The Giver is a solid dystopian story with an intriguing premise, and it really makes me think about the intricacies in our society today. It was my first dystopian novel, and I’m glad that it still holds the same appeal after so many years.
Jonas’s Community is a society of “sameness”, where temperature, food rations, jobs, family units, clothes, and appearances are all carefully controlled and monitored. At the Ceremony of Twelve, while the other Elevens are assigned normal societal roles of Nurturer, Caretaker of the Old, Birthmother, and other positions, Jonas is the only one chosen to become the Receiver of Memories. While Jonas receives memories of the past from the previous Receiver (now the Giver), he experiences happy memories with colors, snow, music, and love, but also painful ones, with war, pain, and isolation. As his opinions on how the Community is run start to change, Jonas has to decide what he wants to do with the truth.
I didn’t necessarily get attached to the characters in The Giver, but I liked them and respected what they stood for. Jonas, as the protagonist, undergoes major character development throughout the story as he learns about what life was like back in the day. For a twelve-year-old, he seems surprisingly mature at times – but so do most of the other kids in the book. Imagine if kids today got jobs when they turned twelve and stuck with those jobs all the way through adulthood! TOTAL CHAOS. Kids would rebel and start a war on adults, haha. I liked the adults too, especially Jonas’s parents and the Giver, partly because they’re nice people (and nice characters make me happy) but, more importantly, because they’re able to help Jonas realize the advantages and disadvantages of his Community versus the readers’ society.
That brings me to another interesting point: I actually liked certain parts of the system and culture in the Community. For example, the way kids are brought up feels like good parenting – kids slowly learn to grow to be interdependent (the Fours get backward buttoned jackets that they have to help each other button up), helpful (the Eights start doing volunteering work), and independent (the Nines get their first bikes). And because of how they’re brought up, they can take on more responsibility even as adolescents (when the Twelves get their permanent jobs). Obviously that system wouldn’t work in the real world, since kids don’t all develop at the same rate and are given more freedom in terms of what they want to do when they grow up. And not having colors would really suck. (Did you hear that, new movie version? NO COLORS.) And no playing in snow or sunbathing! But also no wars or crime. This book made me think about the pros and cons of these societal and environmental changes on the world, and whether it’s better to live in the real world or in Jonas’s world.
The plot of the book is moderately paced, even when time passes by faster in certain sections. The Giver feels like an open-ended question, and thus, it’s hard to keep a fast pace or be completely engrossed in it. I wasn’t sure what Jonas would do with his new knowledge, or even what he could do… this story is different from some newer dystopian works in that the protagonist doesn’t have many friends to rely on, isn’t terribly strong or cunning, and isn’t in love (so is less inclined to do stupid things). But I liked Jonas’s ideas and solutions to the problems that arise, and thought that the ending (albeit also somewhat open-ended) was satisfying.
The Giver is a thought-provoking read with infinitely less drama than newer dystopian works. This is a book that really focuses on the question of societal issues, and I like the way the plot allows for a transition from a seemingly utopian society to a dystopian one.