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The Giver by Lois Lowry - review
The Giver has recently been made into a film, and so, with the suggestion of one of my bookish friends, I picked the book up to see what the story was like, and wasn't disappointed in the slightest.
The Giver is a morally driven and interesting story about a young boy called Jonas who lives in a society free of crime and sadness. At the age of 12, children are assigned their jobs, which they will train for and do for the rest of their lives. Everything is chosen; from your parents to your partner. Jonas stands apart from the community when he is chosen to become the new "Memory Keeper". Society has been kept free of all the negative aspects of life because for as long as it has been formed, there has been someone who holds all the bad and good memories of the past within them. This is both bad and good for the inhabitants because, although they are protected from harm, they are also not exposed to the wonderful aspects of life.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book because, even though it is supposed to be more of a children's book than young adult, the storyline is complex enough to hold the attention of older readers. I really enjoyed Jonas as a character because his character development from a scared boy, to someone willing to risk his future to save the community, is enjoyable to follow. This book shows the path of growing up; at first we are scared to accept that there are new responsibilities, but as we slowly get used to it we want to move more and more away from childhood.
Throughout the book, Jonas' loss of trust in his parents is also important in communicating the morals of the story. At the beginning, when Jonas is a normal child in the community, he trusts his parents completely as is expected. However, after The Giver shows Jonas the tape of his Father "releasing" a new born child, a process in which the child is killed and disposed of, Jonas ultimately loses his trust and admiration of his father. This moment is what forces Jonas to leave the community, even before The Giver has planned for him to. I enjoyed this transition in Jonas because he begins to defy the life which is set out for him. It is symbolic of the change from the innocent mind of a child into the questioning and educated mind of an adult.
The ambiguity of the ending is also another aspect which makes this book interesting to read. There are two possible meanings behind the ending; either Jonas and Gabriel freeze to death together on the sled, or they have really found "Elsewhere". Ultimately, the ending still shows us that, whatever happens, Jonas has made choices for himself rather than being told what to do. Whatever happens to him, it is still better than his life in the community would ever have been.
The community is a metaphor for restriction and censoring; it limits the choices of an individual until they have none left, removing joy from life. By leaving the community Jonas has already made an individual choice, and this demonstrates to the reader that it is better to live your life the way you would like to, than be held back by others and never really be happy. I think this is an important message for children and young adults today, as experiences such as bullying in schools limit people from being themselves.
This book was easily read in a couple of hours because of its simple but gripping storyline and its interesting characters. The Giver was so powerful because it's one of a rare few young adult books which leaves the ending up to you. The ending of The Giver is powerful because we have a choice in what it means; just as Jonas made a sacrificial choice for the good of the community, you have to decide for yourself too.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves dystopian worlds, and well as people who like a book to let them think for themselves!
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About the Book
By Lois Lowry
'The Giver' was published in 1994 and has since become a staple of many classrooms around the world.
Written by Emma Baldwin
B.A. in English, B.F.A. in Fine Art, and B.A. in Art Histories from East Carolina University.
Although it has been the source of some controversy considering its darker plot points (such as suicide and euthanasia), it is undoubtedly one of the best children’s books written in the last fifty years.
The Giver is a novel that’s well-loved by many children, young adults, and even adult readers. Despite the fact that Lois Lowry wrote it with a younger audience in mind, it has captured the attention of readers of all ages. This is due to its relatively complex subject matter, the difficult issues it tackles, and the engaging plotline.
When I read this novel for the first time as a student in my middle school, I remember being surprised and pleased that we were allowed to discuss topics that in other places and in other years might’ve been off-limits. The Giver allows an access point for students and teachers, children and parents, to talk about death, free will, and the role of government or a governing body.
The novel presents the beauty and importance of the human condition , the good parts, and the bad parts. It also teaches a very important lesson, that one without the other would create a life that’s painful to endure.
For children, or for any reader for that matter, fears, scary memories, or ideas might seem like something better left unremembered. But, The Giver reminds us, as it reminded me, that the good comes with the bad. You can’t have one without the other. When the community took on the Sameness and everyone lost their collective memory of what love, joy, hate, and pain were, they lost what makes them human. Suddenly, murder and control were on the table, albeit by different names.
While stressing the importance of memory, I also found that The Giver emphasizes the importance of the past and our collective and personal histories. Through the role the Giver plays, the community ensures that the mistakes of the past don’t come back to haunt their present or future. He was meant to serve as a link to the past, the only person who remembered it. This reminded me of that age old saying, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately for this community, they had many other far more serious issues to deal with.
