The Giver

Semi-accidentally, I ended up re-reading The Giver this weekend. I had long intended on reviewing this book, but hadn’t gotten to reading it again. Then, it just happened that I did.  I first read this in the seventh grade at school. I didn’t just love it when I read it the first time, but the comments and ideas from the characters stayed with me. I found it infinitely relatable.

The Giver takes place in a fictional world where there is no color to speak of, no decisions, no pain, and most importantly, no differences.  The governing council of elders decides your career, your spouse, and all children are applied for and adopted. All children age at the same time and have the exact same rites of passage for each age. Jonas, our protagonist, is about to become Twelve. Twelve is the last “age” of consequence. At this time, each child is given their future career, based on their volunteer hours and experience (the only time they ever make a choice for themselves- choosing where to spend volunteer hours) and abilities. (Readers may relate some element of the Dragonriders of Pern, where the dragons choose their riders who have been preparing for this moment as they come of age.)  Jonas become Receiver of Memories, which gives him new truths about the world before everything was as he knows it to be. Getting this new information is difficult and leads to a lot of difficult decisions for Jonas about right and wrong, what is “best” and what it means to be “free.”

Reading this book again, I recognized a lot of Plato’s famous cave allegory, where he also explored the notion of reality and truth.  Like the people looking at the shadows, the society simply existed with the truth that it had. Some of the decision-makers and other adults could see some of what made the shadows (the figures), but their knowledge was very limited. Only the Receiver actually left the cave. There was no way for Jonas to explain to the others what he saw, that their reality was completely contrived, no matter how badly he wanted to share this with others. I will not spoil the ending with his decision.

Several themes interesting for young readers appear in The Giver:

Being different: Here is a society where everyone is equal by being the same. Mistakes are minimized. Everyone is perfectly socialized. But is it worth it?

Truth and Reality: Not the first book I’ve reviewed with this theme. The Giver questions how truth appears and how reality is defined, even suggests that our reality quite literally can be created.

Knowledge, Freedom, Individuality: How dangerous is it? Do people have the right to have it?

Safety: How safe do we need to be? What makes us “safe”? How safe is safe enough?

Right and Wrong: Is it safe? Truth? Kind? Equal? Just? Merciful?

Euthanasia: Do we have a right to? Should we? Is it kinder to the individual? To society?

Social Rules: What does society have the right to demand? How much should an individual give to the social contract that allows someone to be a citizen of any social group?

These are just a few of the major themes, mentioned extremely briefly.  Inklings recommends this book, especially for the middle and high school ages. This is the time when children begin to make adult decisions, just like Jonas. The position of the Twelves is easy to relate to through adolescence, and the themes are very important to forming identity for adolescents.

Inklings Recommended.

Ages: 10-12 and up

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