The hype: In my review of Matched, I made several references to The Giver, another book about a “perfect” society that faces struggles when one of its members learns about the society’s ugly side. Written in 1993, The Giver still resonates powerfully with readers of all ages, and is sometimes assigned reading in schools.
Tell me more: Jonas is about to turn Twelve, which means he will be given his lifetime assignment in his community. As the event arrives, his Father brings home a small child to give him extra care (all children are given to selected family units). When the Ceremony of Twelve finally arrives, Jonas is not assigned, but is instead Selected to be the community’s next Receiver of Memories. He begins training with the current Receiver, now known as the Giver, and begins to absorb memories of events from the far past, back and back and back, before the communities adopted the Sameness that makes their current lives possible. As the memories accumulate, Jonas learns about real emotions, real pain, and real love. But can he remain in his community once he begins to fully understand all that they have lost in the name of Sameness and safety? What about the fate of the baby struggling to live with his family?
Content advisory: There isn’t any coarse language, violence, drug or alcohol use, or explicit sexual content in this book. What little violence there is comes from the memories Jonas receives from the Giver.
Why you should read this: First of all, this is a powerful, powerful book. Of course, it has to be, since it received the Newbery Award in 1994. We see the world through Jonas’ eyes, and thus see everything in a new way. Jonas does not experience weather changes, hills, strong emotions (negative or positive), or even color. How he experiences these things through the memories of others, and what he and the Giver finally decide to do with the memories, makes for an unforgettable story. The community that Jonas lives in is fully realized and very immersive. Lowry gives us a strong sense of what life in the community is like, and how what would seem stifling to us would be welcome and normal to them.
The bottom line: The Giver is a well-written look into a dystopian world of perfection hiding a much darker side.