The Giver as a Dystopian Novel
One of the novel’s most appealing features is the structure of the society Jonas is fighting against. Dystopian fiction has been growing in popularity since the publication of Orwell’s 1984 and its widespread resurgence in the 21st century. These possible futures are incredibly popular among readers of all ages. I, along with most readers, enjoy imagining what my role would be in Jonas’s community . Would I, like Jonas, see past the facade the community presents? Would I have the strength to rebel against the community’s structure?
The complex web that Lowry weaves of rules, guidelines, and restrictions is also compelling. These features, such as the total lack of emotion and free will, seem outrageous and horrifying to outsiders, but to those inside the community that’s the only life they’ve known. Plus, one might find themselves noticing similarities between their world and our own.
The fact that Lowry is tapping into a longer tradition of dystopian novels is another reason why this book is appealing to a wide variety of readers. Those who find themselves engaged by books like We, A Brave New World, and Animal Farm will likely enjoy The Giver as well.
Relationships in The Giver
As the novel progresses, Jonas’s relationship with those around him changes. At first, he senses that he’s somewhat of an outsider, seeing, feeling, and noticing things that others don’t. He has the impulse to compliment a friend on their skill at a particular task but knows that would only be embarrassing and even taboo. In their world, Sameness and equality, to the extreme, is their defining principle. Jonas loves and admires his parents, especially his father, and even starts to feel desire towards one of his friends, something that he feels conflicted about. He wonders if these things are normal or if he is for some reason different than everyone else.
It’s not until the Giver starts to explain the nature of their world that he understands the emotions he’s feeling, the colors he’s seeing, and then finally, the truth about his father and what “releasing” really is. When the Giver shows Jonas a tape of his father releasing a child and disposing of the body, Jonas’s entire world shifts. It’s this moment, and then later when he finds out that Gabriel is going to be released, that makes him decide to leave his life behind and start a new one outside the community.
Jonas chooses to abandon the world he knows, including his parents and his sister. He shows a bravery and determination that’s remarkable for someone his age and should be inspiring for readers of all ages.
Concluding Scenes of The Giver
As I look back over each chapter of the novel, I find myself drawn to the concluding pages as Jonas climbs the hill with Gabriel and discovers the sled. The emotional connection between this moment, and the first, pure, joyful memory the Giver gave Jonas is a masterful choice on Lowry’s part. It creates a full circle connection between the moment that changed Jonas’s life and this new moment that marks the start of a new one.
The novel’s cliffhanger ending is also quite well suited for the rest of the storyline. Readers are left to wonder where exactly Jonas is sledding off too and to imagine what it would be like for a young boy, caring for a baby, to enter into this extraordinary world by himself. While some people might feel fear at the prospect, Jonas’s driving sense is excitement and relief. He knows there’s a new life out there waiting for him, and it is symbolized by the lights off in the distance.
The Give Book Review: Lowry's Young Adult Classic
- Writing Style
- Lasting Effect on Reader
The Giver Review
The Giver is a contemorary dystopian story written with young readers in mind. The novel won the Newbery Medal in 1994 and follows the story of Jonas, a twelve-year-old body who, through memories he receives from the Giver, learns the truth about the community he’s lived in all his life. He battles with this new knowledge and is eventually forced to make a decision that will change his life.
- Incredibly creative plotline.
- Many surprise twists and turns in the story.
- Interesting character development.
- Tough subject matter that may be difficult for some young readers.
- Unresolved ending for Jonas.
- Unresolved ending for the community and the Giver.
About Emma Baldwin
Emma Baldwin, a graduate of East Carolina University, has a deep-rooted passion for literature. She serves as a key contributor to the Book Analysis team with years of experience.
Cite This Page
Baldwin, Emma " The Giver Review ⭐ " Book Analysis , https://bookanalysis.com/lois-lowry/the-giver/review/ . Accessed 24 February 2024.
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From the Giver Quartet series , Vol. 1
by Lois Lowry ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 1, 1993
Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly...
In a radical departure from her realistic fiction and comic chronicles of Anastasia, Lowry creates a chilling, tightly controlled future society where all controversy, pain, and choice have been expunged, each childhood year has its privileges and responsibilities, and family members are selected for compatibility.
