Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.
Having seen the movie, entering the book is different that what it would have been had I gone in not knowing. Even though it is short, The Giver packs a lot of world-building in between the casual explanations of how life is in the Community – it is a dystopia where every person in the community is kept distant from their emotions. The world is peaceful – there is almost a utopic-like quality of life, if you ignore the darker sides of it. There is a lack of choice, but the people have never known what it is like to even have a choice, so no one thinks much of it. They are even all distant from death because they never see it. Creating sameness meant that they eliminated strife and war, and violence but they also removed the humanity from humans.
The story comes alive through the eyes of young Jonas, who at 12 years of age, is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory. His position will give him much honor in the Community, but only he and his predecessor, the Giver, really know what it means to hold memories in you, all good and bad. This is a pubescent boy who is also learning what would a world be with the full range of humanity, and in a way, is also a metaphor for growing up, I guess. Jonas, and even the Giver, with all their memories, do not know exactly what life was like in the before, but only the memories they hold on to and pass between each other let them know how it is vastly different and richer than the lives that the people in the Community are living.
Where the Giver feels lacking is the incomplete world-building. Yes, we get to see a lot of the world as it is now in Giver, but we don’t get much of history. We don’t get how the Receiver of Memory even came to be – how they sterilized people of emotions, and color. (I am guessing it was drugs in the water system but the memories have a fantastical element to them in that they can be passed through touch from these Receivers to another Receiver). Also, besides Jonas, any other characterization is non-existent – mostly because it is totally from his point of view and he is pretty focused on things other than the people. It also leaves off at an open ending, and while I like to believe it all ended well, there is no resolution. Other books in series seem to be companion novels than sequels, so there goes my hope for a proper ending.
Nevertheless, conceptually it is a thoughtful novel, and gives us much to question about the human existence and humanity.