The Giver combines themes of young adult fiction, such as that of the protagonist Jonas's coming of age, with themes taken from dystopian novels such as George Orwell's 1984 or in particular Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which deals with a society in which the majority of the population has been manipulated into a sense of blithe submission. Within the novel, Jonas learns that despite the apparently idyllic aspects of his society, the general absence of history, deep emotions, and individuality has driven the community into stagnation and, in significant ways, dystopia. In the process, he discovers the wisdom and maturity necessary to choose his future while cognizant of the likely consequences of his choices.
Lois Lowry has named several aspects of her childhood as influences on her writing. By her account, she grew up in a very safe community and lived a kind of predictable existence that parallels Jonas's apparently idyllic community in The Giver. In addition, her lack of a father during wartime has often led her to focus on the role of the father figure in the family, a theme that she explores in depth in the interactions between Jonas and his father. That Jonas eventually learns that the community is not as perfect as it once seemed is a sign of disillusionment, yet it is not so far from the usual awakening of maturity associated with becoming an adult and moving out of the community's safe boundaries.
The novel also deals with several sensitive issues such as suicide and the onset of sexuality in adolescence. Jonas, under the encouragement of The Giver, explores aspects of human nature that are never faced by the other members of the community. Jonas thus, in significant ways, becomes more of a mature adult than his parents are. Whereas his parents have never experienced the Stirrings and thus have suppressed all sexual desire, Jonas eventually ceases taking the pills in favor of embracing this aspect of his coming of age. The inclusion of such topics as budding sexuality has in the past led The Giver to be banned by many school libraries, but defenders have argued that it is important to engage topics of death and sexuality among young adults.
Lowry wrote The Giver in 1993 as a science fiction novel aimed at young adults, and it was critically acclaimed in that context, winning the Newbery Medal in the following year. Lowry later wrote two novels set in the same literary universe as The Giver, Gathering Blue in 2000 and Messenger in 2004. Although the protagonist differs in each novel, Jonas reappears as a character in Messenger, and the three novels form a trilogy.