If there is a core text for middle school students, then Lois Lowry’s The Giver is high up on the list; our students read The Giver in Grade 7. This novel follows Jonas, who receives his life assignment at the age of 12 as the community’s “memory keeper”, a position that requires him to accept serious responsibilities. Jonas is able to experience a wide range of emotions that his community has suppressed in others; he feels joy, despair, terror and can see colors that others cannot. Jonas escapes the community in order to save the life of his baby “brother” Gabriel, and the last pages of the novel find the pair in the snow facing an uncertain future.
Lowry confronts the reader with uncomfortable situations, and many middle school students do not enjoy the book, but they do remember the book. I can use references to Jonas and his community throughout high school, and students will make connections to The Giver in their responses to literature.
The novel was first published in 1993 and is usually categorized as science fiction. A more appropriate category would be dystopia. The popularity of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins has highlighted this growing trend in YA literature; other dystopic visions of the future that I have been looking to include on our classroom shelves include:
Feed (2002) by M. T. Anderson,
Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro,
Uglies (2005) by Scott Westerfeld (and other books Pretties, Specials, Peeps)
The Maze Runner (2009) by James Dashner
There are always used copies of The Giver in the children’s sections at book sales. I have never found the book mistakenly shelved with adult books; apparently, everyone is familiar enough with the book to know where to place a copy. These copies are usually pretty worn- some have highlighted text, others show “backpack” abuse. I will purchase most of these copies so that we have extra copies for students to write in or maybe create “found poetry” with pages from a disassembled text. Occasionally, I will come across a newer copy to add. Since children’s books are generally $.50 or half the cost of an adult trade paperback, I am not overspending when I get these copies.
The cover has not changed since the book’s first printing, except to add the Newberry Award medallion to the upper right corner. The old man’s face and torn left corner are evocative of the novel’s themes. Here is a cover students can write about! The novel’s size is a mixed blessing- small enough not to intimidate the reader, but also small enough to be lost in a pile of used books. I often have to dig into piles of children’s books to find a copy.
Currently the book retails for $6.99.
The Giver will remain as a core text for our 7th graders. This is one of the books Wamogo middle school students who have come from three different elementary schools from three different towns will share together. Lowry’s novel marks a similar “coming of age”; as 7th graders, our students also have new responsibilities. Many of our students feel at times that middle school is a dystopia (a police state?), and they share these connections and their ideas of their future when they read this text. Many students may not enjoy the book, but all students keep memories of The Giver.