As Jonas approaches the "Ceremony of Twelve," he wonders what his adult "Assignment" will be. Father, a "Nurturer," cares for "newchildren"; Mother works in the "Department of Justice"; but Jonas's admitted talents suggest no particular calling. In the event, he is named "Receiver," to replace an Elder with a unique function: holding the community's memories—painful, troubling, or prone to lead (like love) to disorder; the Elder ("The Giver") now begins to transfer these memories to Jonas. The process is deeply disturbing; for the first time, Jonas learns about ordinary things like color, the sun, snow, and mountains, as well as love, war, and death: the ceremony known as "release" is revealed to be murder. Horrified, Jonas plots escape to "Elsewhere," a step he believes will return the memories to all the people, but his timing is upset by a decision to release a newchild he has come to love. Ill-equipped, Jonas sets out with the baby on a desperate journey whose enigmatic conclusion resonates with allegory: Jonas may be a Christ figure, but the contrasts here with Christian symbols are also intriguing.
Pub Date: April 1, 1993
Page Count: 208
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993
TEENS & YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY | GENERAL GRAPHIC NOVELS & COMICS | SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
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THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS
From the girl of fire and thorns series , vol. 1.
by Rae Carson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 2011
Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel,...
Adventure drags our heroine all over the map of fantasyland while giving her the opportunity to use her smarts.
Elisa—Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle—has been chosen for Service since the day she was born, when a beam of holy light put a Godstone in her navel. She's a devout reader of holy books and is well-versed in the military strategy text Belleza Guerra , but she has been kept in ignorance of world affairs. With no warning, this fat, self-loathing princess is married off to a distant king and is embroiled in political and spiritual intrigue. War is coming, and perhaps only Elisa's Godstone—and knowledge from the Belleza Guerra —can save them. Elisa uses her untried strategic knowledge to always-good effect. With a character so smart that she doesn't have much to learn, body size is stereotypically substituted for character development. Elisa’s "mountainous" body shrivels away when she spends a month on forced march eating rat, and thus she is a better person. Still, it's wonderfully refreshing to see a heroine using her brain to win a war rather than strapping on a sword and charging into battle.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011
Page Count: 432
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011
TEENS & YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY | TEENS & YOUNG ADULT FICTION
by Rae Carson
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MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN
From the peculiar children series , vol. 1.
by Ransom Riggs ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 7, 2011
A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end.
Riggs spins a gothic tale of strangely gifted children and the monsters that pursue them from a set of eerie, old trick photographs.
The brutal murder of his grandfather and a glimpse of a man with a mouth full of tentacles prompts months of nightmares and psychotherapy for 15-year-old Jacob, followed by a visit to a remote Welsh island where, his grandfather had always claimed, there lived children who could fly, lift boulders and display like weird abilities. The stories turn out to be true—but Jacob discovers that he has unwittingly exposed the sheltered “peculiar spirits” (of which he turns out to be one) and their werefalcon protector to a murderous hollowgast and its shape-changing servant wight. The interspersed photographs—gathered at flea markets and from collectors—nearly all seem to have been created in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and generally feature stone-faced figures, mostly children, in inscrutable costumes and situations. They are seen floating in the air, posing with a disreputable-looking Santa, covered in bees, dressed in rags and kneeling on a bomb, among other surreal images. Though Jacob’s overdeveloped back story gives the tale a slow start, the pictures add an eldritch element from the early going, and along with creepy bad guys, the author tucks in suspenseful chases and splashes of gore as he goes. He also whirls a major storm, flying bullets and a time loop into a wild climax that leaves Jacob poised for the sequel.
Pub Date: June 7, 2011
Page Count: 234
Publisher: Quirk Books
Review Posted Online: March 30, 2014
TEENS & YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY | TEENS & YOUNG ADULT PARANORMAL & SUPERNATURAL
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Artsbeat | book review podcast: the final book in lois lowry’s ‘giver’ quartet, book review podcast: the final book in lois lowry’s ‘giver’ quartet.
Listen to previous podcasts from the Book Review.
This week in The New York Times Book Review, Robin Wasserman reviews “Son,” by Lois Lowry, the fourth book in her groundbreaking “Giver” quartet. It’s the first book for young adults featured on the cover of the Book Review since Christopher Hitchens wrote about “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in 2007. The protagonist of “Son” is 14-year-old Claire, who fights to find her child in a society that denies there is any value in maternal bonds. Ms. Wasserman writes:
With their sparse world building and fantastical touches, “The Giver” books have always flirted with allegory. In this last volume, Lowry fully embraces fable: Claire is more archetype than girl, the ur-mother in search of her unnamed son. There’s even a nightmarish monster lurking in the wood. What at first seems an odd note of fairy-tale villainy makes sense upon the realization that, unlike its predecessors, “Son” is not the story of a character confronting a damaged human society. It’s the story of a humanity battered by inhuman forces: Nature. Age. Maybe even evil.
