Goodreads: The Giver
Series: The Giver Quartet #1
In Jonas’s world, there is no choice. Each life follows a predetermined path marked by various ceremonies, culminating in the assignation of jobs to each girl and boy at the age of twelve. Jonas awaits his assignment with trepidation, only to learn that his life, for the first time, is about to diverge wildly from that of his peers. He has been selected as the next Receiver, the vessel who holds the memories of the past and who alone knows true pleasure and true pain. Jonas initially longs to discover the truth about his society, but he may find that some memories are too much bear alone.
Every reading of The Giver is a powerful experience. Even a knowledge of the plot cannot keep the story from seeming fresh, suspenseful, and relevant every time. From the opening pages to the famous final scene, The Giver engages readers with a thought-provoking plot combined with a cast of sympathetic characters, whom it seems impossible not to consider friends. By turns painful, uplifting, horrifying, and hopeful, The Giver is one of those books that will always stay with you.
Lois Lowry draws readers immediately into Jonas’s world, introducing a society that seems peaceful and even pleasant on the surface, if a little strictly regulated. Hers may be the quintessential dystopia. There are no obvious signs of decay and corruption, no overt tyrannical presence, no strange disappearances or evidence of oppression, not even bizarre rules that seem to scream out the citizens asking “Why, why do you live like this?” An inattentive reader could easily miss the subtle signs of wrongness. And it is brilliant. One moment you are reading what seems to be a very sensible, even helpful conversation and the next you are realizing that, actually, the conversation is rather shallow and seems to contain gaps. But blink for a moment and it’s gone. For once, readers of a dystopia can understand why no one has ever rebelled against their society.
The ability for readers to enter Jonas’s world in such a way is what makes this dystopia truly scary. Too often readers can easily dismiss the actions of characters, arguing that, of course, if they were in that situation, they assuredly would have put things right. No one, after all, wants to think they could ever adopt mob mentality or even just wander thoughtlessly or lazily into a moral outrage. But Jonas’s world seems not only innocuous but perhaps even desirable. That image raises a host of other questions such as whether pain has value, whether people should have the freedom to choose even if that means choosing wrongly, and whether difference can actually be beneficial. And, of course, the ultimate question of what love really is.
These general questions become pertinent to the readers through the individualized case of Jonas and the people he loves–the people he loves without questions even though some readers may not think they deserve it. But that is the whole point. Seeing through Jonas’s eyes, readers too can come to know his family and friends and to appreciate their good qualities even though their ignorance. Love in this world is scarce, but once found, freely given. Love could be no other. And love is enough to set Jonas on a quest to help his family and friends, even if he will never know the outcome of his actions and even if he has to sacrifice everything. It is beautiful, poignant, and ultimately ineffable.
Dystopias have become quite popular in recent years due to the success of The Hunger Games, but Lowry’s 1993 book still stands out, primarily because of Jonas’s conviction. While other heroes often find themselves forced by their dystopian governments to take action or simply need three books’ worth of convincing to take a stand, Jonas, once he recognizes the problem, knows he has no choice but to fix it, and he never looks back. Such moral courage seems increasingly rare, perhaps because some think it an unbelievable characteristic. But Jonas is not meant to be merely believable but also inspiring. His choice, his sacrifices make The Giver my favorite dystopian, even after all this time.