"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 is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back."
The Giver is a book I hear a lot of people fondly recalling from their childhood, so I wanted to check it out.
You know what books I fondly recall from my childhood? A Wrinkle in Time. The Xanth series. The Dark is Rising series.
This book? I'm glad I didn't read back then.
Because it's not just simplistic (ok, appropriate for middle grade, I understand) but completely underdeveloped *and* heavy handed in messaging.
SPOILERS AHEAD! (sorry, I can't review this without giving a few away)
This book spends the most effort setting up a utopian world that's governed by rules and entirely revolves on the fact that nobody remembers anything outside of their life experience (and they aren't allowed to read books, so no absorbing through empathy).
Although the only two characters with any time spent on them (The Giver and Jonas) exist within this world, their sole motivation to break it wide open is never explained. Generations of Givers have struggled with the obvious moral implications of their passive acceptance of the system (which they're pretty much at the top of...I mean, if anyone is the Big Bad here, it's the Giver, and there's only one of him) but somehow the existence of Jonas pushes the current Giver over the edge. And yet, the story doesn't touch at all on the Giver's choice, only on Jonas' narrative (which is also pretty simplistic: instead of asking internal questions, he whines, constantly).
It sets up a plot and then changes it retroactively and, in my opinion, clumsily, which diffuses the tension instead of building it up. It also breaks complex moral choices with a lot of consequences into an issue of infanticide, thus allowing Jonas to be the Hero Who Never Thinks About What He's Doing. And thus, the hero whose actions are going to cause a lot more pain and suffering than he's "saving" Gabe from.
And then....it ends. I was waiting for Jonas to grow as a character (somehow. anyhow. Please!) and suddenly he's biking toward a town with Christmas lights (to the book's credit, I didn't see the super Christian allegory until that random moment) and The End.
WHAT?! What did I just read, here?? It's not a dystopian, it's not a coming of age, it's not a journey adventure (or at least, not a very compelling one). There's absolutely no conclusion to be had, and because there's no character development driving the plot, I have zero motivation to pick up book two.
To no one's surprise, I don't recommend this. Have your kids read Gregor and the Overland series (which is entertaining, emotional, AND well written) instead.