On this week’s podcast, Ms. Lowry discusses “Son”; Julie Bosman has notes from the field; Evgeny Morozov talks about Andy Greenberg’s “This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information”; and Gregory Cowles has best-seller news. Sam Tanenhaus is the host.
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The giver by lois lowry review.
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In her Newbery Award-winning science fiction novel, THE GIVER, Lois Lowry imagines a future without conflict, where everything, even fear and pain, are nonexistent. Utopian-like in feel, this future world offers its inhabitants no choices, and even assigns them roles in the community --- roles to which they are consigned for a lifetime. When Jonas, Lowry's main protagonist, reaches the age of 12, he is chosen by the Committee of Elders to receive special training. In his role as The Receiver, he is to take on all the memories of his society, past and present. In his sessions with The Giver, a man he grows to love, Jonas soon learns his society's horrible secrets and must make one of the most important decisions of his young life. A gripping exploration of the meaning of life, THE GIVER is convincingly plotted and rich with contemplation.
Reviewed by Tammy L. Currier on September 10, 2002
The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Publication Date: October 2, 2018
- Genres: Dystopian , Fiction , Science Fiction , Young Adult 12+
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 1328471225
- ISBN-13: 9781328471222
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The giver, book 1, common sense media reviewers.
Riveting, expertly crafted novel shows utopia's flaws.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The Giver shows young readers a key example of a u
The cost of utopia can be dystopia. A life without
Jonas risks his life to save a toddler. He realize
Jonas is horrified when he learns that unwanted me
Jonas begins experiencing "stirrings" and sexual d
As soon as they enter puberty, children begin taki
Parents need to know that Lois Lowry's The Giver is a thoughtful and original novel that examines a flawed utopian society. In the world of the book, a "Receiver" holds all of the community's memories connected with pain, love, and desire so that no other people experience those feelings. The Giver …
The Giver shows young readers a key example of a utopian novel. It also encourages them to think critically about a life without pain, love, or desire.
The cost of utopia can be dystopia. A life without suffering is, by nature, a life without love.
Positive Role Models
Jonas risks his life to save a toddler. He realizes that he no longer cares for himself; all that matters is rescuing Gabriel.
Violence & Scariness
Jonas is horrified when he learns that unwanted members of their society are executed. He also receives memories of war, and feels the pain and thirst of a wounded soldier. Jonas falls from a bicycle and cuts his leg.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Jonas begins experiencing "stirrings" and sexual dreams, but the only one he describes in detail involves realizing that he wants a girl his age to remove her clothes.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
As soon as they enter puberty, children begin taking a daily pill to control "Stirrings."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Lois Lowry 's The Giver is a thoughtful and original novel that examines a flawed utopian society. In the world of the book, a "Receiver" holds all of the community's memories connected with pain, love, and desire so that no other people experience those feelings. The Giver is the first of a four-volume series, and it won the 1994 Newbery Medal. Lowry adapted it for an excellent graphic novel in 2019, and it was made into a 2014 film . The novel has a few disturbing scenes, such as when Jonas experiences the suffering of a wounded soldier, and when he learns that his community euthanizes unwanted people. There are also mild references to sexual desire ("stirrings"). The Giver is an excellent and thought-provoking example of a dystopian novel, and it is often assigned in fifth grade or middle school English classes.
Where to Read
- Parents say (117)
- Kids say (387)
Based on 117 parent reviews
For Intellectuals and Free-Thinkers ONLY
A book every young teen should read, what's the story.
In Lois Lowry's THE GIVER, Jonas is part of a community where there is no pain, no crime, no greed, and no unhappiness. There is also no love, no desire, and no colors or music. At each birthday, every child in the community reaches a new milestone that's commemorated with a special ceremony. Ultimately, at age 12, each child receives a life assignment for which he or she will begin training. When Jonas receives his life assignment to be the Receiver of Memories, his mentor, The Giver, trains Jonas by transferring to him memories of a past that the others in the community can't even imagine, in which there was war, hunger, and disease, but also color, weather, and strong emotions. Gradually, Jonas comes to understand, and resent, the choices that were made to create his world, and the terrible secrets behind its perfection. Together, he and The Giver concoct a plan to change their world.
