice Rosemary. After Jonas casually speculates as to life in Elsewhere, the Giver educates him by showing the boy hidden-camera video of Jonas's father doing his job: as two identical community members cannot be allowed, Jonas's father releases the smaller of identical twin newborns by injecting the baby with poison before putting its dead body in a trash chute. There is no Elsewhere for those not wanted by the Community—those said to have been "released" have been killed.

Since he now considers his father a murderer, Jonas initially refuses to return home, but the Giver convinces him that without the memories, the people of the Community cannot know that what they have been trained to do is wrong. Rosemary was unable to endure the darker memories of the past and instead killed herself with the poison. Together, Jonas and the Giver come to the understanding that the time for change is now—that the Community has lost its way and must have its memories returned. The only way to make this happen is for Jonas to leave the Community, at which time the memories he has been given will flood back into the people, as did the relatively few memories Rosemary had been given. Jonas wants the Giver to escape with him, but the Giver insists that he will be needed to help the people manage the memories, or they will destroy themselves. Once the Community is re-established along new lines, the Giver plans to join his daughter, Rosemary, in death.

The Giver devises a plot in which Jonas will escape beyond the boundaries of the Communities. The Giver will make it appear as if Jonas drowned in the river so that the search for him will be limited. The plan is scuttled when Jonas learns that Gabriel will be "released" the following morning, and he feels he has no choice but to escape with the infant. Their escape is fraught with danger, and the two are near death from cold and starvation when they reach the border of what Jonas believes must be Elsewhere. Using his ability to "see beyond", a gift that he does not quite understand, he finds a sled waiting for him at the top of a snowy hill. He and Gabriel ride the sled down towards a house filled with colored lights and warmth and love and a Christmas tree, and for the first time he hears something he believes must be music. The ending is ambiguous, with Jonas depicted as experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. This leaves his and Gabriel's future unresolved. However, their fate is revealed in Gathering Blue and in Messenger, companion novels written much later.[9]

In 2009, at the National Book Festival, the author joked during a Q&A, "Jonas is alive, by the way. You don't need to ask that question."[10]


Lois Lowry was born March 20, 1937, in Honolulu, Hawaii.[11] When asked, Lowry stated that her books vary in content and style.[12] Still when reading them it seems that all of them have the same topic, which is, in Lowry's own words, “the importance of human connection… the vital need for humans to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other, but with the world and its environment.”[13] Like Lowry's other books, The Giver shows changes in the characters' lives, reflecting this fascination in the multifaceted dimensions of growing up.[14]

In her Newbery Medal acceptance speech in 1993, Lowry explains that The Giver was inspired by many experiences throughout her life, including Lowry’s interaction with her father, who “became an inspiration for The Giver, a novel in which people are deprived of the memories of suffering, grief, and pain.”[15] She also explains that she began writing The Giver by creating an imaginary world that readers would recognize and feel comfortable in.[15] Lowry also mentions that it is tempting to live in a walled-in world where violence, poverty, and injustice technically does not exist, but when doing that we forget about the people who are experiencing pain and injustice.[16] Lowry said of the people living in The Giver, they have lived in a sterile world for so long that they are in danger of losing the real emotions that make them human.[16]

Literary significance and criticism

While critical reception of The Giver has been mixed, the novel has found a home in "City Reads" programs, library-sponsored reading clubs on citywide or larger scales.[17][18]

Some reviewers have commented that the story lacks originality and is not likely to stand up to the sort of probing literary criticism used in "serious" circles, while others argue that books appealing to a young-adult audience are critical for building a developing reader's appetite for reading.[19] Karen Ray, writing in The New York Times, detects "occasional logical lapses", but adds that the book "is sure to keep older children reading".[20] Young adult fiction author Debra Doyle was more critical, stating that "Personal taste aside, The Giver fails the [science fiction] Plausibility Test," and that "Things are the way they are [in the novel] because The Author is Making A Point; things work out the way they do because The Author's Point Requires It."[21] In their review of The Giver, Johnson, Haynes, and Nastasis, teachers at Wright State University, mention that they received both kinds of reaction when they conducted a research based on students' reactions about The Giver. Johnson, Haynes, and Nastasis write that, although the majority of students said either they did not understand the novel or did not like the novel, there were students who were able to connect with Jonas and to empathize with him.[22]

