When The Giver was first published in 1993, Lois Lowry was already a previous Newbery Medal winner (for her 1989 World War II novel, Number the Stars). She was also widely admired and greatly appreciated by an avid following of young readers for her comic series of Anastasia books. The Giver was immediately recognized as a very special novel. It too won the Newbery Medal. And a large number of commentators concluded that it was the best book Lowry had written.
Lowry's other work is mostly grounded in the cut and thrust of family life. The narrative of The Giver, because of the futuristic and allegorical themes in the novel, is a considerably more spartan affair. Readers are made immediately aware that they are in the realm of fabulous rather than realistic fiction, and that Jonas is the principle player in a moral fable with political and social overtones.
Lowry spent a good part of her childhood living near the Amish people of Pennsylvania. Later she moved to Tokyo and lived in an American compound within the city. Both experiences seem to have made her suspicious of attempts by communities to protect a rigid self-identity. She is careful in The Giver to make the community she is describing extremely plausible. From many points of view, it represents a well-managed social order. But as the reader discovers, along with Jonas, more and more about the principles on which that social order is based—infanticide, enforced euthanasia—it becomes impossible to read the novel as anything other than a savage critique of such systems.