(Cover picture courtesy of Whatcha Readin’, Books?)
Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community.
When Jonas turns twelve, 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’s time for Jonas to receive the truth.
Okay, start writing your hate mail. I’m about to criticize what many laud as a literary masterpiece above questioning.
Here we have yet another popular novel that we have to ask ourselves about: Is it really worth all of the hype? In a word, no, but it’s not as simple as that. One of the main things that’s made this book popular is the fact that it’s studied by middle school students. In fact, I studied this book in grade 9 and having read it in grade 6, was incredibly bored. I remember telling my teacher that this wasn’t really a grade-appropriate novel, but it’s actually in the grade 9 curriculum in Saskatchewan, if you can believe it. Reading it years later, I thought I might get something new out of it, but I think I got the message the first time around.
My overall impression of The Giver is that it’s good, but it’s not the greatest thing since paper that educators seem to praise it as. It does have meaning and wonderful messages that make readers debate comfort versus freedom, but it feels as if Lois Lowry was trying too hard to make sure readers got this message. The phrase beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-stick-obvious comes to mind, which was even my impression when I first read the novel. The Giver was somewhat unique in its own time, but now with the explosion of YA dystopia, it is one novel among many that does not even stand out particularly well.
The main character Jonas is good, but he is not memorable. He rebels against the society and sees what’s wrong with it, but only after The Giver shows him quite a few memories of the freedom of the past. Before then, he’s hasn’t really questioned the society, which makes the novel start off fairly slow, but as Jonas acquires more memories, he does change for the better. He becomes angry and frustrated with his society, pining for freedoms he never knew he wanted. While Jonas has a lot of depth, but since emphasis is placed on controlling emotion, we don’t feel his emotions as well as we should.
The world of The Giver is well built, but it is nothing exceptional. What is interesting is the sheer amount of control the leaders have over the Community, which hammers home the “complete comfort at the price of freedom” message. One of the things that bugged me the most was that although this is classified as science fiction, we never really learn about how The Giver passes the memories of the past on to Jonas. There is no technology involved and it is only hinted at that The Giver and Jonas are special because they can See or Hear Beyond.
So in conclusion, The Giver actually is a good novel and a decent read, but it really felt like Lois Lowry was trying too hard to hammer the message home. Generations of kids have grown to dislike this book because teachers try to over-analyze the novel as well and I honestly can’t blame them.
I give this book 4/5 stars.