Natalie Babbitt of The Washington Post was more forgiving, calling Lowry's work "a warning in narrative form," saying:

The story has been told before in a variety of forms—Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind—but not, to my knowledge, for children. It's well worth telling, especially by a writer of Lowry's great skill. If it is exceedingly fragile—if, in other words, some situations do not survive that well-known suspension of disbelief—well, so be it. The Giver has things to say that cannot be said too often, and I hope there will be many, many young people who will be willing to listen.[23]

According to The Horn Book Magazine, "In a departure from her well-known and favorably regarded realistic works, Lois Lowry has written a fascinating, thoughtful science-fiction novel... The story is skillfully written; the air of disquiet is delicately insinuated. And the theme of balancing the virtues of freedom and security is beautifully presented."[24]

Awards, nominations, and recognition

Now, through the memories, he had seen oceans and mountain lakes and streams that gurgled through woods; and now he saw the familiar wide river beside the path differently. He saw all of the light and color and history it contained and carried in its slow-moving water; and he knew that there was an Elsewhere from which it came, and an Elsewhere to which it was going.

The Giver[25]

Lowry won many awards for her work on The Giver, including the following:

A 2004 study found that The Giver was a common read-aloud book for sixth-graders in schools in San Diego County, California.[29] Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association listed it as one of "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children".[30] In 2012 it was ranked number four among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal.[6]


Oregon Children's Theatre (Portland, Oregon) premiered a stage adaptation of The Giver by Eric Coble in March 2006. Subsequent productions of Coble's one-hour script have been presented in several American theatres.

Diana Basmajian adapted the novel to full-length play format, and Prime Stage Theatre produced in 2006.[31]

Actor Ron Rifkin reads the text for the audiobook edition.

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Minnesota Opera co-commissioned and premiered a new opera by Susan Kander based on the novel.[32] It was presented in Kansas City in January and Minneapolis on April 27–29, 2012, and was webcast on May 18, 2012.[33]

A stage musical adaptation is currently in the development stages with a book by Martin Zimmerman and music and lyrics by Jonah Platt and Andrew Resnick.[34]


In the fall of 1994, actor Bill Cosby and his ASIS Productions film company established an agreement with Lancit Media Productions to adapt The Giver to film. In the years following, members of the partnership changed and the production team grew in size, but little motion was seen toward making the film. At one point, screenwriter Ed Neumeier was signed to create the screenplay. Later, Neumeier was replaced by Todd Alcott[35] and Walden Media became the central production company.[36][37]

Jeff Bridges has said he had wanted to make the film for nearly 20 years, and originally wanted to direct it with his father Lloyd Bridges in the title role. The elder Bridges' 1998 death cancelled that plan and the film languished in development hell for another 15 years. Warner Bros. bought the rights in 2007 and the film adaptation was finally given the green light in December 2012. Jeff Bridges plays the title character[38] with Brenton Thwaites in the role of Jonas. Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Alexander Skarsgård and Taylor Swift round out the rest of the main cast.[39][40] It was released in North America on August 15, 2014.


