Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"The Giver" By Lois Lowry - Get Past The Cover!

That cover. I know, I know - it looks like a book about an ancient guy, telling some old person's story. It looks boring. Okay, it has that "Newbery Medal" gold sticker on it, which means it was selected as THE BEST children's book of 1994. But that cover says "this is for old people," right? No! It's actually dystopian fantasy about a kid turning twelve! It's far in the future, and society seems "perfect." No rudeness. No poverty, or unemployment. No injustice or inequality. No conflict. When Jonas (and all the other Elevens) turn twelve he'll graduate from being a child to being an adult, and at the Ceremony he'll get his Life Assignment. He has the first "stirrings" (an erotic dream) and is given a little pill every day that every adult takes - and those urges stop. And at the Ceremony, his friends all get assignments that make sense (Caretaker of the Old, Assistant Director of Recreation) but Jonas has been chosen for something different. Something he never even knew existed. He's assigned to be the next Receiver, and he doesn't even know what that means - he's only told that it's the most unimaginably painful and difficult Life Assignment there is. There's only one Receiver every few generations... and it's a huge honor. And what Jonas discovers during his 12th year, working with the old man who is the current Receiver (who he will eventually replace) is that their society is far from the utopia it seems. The man's name - and what Jonas will become? "The Giver."

It's a pretty amazing book - assigned in many school curriculums, but don't let that stop you from picking it up. And it turns out that there's a story about the old guy on the cover. He's an actual person that the author knew, and once you've read the book, the cover makes a lot of sense. After you read the book, you can go here to read Lois' Newbery Acceptance speech where she explains about Carl Nelson, the old man on the cover. And you'll see the book cover as pretty elegant. And maybe even thought-provoking. But you'll never know until YOU get past that cover and read this book.

I also had the privilege of interviewing Lois recently and we talked about how she chose to end the book. But to avoid any spoilers, read the book first.

I promise you it's worth it.



Jan von Harz said...

I have adored this book every since I first read it and as often as I read it (which was every year for the several years I taught 7th grade). Th cover has been through a few changes over the year. The cover I had was a hand with an apple that was half red and half grey. Personally, I like the old man on the cover.

I also greatly enjoy A Gathering Blue, which came out several years later, and The Messager, but not as much as The Giver, which is a wonderful example of a dystopian novel way before the that genre was as popular as it seems to be now.

Lauren said...

I read this book in 5th grade and it quickly became my favorite book ever. To this day, I still love it. Lowry is amazing! Yes, the cover is pretty crap, but the story is utterly addictive. (And with the new dystopian trend, it should be mentioned more often!)

Shelly B said...

This is a book that I didn't read until I was an adult, but it made me a Lois Lowry fan!

Meytal Radzinski said...

I know only a handful of readers who dislike The Giver and nearly all dislike it for the ending (which I consider one of the finest in literature). One adult reader felt that the writing style was too simplistic, not reconciling the fact that the book is geared towards kids.

I, like the other commenters here, loved this book both as an adult and a kid. I was thrilled when we studied it in class (I'd already read it the year before for myself) and I recall how every member of the class - reader or not - was utterly altered by the read. I don't recall a single one of us having any issues with the cover, but perhaps other classes, other children and other readers did. I've always liked it, actually. It's so distinct in a world of boring, repetitive covers.

Thank you for linking to Lowry's speech. What fascinating, wonderful reading.

Lisa said...

I'm the teen librarian in a public library, and I've been wanting to do a "terrible covers / great books" display. As well as The Giver, I've got Edward Bloor's awesome Tangerine on my list.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Hi Lisa, I noticed you left two similar comments, so I posted the later one!

Also, have you seen the recent Lois Lowry cover retrospective post on Stacked? Definitely a walk down memory lane. :)

Sarah (aquafortis), GLW Webmaster

Lisa said...

Ooh, I like the cover retrospective! (And yeah, I commented twice accidentally.)