Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Dystopia
When I was in 5th grade, it seemed like all of a sudden everyone was checking out The Giver from our school library. I remember it distinctly because of the cover: that grayscale photograph of the old man with the beard, floating next to the shiny gold Newbery Medal. Who wants to read a book about an old man? I thought. The answer, apparently, was everyone.
Being ever curious about books, and figuring it must be something special if even the kids who professed to hate reading were reading it, I checked it out—and I’m really glad I did. I bought a copy for myself and, over the next several years, I read it over and over again.
With the movie version coming out later this summer, I recently decided to reread The Giver for the first time in years. I even read it to my girlfriend, who had never (!) read it before.
The story takes place in a perfectly sheltered community devoid of emotion, color, weather, pain and choice. The Giver was my first foray into dystopian fiction all those years ago, and my fifth-grade self was shocked by the community. Citizens there do not choose their jobs or even their own spouses. Couples may apply for children and are allowed one boy and one girl, who are presented to them as toddlers. They do not feel love, fear, pain or physical attraction. They have never experienced snow, rain or sunshine. They are not allowed to read books. Their lives are literally black and white, governed by countless rules. If these rules are broken, or if an individual’s behavior is less than conducive to the functioning of the community, he or she is mysteriously Released.
The citizens of the community are content with their lives.
The story revolves around twelve-year-old Jonas, who is given the extremely revered and rare assignment of Receiver. Every day after school, Jonas receives memories of what life was like before the community was formed. These memories—transmitted to him by the Giver—introduce Jonas to many new things: wonderful things like animals, love and sled rides; and terrible things like war, starvation and loneliness.
Of course, with his new knowledge, Jonas begins to find the artificial way of life in the community unbearable, and he and the Giver decide that drastic action must be taken.
The Giver is a unique story that holds simple truths: It’s more important to be independent than to be controlled. It is better to make mistakes and to learn from them than to be so cautious that you barely live. It is better to feel pain than to feel nothing at all. Jonas learns these truths nearly all at once. In order to be true to his own knowledge and experience, he must question what he has always known and trusted—and that’s an experience to which many people can relate.
When I was ten, I didn’t realize that societies very similar to Jonas’s community actually exist; that in some countries, people have no freedom. The Giver introduced to me a society in which people have no control over their own lives. It seems silly, but The Giver made me proud to be a human being who makes choices and experiences emotions and pain. It also made me painfully aware of my own ignorance and lack of experience.
Even years later, The Giver is an excellent read. This book is a terribly human—and therefore timeless—story, and definitely worth a read.