Is It Any Good?
This classic dystopian novel is not only entertaining but also a perfect book to discuss in a family or classroom setting. The Giver examines the trade-offs of a utopian society through the eyes of a sensitive 12-year-old boy. Author Lois Lowry invites readers to consider the pros and cons of Jonas' community and imagine a life without highs and lows. Is a life with no suffering worth living without music or color? Would you give up love if it meant never feeling pain? Jonas is a beautifully realized, big-hearted 12-year-old living a rich individual life in a colorless, faceless world, and his predicament is intensely compelling.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the utopian society depicted in The Giver . What do you like or dislike about this community?
The Giver is categorized as a dystopian novel. What are the elements of a dystopian novel? What other dystopian stories have you read? Which are your favorites?
Why do you think The Giver is considered a classic and is often assigned in school? What does it have to teach kids and teens?
- Author : Lois Lowry
- Genre : Contemporary Fiction
- Topics : Brothers and Sisters , Friendship , Great Boy Role Models
- Book type : Fiction
- Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Children's Books
- Publication date : January 1, 1993
- Publisher's recommended age(s) : 12 - 14
- Number of pages : 180
- Award : Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated : March 23, 2020
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Giver of Stars (Moyes) - Book Reviews
Book Reviews Moyes paints an engrossing picture of life in rural America, and it's easy to root for the enterprising librarians. New York Times Book Review Though she made her mark writing contemporary romance, Moyes proves just as adept at historical fiction…. The Giver of Stars is a celebration of love, but also of reading, of knowledge, of female friendship, of the beauty of our most rural corners and our enduring American grit: the kind of true grit that can be found in the hills of Kentucky and on the pages of this inspiring book. Washington Post The Giver of Stars is a richly rewarding exploration of the depths of friendship, good men willing to stand up to bad and adult love. Moyes celebrates the power of reading in a terrific book that only reinforces that message. USA Today Moyes stays true to her narrative and takes full advantage of the sense of place she gained from repeated trips to the area…. riveting. A stirring novel sure to please Moyes’ many fans. Minnesota Star Tribune A captivating tale of love, friendship, and self-actualization. People Bestselling author Jojo Moyes has a unique way of using her prose to make her readers feel great emotions—love, passion, sadness, and grief—and her latest novel, The Giver of Stars , does not disappoint in that respect. Parade An adventure story grounded in female competence and mutual support, and an obvious affection for the popular literature of the early 20th century, give this Depression-era novel plenty of appeal.… There’s plenty of drama, but the reader’s lasting impression is one of love. Publishers Weekly ( Starred review ) Rich in history, with well-developed characters and a strong sense of place, this book will fit well in any library’s fiction collection. For fans of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants or Catherine Marshall’s Christy . — Terry Lucas, Shelter Island P.L., NY Library Journal ( Starred review ) [A] homage to the power of reading and the strength of community.… A must-read for women's fiction. Booklist Moyes brings an often forgotten slice of history to life.… the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library…. A love letter to the power of books and friendship. Kirkus Reviews
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The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Publication Date: October 2, 2018
- Genres: Dystopian , Fiction , Science Fiction , Young Adult 12+
- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 1328471225
- ISBN-13: 9781328471222
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Copyright © 2024 The Book Report, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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‘Neighbors’ Opens the Door to a Literary Career Cut Short
A story collection from Diane Oliver, who died at 22, locates the strength in Black families surviving their separate but equal surroundings.
By Alexandra Jacobs
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NEIGHBORS AND OTHER STORIES, by Diane Oliver
Ploughshares … Granta … Mademoiselle?
Yes, children, before it stopped publishing fiction in 1992 , this sadly defunct glossy magazine was, between the lipstick ads, a deep and shimmering American literary oasis.
Mlle, pronounced Millie around the office like the dependable farm girl she was, showcased the short stories of James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Barbara Kingsolver and a ballroom’s worth of other award-winning writers. It ran a summer guest editor program for college students whose alumni included Joan Didion, Ann Beattie and most famously — because of the novel “The Bell Jar,” with its memorable scene of ptomaine poisoning after a luncheon of avocado stuffed with crabmeat — Sylvia Plath .
Also Diane Oliver, whose death, at 22 after a motorcycle accident, was even more premature than Plath’s. She will be eternally mademoiselle.