  1. ^ "Book Summary". Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  2. ^ "New Trailer hits for 'The Giver' Archived June 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Kellvin Chavez. June 4, 2014. Latino-Review (
  3. ^ Gallardo, Pere; Russell, Elizabeth (March 26, 2014). Yesterday's Tomorrows: On Utopia and Dystopia. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 9781443858779.
  4. ^ O'Malley, Sheila (August 15, 2014). "The Giver Review". Chicago Sun Times.
  5. ^ "100 most frequently challenged books: 1990–1999 | Banned & Challenged Books". March 26, 2013. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal ( Archived from the original on July 13, 2012. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
  7. ^ Noyce, Phillip (August 15, 2014), The Giver, retrieved March 8, 2016
  8. ^ Lois Lowry. "The Trilogy". Retrieved December 26, 2011.
  9. ^ "The Giver Summary". Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  10. ^ "Lois Lowry - 2009 National Book Festival". YouTube. November 5, 2009. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  11. ^ "Lois Lowry." Novels for Students, Gale, 1998. Gale Literature Resource Center.
  12. ^ Lois Lowry (1937--). (2020). In D. G. Felder, The American women's almanac: 500 years of making history. Visible Ink Press. Credo Reference.
  13. ^ Lois Lowry (1937--). (2020). In D. G. Felder, The American women's almanac: 500 years of making history. Visible Ink Press. Credo Reference.
  14. ^ Zaidman, Laura M. "Lois Lowry: Overview." Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, edited by Laura Standley Berger, St. James Press, 1994. Twentieth-Century Writers Series. Gale Literature Resource Center.
  15. ^ a b Lowry, Lois. "Newbery Medal Acceptance." Children's Literature Review, edited by Linda R. Andres, vol. 46, Gale, 1998. Gale Literature Resource Center.
  16. ^ a b "Why did Lois Lowry write the book The Giver?" eNotes Editorial, 6 Feb. 2018.
  17. ^ "'One Book' Reading Promotion Projects Archived May 1, 2008, at the Wayback Machine", from the Library of Congress's Center for the Book
  18. ^ Rosen, Judith (March 10, 2003). "Many Cities, Many Picks". Publishers Weekly: 19.
  19. ^ Franklin, Marie C. (February 23, 1997). "CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: Debate continues over merit of young-adult fare". The Boston Globe: G1.
  20. ^ Ray, Karen (October 31, 1993). "Children's Books". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Doyle, Debra. "Doyle's YA sf rant". Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  22. ^ Johnson, Angie; Haynes, Lurel; Nastasi, Jessie (2013). "Probing Text Complexity: Reflections on Reading The Giver as Pre-teens, Teens, and Adults". Virginia Tech. Retrieved September 20, 2017.
  23. ^ Babbitt, Natalie (May 9, 1993). "The Hidden Cost of Contentment". Washington Post: X15.
  24. ^ The Horn Book Magazine, July 1993, cited in "What did we think of...?". The Horn Book. January 24, 1999. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  25. ^ Lowry, p. 131.
  26. ^ admin (November 30, 1999). "1994 Newbery Medal and Honor Books". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  27. ^ "Past Regina Medal Recipients - Catholic Library Association". Archived from the original on September 4, 2012. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  28. ^ "Winner 1995-1996 - William Allen White Children's Book Awards | Emporia State University". Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  29. ^ Fisher, Douglas et al. (2004). "Interactive Read-Alouds: Is There a Common Set of Implementation Practices?" (PDF). The Reading Teacher. 58 (1): 8¬–17. doi:10.1598/rt.58.1.1. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 7, 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2012.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  30. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  31. ^ "Short Takes: 'Giver' thoughtful; Pillow Project Dance super". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 2, 2006.
  32. ^ [1] Archived April 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ "Minnesota Opera presents webcast of Susan Kander's The Giver on May 18 and 23" (PDF). Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  34. ^ "Jonah Platt on channeling his inner Beast for a holiday Beauty". December 13, 2017.
  35. ^ "Film reviews - Giverthe". Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  36. ^ "Jeff Bridges and Lancit Media to co-produce No. 1 best seller 'THE GIVER' as feature film", Entertainment Editors September 28, 1994
  37. ^ Ian Mohr, "Walden gives 'Giver' to Neumeier", Hollywood Reporter July 10, 2003
  38. ^ Krasnow, David (December 20, 2012). "Lois Lowry Confirms Jeff Bridges to Film The Giver". Studio 360. Archived from the original on December 29, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2012.
  39. ^ Mullins, Jenna (September 27, 2013). "Taylor Swift is a 'Giver,' not a taker". Retrieved September 27, 2013.
  40. ^ Busis, Hillary (September 27, 2013). "Taylor Swift will co-star in long-awaited adaptation of 'The Giver'". Entertainment Weekly.

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Preceded by Winner of the
William Allen White Children's Book Award

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