The Giver by Lois Lowry is a dystopia for young people that focuses on a hyper organized community that has gotten rid of choice and deep feelings and *spoiler alert* will happily “release” any member who doesn’t fit in, from infant to elderly.
Honestly–I didn’t love it, and (you’ll know from my other book reviews) I try to pick books I think I will like when I commit to reading a book, so this came as a surprise to me.
I enjoyed learning about the community she invented, seeing how they ran families and age ceremonies and gradually seeing the dark side. After all, dystopia is one of my favorite genres because of how it allows the author to explore the implications of thoughts and philosophies.
But what really broke my heart was the ending–eventually, the main character Jonas, escapes the community with a baby who was scheduled for “release” aka (spoiler alert), death. On the final page, after months of starving and looking for food all alone, Jonas has an estatic scene where he suddenly becomes confident he sees the lights of “elsewhere.” It’s unclear whether this is death and heaven, a final earthly hallucination or if he actually makes it to the outside world.
Lowry, in the early years after the release of the book, refused to clarify it, emphasizing the ambiguity. However, as a reader, this scene struck me rather harshly as death, and gave the book a hopeless, nihilist feel.
I learned later that there are sequels where these two characters are adults, so apparently they must have survived. However, given the darkness of The Giver, I can’t help but think that the author really did intend to kill off Jonas and Gabriel, but then had a change of heart that resulted in the sequel years later.
The end of the book, frankly, left me a bit troubled and sad.
The other problem is that–because of the uniform structure of the community, there aren’t many characters to love. Jonas and Gabriel, the baby, are the only characters I felt I cared about as a reader.
When I read stories (or watch movies), I want to fall in love with the characters and root for them, cheer for them, and celebrate their victories. The Giver did not deliver on this account, especially since I read the ending as death. (I wanted the “elsewhere” peoples to welcome and help Jonas and interact with him).
On counter point, I enjoyed Brave New World despite its tragic end, but it’s different to me because it’s more a book of straight philosophy, of imagining the actual implications of ideas. It’s less character driven and all the characters who encounter tragedy are adults. I have much less trouble with adults getting hurt or dying (in stories) than children and babies, as happened in The Giver.
Overall, The Giver was thoughtful, but not uplifting or inspiring. There’s not many people to root for. I would not read this to children. (Neither would I read Brave New World to children, but it’s not a children’s book).
Have you read this book? Do you think my interpretation of the ending says more about me than about the author’s intent?
Have you ever not liked a book (or movie) that you expected to like? What are you favorite genres to read?