Just like A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver is a book that the other “team” in my grade-level in middle school was reading, and I was always curious about it. I was never curious enough to read the book, but it was quickly becoming known as a modern classic and I knew that one day I’d have to crack it open. Today is that day. I have seen the movie and I enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed many dystopian stories since my love affair with The Hunger Games began a few summers ago. (I say “a few” because if I think about how long ago it was it’ll make me feel that much older and death that much closer and that’s too heavy right now.) I’m excited to see how the book differs from the movie and if I’ll enjoy it more. There’s a blurb on the cover that says, “Includes exclusive Q&A with Taylor Swift and others!” which is making me grumpy. Taylor Swift is the literal worst and I hate that they’re trying to get kids to read the book by putting her name on the cover even though she didn’t play the main character and this is what’s wrong with the world and why we can’t have nice things. This is already off to a disastrous start. I guess one plus about the book is I don’t have to see her dumb surprised face…. Let’s read!
In the community, there are rules. Every year fifty babies are born. When they pass the Nurturing stage, they are assigned to a family unit. Each family unit has a mother, father, and up to one son and one daughter. Every year in December a moving-up ceremony is held for all the children in the community. New Sevens get front-buttoning jackets and give up their back-buttoning jackets, which taught them to depend on the help of others. Eights get their objects of comfort (a stuffed animal) taken away and start doing volunteer work to show they are becoming more mature. Nines receive their first bicycle and girls take out their hair ribbons. The Ceremony of Twelve is the most important ceremony of a child’s life because they receive their work assignment, which the Elders choose for the children after observing them and assessing their strengths.
Jonas, an Eleven, is eagerly anticipating his upcoming Ceremony of Twelve. Jonas wonders if he’ll like his job and worries that he might be assigned as a Laborer and have to do hard work for the rest of his life. He tries to trust in the Elders and the laws of the community since they have kept their citizens safe for years, but his mind can’t help wandering to the what-ifs of his future. Jonas looks up to his father, who loves his job as a Nurturer. Father loves working with newchildren and soon brings home a newchild, Gabriel. Gabriel is a fussy sleeper, which might lead to his release from the community. When citizens are released, they’re sent to Elsewhere. Not much is known about Elsewhere besides the fact that the unassigned newchildren, the Old, and rule breakers are released there. Jonas and his sister Lily are happy to have the baby in their home, and Jonas has a special connection with Gabe because they both have pale eyes in a community where most people have dark eyes.
Life continues as usual for Jonas in the days leading up to the Ceremony of Twelve. He and his family share their dreams in the morning and their feelings at dinner. Jonas rides his book to school every day where he sees his friend Asher. He apologizes for his shortcomings, tries his best to use precise language instead of speaking in hyperbole, and begins to take a pill to alleviate the “Stirrings” (sexual feelings) he’s begun to feel at night. After talking with his friends and family about growing up and the responsibilities of being an adult, Jonas feels more confident than ever when he enters the Ceremony of Twelve with all the other Twelves and waits to be assigned his job in front of the whole community.
Confidence turns into terror when the Chief Elder passes over Jonas during the ceremony, assigning everyone but Jonas an occupation. He wonders if a mistake has been made, or if he’s in trouble for some transgression he didn’t realize he was guilty of. After everyone else receives their assignments, the Chief Elder assures the crowd that a mistake has not been made. Jonas’ assignment is one of the most important jobs in the community: he is to be the new Receiver of Memory. Ten years earlier another citizen chosen for the job failed, but the Elders feel Jonas has the potential to receive all the memories of the past from the current Receiver. At home, Jonas receives his instructions. He is allowed to break the rules forbidding rudeness, can ask any question of anyone, and tell lies. Flabbergasted at being allowed to breach all the rules he’s been taught his whole life, Jonas doubts whether he can do the job.
When Jonas reports to the Receiver to begin his training, the Receiver asks Jonas to call him the Giver, since he will be giving the collective memories of humanity to Jonas. The Giver starts by transmitting a memory of a sled ride to Jonas, who is baffled at the snow. Jonas starts to test out the new rules he lives by and asks the Giver about something odd. He’s noticed things like apples and his friend Fiona’s hair changing, but he can’t quite describe how they’ve changed. The Giver informs Jonas that he’s beginning to see color. Throughout the year, the Giver transmits memories, happy, sad, and painful, that the community has ensured the public has forgotten. The community thrives on Sameness. There is only one race. Everyone has an equal opportunity to have the same number of children. Everyone gets the same bike and the same haircut. There is no direct sunshine, no animals, no feelings, and no real attachments to other people to complicate things. Jonas is both awed and disgusted by the past that humanity has forgotten. He treasures love but war appalls him. He sees how the community has kept everyone satiated and safe for generations, but begins to wonder if they aren’t missing out on something by being allowed to make their own decisions. Jonas’ conflicting feelings towards his community are put to the test when he discovers Gabriel is going to be released. Having seen what being released really means, will Jonas abide by the rules that have kept his community blissfully oppressed for years or will he break free?
I thought I might not enjoy this book as much since I’d already seen the movie, but that wasn’t the case. The movie added in scenes and relationships that weren’t explored as fully in the book, but the message of the book is so strong that you don’t really need Jonas to spend tons of time with Fiona like he does in the movie. Book Jonas undergoes a greater change by love for humanity in general rather than love for one girl, and that made the book more powerful to me. Life in the community seems nice because citizens are docile and obedient creatures, and that sort of appeals to me. Every year it becomes increasingly obvious that most of humanity is rude and obnoxious (or maybe it’s just that I live in the NY-Metro area…) and I really wish people paid more attention to their kindergarten teachers and were kinder. However, is peace and harmony worth the price of individuality, free will, and emotion really worth it? Or is Jonas’ community playacting at being human? The Giver is a classic that, while written for a middle school audience, can be easily enjoyed by adults as well.
Rating: 5 out of 5 bicycles