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A Summer to Die
The Giver

Lois Lowry Book Analysis


Lois Lowry is a favorite author among children and young adults.  Her books encompass a variety of real life experiences such as adoption, mental illness, cancer, divorce, and the Holocaust as well as books with futuristic societies.  The two books selected for the analysis are: A SUMMER TO DIE, a realistic novel, and THE GIVER, a science fiction novel. Although the genre and style for the two books are very different, Lowry does a wonderful job with each one.  Each book holds the reader’s interest and maintain a unified theme regarding the importance of human connections.    


Both books have well developed characters and thought provoking situations.  In A SUMMER TO DIE, Lowry bases the story on the early death of her sister and the effects that the loss had on her family.  Thirteen-year-old Meg envies her sister, Molly’s beauty and popularity, and these feelings make it difficult for her to cope with Molly’s illness and death.  In this book, Lowry writes with great compassion and understanding as she deals with a very difficult subject for young adults, the death of a sibling.  Loosely portrayed, the characters are based on her and her sister; however, the girls in the book are much younger when cancer strikes.  Meg is a young girl that has a very low self-esteem.  She doesn’t realize her own worth.  With the help of Will, an old man in the story, Meg begins to appreciate her sister and discovers that she is actually very intelligent, and that she possesses inner and outer beauty.  The Giver takes place in a futuristic society where there is a need for humans to be aware of their dependence on one another, the world, and its environment.  At the age of twelve, Jonas, a young boy from a seemingly utopian, futuristic world, is singled out to receive special training from The Giver, who alone holds the memories of the true joys and pain of life.  Jonas, the protagonist, is a very thoughtful and sensitive young boy.  Through these characters, Lowry has written beautifully about issues that every young adult can identify with, but may often take for granted.


For the setting of each story, Lowry uses two very diverse approaches.  In A SUMMER TO DIE the setting is realistic.  The Chalmers live in the city and have moved to the country so the father could work on writing his book.  They are renting a small house in which the girls must share a room, and this often causes arguments between them.  Molly is neat and Meg is messy, often throwing crumpled-up papers of unfinished poems on the floor.  As the story opens, Molly has drawn a line to divide the room into halves to keep Meg and her messes on her side.  Other significant aspects of the setting include old farm houses, country fields, blooming flowers, and snow.  In THE GIVER the setting is a futuristic Utopia.  Lowry draws upon her memories of living in an Americanized community in Japan to create the setting.  The outside world community of “Elsewhere,” in the book, is taken from memories of riding her bicycle into the “Real Japan” to experience the local Japanese culture. 


Memory plays a significant role in each of the books.  In A SUMMER TO DIE, Lowry shares both the pain and joy of memory with her readers.  This concept is drawn into the story through the creation of a quilt that the mother is creating.  To create the quilt she has taken pieces of material from clothing both of the girls have had since birth.  As she is making the quilt, the reader learns about past events and memories the family has experienced.  For THE GIVER, the whole premise of the book is based upon memory and “sameness” within the community.  In the community there is a lack of memory and Jonas, the main character, finds out that he has been given the assignment of Receiver of Memory.  He will go through a special training process that will allow the present Giver to transmit all of his memories to Jonas.  As Receiver of Memory, Jonas will then receive all the memories of war, pain, joy, color, light, and music that existed before the community was created.  Jonas alone will hold all of the memories of the past and remember how the world was before “sameness.”


Life and death are themes that occur in both novels.  In A SUMMER TO DIE, death is the basis for the story as Molly, the beautiful sister, develops cancer and dies. Lowry does, however, strategically add life into the story as well.  This is presented when Maria and Ben, a young couple that have rented the neighboring farmhouse, enjoy the birth of a baby boy just prior to Molly’s death.  Life is also portrayed through various flowers and plants blooming at different times throughout the year.  New York Times Book Review states, “Only by cherishing life is it possible to learn to accept death.  A SUMMER TO DIE is a sincere and graceful appeal to the idealist in all of us.” THE GIVER is filled with death, as exemplified when Jonas receives painful memories of a war battle.  Death is also portrayed when the “less than perfect” members of the community are “released.”  Once again Lowry breathes life into the story line with the birth of Gabriel, an infant that is facing release because he does not sleep through the night.  To prevent the death of Gabriel, Jonas leaves the community and saves his life. 


A SUMMER TO DIE is a beautifully crafted, coming of age story that deals with insecurity and death.  Lowry presents death in a very gentle manner and does such a good job that the reader may need a box of Kleenex handy.  The Horn Book states that A SUMMER TO DIE is, “Not simply another story on a subject currently in vogue, this book is memorable as a well-crafted reaffirmation of universal values."  THE GIVER is superbly written and Lowry has done a remarkable job of allowing the reader to “see” the world in which Jonas lives by creating a picture with words.  Publisher’s Weekly Review states that, “Lowry is in top form - raising many questions while answering few, and unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers.”  THE GIVER  is a very thought provoking book that will open up many discussions on abstract concepts, such as the meaning of a life where there are no decisions or choices to make, and no experiences with any feelings at all.





Joyce, Milton. “New York Times Book Reviews.” 18 Sep. 1977:40.


Lowry, Lois. 1977. A SUMMER TO DIE. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

     ISBN: 0440219175.


Lowry, Lois. 1993. THE GIVER. Boston: Houghton: Mifflin: ISBN: 0395645662.


Lowry, Lois. 1998. LOOKING BACK. Boston: Houghton Mifflin:

     ISBN: 039589543X.


McDonald, Ruth K. 1997. LOIS LOWRY. New York: Twayne Publishers.

     ISBN: 0805740341.


Smith, Amanda. “PW Interviews: Lois Lowry.” Publisher’s Weekly. 21 Feb. 1986:






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