Born in 1943 to schoolteachers in Charlotte, N.C., Oliver, who was Black, attended segregated schools, university in Greensboro and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lived to see four of her stories published, including in The Sewanee Review and Negro Digest. A new collection, “Neighbors and Other Stories,” gathers these with 10 more and an introduction by Tayari Jones , the author of “An American Marriage.”
At a moment when short stories seem less regular launchpads for long careers than occasional meteors , reading these is like finding hunks of gold bullion buried in your backyard.
Oliver’s primary topic — she didn’t have enough time on this earth to develop many — was the private bulwark of the family, during a time when Jim Crow “separate but equal” laws still ruled the South.
In the title story, which was posthumously awarded the O. Henry Prize in 1967, a mother, father and sister agonize over a young boy who, if they can stomach subjecting him to the experience, will be single-handedly integrating his elementary school in the morning. Police cruisers haunt their house. In “The Closet on the Top Floor,” a student named Winifred realizes she is “tired of being the Experiment” as she settles uneasily into a white college, deciding to major in history because drama would mean playing “the maid’s part for four years,” and biology might require field trips and “testing” how motels will receive her. Sublimating the stress and ringed by mean-girl white roommates, she begins hiding desserts — and then herself.
Food turns up frequently in Oliver’s work: nothing as fancy as the Plathian avocados, which have been romanticized and recreated by multiple food blogs and at least one Twitter “feed ,” but as totems of scarcity. I don’t think Bon Appetit will be publishing a recipe for “mice and rice soup,” from a story called “When the Apples are Ripe,” about brothers, an elderly friend and a pocket watch, anytime soon.
In “Traffic Jam” a mother of five, her husband’s whereabouts uncertain, leaves her baby and diapers in a laundry basket on an acquaintance’s porch so she can go work as a maid, and pilfers four slices of ham from her white employer’s fridge. The same mother appears in another story, hoping for peach trees to feed the children on the long walk home from a frustrating doctor’s visit. And when a young woman named Jenny joins a sit-in at a department store tearoom (“Before Twilight”), she observes how “all of the lights were soft pink and cast a hazy glow on the tablecloth,” and thinks “even brussels sprouts would taste good in a place like this.”
Such luminous simplicity is deceptive; these stories detail basic routines of getting through difficult days, but then often deliver a massive wallop. That might just be a variant on the phrase “you people,” the cold shock of casual, legitimized racism spoken out loud or as internal monologue. “Not that she was conscious of color, but light-skinned children looked brighter at spring parties,” one character thinks.“The more they smelled,” another has observed, “the earlier they came to school.”
“Mint Juleps Not Served Here,” wherein a patronizing social worker visits a reclusive Black family in the woods to check on their son Rabbit, who’s gone mute after being bullied, has a hilarious horror-movie twist. (In The Bitter Southerner, the writer Michael A. Gonzales compared Oliver to both Jordan Peele and Shirley Jackson , and I agree.) The succinct “No Brown Sugar in Anybody’s Milk,” which the Paris Review ran last year , is a clever folding screen of fantasy, nightmare and tiring reality.
“Neighbors and Other Stories” is not wholly polished; how could it be? The experimental “Frozen Voices” whorls around and around confusingly, repetitively — something about an affair? A plane crash? “I never said goodbye,” the narrator intones again and again.
Jet magazine was one of the few periodicals to say goodbye to Diane Oliver with an obituary. Thanks to this collection, The New York Times now belatedly bids a full-throated hello.
NEIGHBORS AND OTHER STORIES | Diane Oliver | Grove | 320 pp. | $27
Alexandra Jacobs is a Times book critic and occasional features writer. She joined The Times in 2010. More about Alexandra Jacobs
A Guide to Black History Month
The monthlong celebration honors how african americans have shaped the united states through both triumphs and trauma..
Carter G. Woodson’s house, the birthplace of Black History Month, was a hub of scholarship, bringing together generations of intellectuals, writers and activists .
Wondering how Black History Month came to be? Learn about the history of this celebration .
Dig deeper with the 1619 Project , an initiative by The Times Magazine that aims to reframe America’s history by placing the consequences of slavery at the very center of the nation’s narrative.
Expand your knowledge with Black History, Continued , our project devoted to pivotal moments and transformative figures in Black history.
Explore Black love in all its forms and expressions with this collection of heart-warming stories .
Celebrate the contributions of Black authors to literature by diving into the works of Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison .
Over the years, many important African American landmarks have disappeared or fallen into disrepair. Here are eight historical sites that are being preserved.