The Giver always makes me think of the Giving Tree. That association has kept me from reading it all these years. And I am too old to have read it in school myself. But these days it is on lots of “best books for kids” lists and lots of schools assign it.
I am a bit mixed. I like the idea that there can be a children’s dystopian book. I think that kids should think about the common themes in dystopian literature. And I don’t know another book oriented this young unless you count Wrinkle in Time as dystopian (which I usually don’t, but they have some overlapping themes.)
The basic story line is that an 11 year old boy (Jonas) lives in a perfectly planned community. The community is unchanging and structured. Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver as his adult job. The Receiver is the one who receives and holds the long term memory of the community from the Giver.
The process is some sort of magic (or undescribed process) where through the Giver laying hands on the Receiver, the Receiver absorbs memories from generations past.
The world is different from ours. Everything is flat, plan and it seems devoid of color. (This isn’t completely clear, but it seems that unless you are the Giver or Reciever you are unable to perceive color.) But with the loss of a lot of the joy is also a loss of a lot of the pain.
As Jonas spends more time with the Giver he starts to see that for all the gains that the community has made, there are many things that have been lost as well.
The key to every dystopian book is that the utopian desires fade into the reality of sinful humanity. In The Giver’s case, part of the problem is eugenics and euthanasia that are ‘hidden’ because of a ‘release’ ceremony. When Jonas comes to realize what is going on, it is the key to him understanding the dystopian reality.
Once he realizes the problems, he (and the Giver) have to decide whether to work from the inside or the outside of the community to bring about change. And whether slight change or massive change is really what is needed. The ending of the book is really just a set up for the rest of the trilogy. There is no conclusion here, so I need to read the rest of the trilogy to give a full evaluation.
I know that the book is oriented toward fairly young children, but how the community could not see what is going on. The storyline requires an extremely high level of brainwashing.
It is hard for me to balance the young orientation of the book and the simplicity (and lack of plausibility) in the storyline. I know in order to communicate to a young audience it needs to be simple. But simple does not mean lack of reality. And that lack of internal coherence is my main complaint about the book.
It is not that I think this is a bad book, but it does not live up to its billing as one of the all time great children’s books.