Essays and Criticism
Controversial Themes in The Giver
Critics respond to Lois Lowry's novel, The Giver, with nearly universal praise. The book has received more than ten prestigious awards, including the highly coveted Newbery Medal, which the American Library Association awarded it in 1994. (The ALA awards the Newbery Medal to the best book published in the United States for children or young adults in the preceding year.)
One reason for the novel's nearly unprecedented acclaim is that its storyline captures the interest of a wide group of readers and critics. For example, many scholars consider the novel to be dystopian (about a miserable society), and compare it favorably to adult classics like Brave New World (1933), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and 1984 (1940) as well as to children's classics like White Mountains (1967) and A Wrinkle in Time (1962). Other scholars, like Patty Campbell, praise the novel for capturing the moral imaginations of its readers. Campbell lauds the novel for taking "hardened young-adult reviewers by surprise." The novel, she says, is so "rich in levels of meaning, so daring in complexity of symbol and metaphor, so challenging in the ambiguity of its conclusion, that we are left with all of our neat little everyday categories and judgments hanging useless."
While critics', librarians', educators', and students' responses to the novel seem like veritable fanfare, the novel has nevertheless become the center of a spirited censorship...
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Newbery Medal Acceptance
"How do you know where to start?" a child asked me once, in a schoolroom where I'd been speaking to her class about the writing of books. I shrugged and smiled and told her that I just start wherever it feels right.
This evening it feels right to start by quoting a passage from The Giver, a scene set during the days in which the boy, Jonas, is beginning to look more deeply into the life that has been very superficial, beginning to see that his own past goes back further than he had ever known and has greater implications than he had ever suspected.
Now he saw the familiar wide river beside the path differently. He saw all of the light and color and history it contained and earned 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.
Every author is asked again and again the question we probably each have come to dread the most: How did you get this idea?
We give glib, quick answers because there are other hands raised, other kids in the audience waiting.
I'd like, tonight, to dispense with my usual flippancy and glibness and try to tell you the origins of this book. It is a little like Jonas looking into the river and realizing that it carries with it everything that has come from an Elsewhere. A spring, perhaps, at the beginning, bubbling up from the earth; then a trickle from a glacier; a...
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The Sand in the Oyster
Once in a long while a book comes along that takes hardened young-adult reviewers by surprise, a book so unlike what has gone before, so rich in levels of meaning, so daring in complexity of symbol and metaphor, so challenging in the ambiguity of its conclusion, that we are left with all our neat little everyday categories and judgments hanging useless. Books like Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese or Terry Davis's Mysterious Ways are examples of these rare treasures. But after the smoke of our personal enthusiasm has cleared, we are left with uneasy thoughts: Will young adults understand it? Will the intricate subtleties that so delight us as adult critics go right over their heads? Will the questions posed by the ending leave them puzzled and annoyed, rather than thoughtful and intrigued? It all depends—on the maturity of the particular young adult, on how well we introduce the book and follow up with discussion, and on certain qualities in the book itself. In the past year young-adult literature has been blessed with two such extraordinary works. The Giver by Lois Lowry and You Must Kiss a Whale by David Skinner.
The Giver is particularly surprising because it is a major departure from the style and type of book we have come to expect from Lois Lowry, as Horn Book Editor Anita Silvey pointed out in her July/August 1993 editorial. Up until now, much of Lowry's work has consisted of "contemporary novels with...
(The entire section is 1301 words.)