This is one of my most favorite books from when I was young. It’s one of those stories I go back to and re-read from time to time, just because it’s such a good story. It is kind of the original YA dystopian story, in my mind, anyway, though it was geared for a younger audience than the ones that stories like The Hunger Games and Divergent are geared towards nowadays. Try to remember, as I write this review, that this book came a long time before either of these two popular series – as it is apparent that both authors must have read The Giver at some point and taken ideas from its pages for their own worlds.
Enter a world that has chosen sameness and order over personal choice and uniqueness. For the first 12 years of their lives, each individual in the community is studied and evaluated closely, so that at their final “birthday” ceremony, they can be accurately placed in a profession that they will enjoy and excel at. Everything is chosen for you: your career, your spouse, your children. Once your children are grown, you go to live in a section of the town for “Childless Adults,” and when you have outlived your usefulness to the community you will be placed in a Home for the Old… where you will enjoy being taken care of until you go “elsewhere.”
Meet Jonas, the main character of the story. At his Ceremony of Twelve, he is skipped over in the career assignments, only to be told that he will be the town’s new Receiver of Memories. Neither he, nor anyone in the town, understand what this means. The next day, Jonas begins his apprenticeship with the current Receiver of Memories and begins receiving the memories that the people in this community have chosen to rid themselves of for … decades? centuries? it is unclear, and unimportant. As Jonas and the Giver refer to it this is simply the way it has been: “back and back and back.”
Through his training, Jonas begins to learn of a different way to live. He sees a world that has seasons, changes in weather, pain, unpredictability, suffering, war, death, poverty, famine… and he begins to understand why his world has chosen to live without those things. But he also sees something else that has been given up along with these things: love. And he starts to believe that perhaps having love would make all those other things worth bearing.
As I said, this is one of my most favorite stories. It brims with discussion topics, which makes my teacher’s heart happy. But more than that, it is a well-written dive into what a world without love would truly look like. It is a story that should make us take a good, hard look at our world and our culture, because there are some disturbing parallels to be found. In the story, of course, the pendulum is allowed to swing to the worst possible extreme. Of course we can’t control the weather, and the government doesn’t assign us our spouses and children. But these extremes are there simply to highlight a world without love. A world that sees euthanasia and abortion as so matter-of-fact and acceptable that not a single person in the community even questions their existence. In fact, they are completely incapable of even seeing the truth of what is happening. Everyone lives their lives asleep to the insidious darkness of their existence. Even the Giver, for all his understanding of the atrocities being committed, has given up on things ever changing. He is awake, but in despair.
Until Jonas. Because Jonas reminds him that, “Things could be different.”
If you haven’t read this one, you definitely should. I have tried very hard to give a description and hint at a few things without delving through terrible plot spoilers… it’s a very hard book to talk about without giving plot spoilers. As a disclaimer, there are a few scenes that are very troubling. Though the book is designed to be read by 8-11 year olds, parents may want to read this one first and decide if they think their young children can handle the more disturbing elements of this book and the questions they raise.
Despite that, I believe this one is definitely worthy of 5 Dragon Eggs.
How about you? Have you read The Giver? What did you think of it? How about the movie, have you seen it? What were your thoughts on it?
What is one of your favorite books from when you were in grade-school/junior high?
Let me know in the comments, I love hearing from you, dear Reader!