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September 6, 2016

Book vs. Movie: The Giver by Lois Lowry

by Donna Huber

cover of The Giver
It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice. He had seen it both times. Squinting toward the sky, he had seen the sleek jet, almost a blur at its high speed, go past, and a second later heard the blast of sound that followed. Then one more time, a moment later, from the opposite direction, the same plane.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that The Giver was available at my digital library. Since I couldn't remember ever reading it I decided to check out the audiobook.

The writing is simplistic, making the story easily accessible to anyone. This is probably why The Giver was chosen as a World Book Night book. The goal of World Book Night is to get non-readers reading.

As today is Read a Book Day, I thought featuring The Giver would be a good choice.

While the writing was simplistic, the story is quite complex. It gives the reader a lot to think about and the answers aren't spoon-fed to the reader. My nephew had to read this book this summer, and he is an eighth grader. My mother was a little shocked it was on his reading list since she felt the reading level was probably more on the level of third grade. Yet, I think it is the complexity of the story that makes it an excellent read for eighth graders.

We desire fairness and equality, but at what cost? Is sameness the answer?

I really enjoyed the story. While The Giver is considered dystopian, I didn't feel it was like today's popular books in the genre. Hunger Games and Divergent were violent stories with definite "puppetmasters" imposing rules upon individuals. Yes, The Giver has the elders, but I don't think they are evil people oppressing those under them. From what little detail we have about them, I didn't get the impression they found joy in keeping love and pleasure from the people or had any ulterior motive other than to protect themselves and their community. In fact, they themselves live under the rules that governor sameness.

What may have had the most profound impact on me was the ending. It is what took a simple story exploring a possible "better world" to the next level for me. Did Jonas succeed or did he and Gabe die under the tree?

My nephew, my mother, and I thought came to the same conclusion as to how the story ended, though could see the possibility of the other outcome. I'm sure there is something to be said about the reader depending on which conclusion the reader draws.

Given the ambiguous ending, I was curious how the movie handled it. I was happy to see that my library had a copy of the movie this weekend. The librarian on duty said she loved the book as a child, but hadn't seen the movie. I told her surely they did a good job with it since it is such a short story. Longer stories always run the risk of having favorite parts cut in the interest of time.

While the majority of the story does play out on screen, there are some subtle changes. One notable change is Asher and Fiona's job designations. Their changed jobs allow them to have more of a role in the plot. The chief elder also has an expanded role, which probably had to be to snag Meryl Streep. The movie also infused the story with more contemporary elements of the dystopian genre. The elders seemed a bit more controlling. The great escape was also ramped up to add more action.

It was actually the ease of Jonas's escape in the book that made me realize that elders weren't about controlling the population as they would have been in today's dystopian novel.

I believe the screenwriters did believe most people would have read the book as details about how the society is was glossed over. In the book, there was mention of the different stages and what they each get (coats with buttons or pockets, wearing hair ribbons or a short haircut, etc.). The strict adherence to rules and the precision of language were still displayed but in a different manner.

As for the ending...The movie makers didn't go with how I thought the book ended. And that is all I'm going to say about the ending in case not everyone has read/watched it.

Overall, it was an excellent adaption of a book. I like Jeff Bridges and I thought he did a great job as the Giver.

If you have read the book and watched the movie, what did you think? Were the changes acceptable? Was the movie ending how you thought the book ended?

Buy The Giver at Amazon

Donna Huber, founder & publisher. Donna is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

Book info:
available formats: ebook, audio, print (192 pages)
published: April 1993 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN13: 9780395645666
target audience: young adult
genres: social issues

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  1. I was thoroughly engrossed by The Giver. I haven't seen the movie so I can't make a comparison. Lowry has written three companion books too, and I intend to read them as well. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. The Giver is a book I've meant to read for a long, long time. Need to put it at the top of the list!

  3. This book has been on my students' reading lists, but I have yet to read it! I keep hearing good things about it.

  4. I really need to read this book! It's been on my list for ages and ages...

  5. I read this way back when and liked it even though it was very different for me.

  6. I haven't read this one...or seen the movie, but obviously I'm missing out. Thanks for sharing, and here's mine: “THE SISTER”

  7. My daughter loves this book. I need to read it. Good choice!



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