Before young adult dystopian novels became all the rage with The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner series, there was The Giver. It’s a relatively short book, but it’s one filled with commentary on society, government, bioethics, and the danger of letting people be trusted to make their own decisions.
Jonas is a 12-year-old boy who lives in a community where everyone has been genetically engineered and groomed from a young age to grow up to play a specific role in society. Family units are assigned, not created. Emotions and feelings are not just discouraged, they’re punished. With the exception of one man, no one has any concept of what life could be like outside the strictly controlled and manipulated community.
When Jonas finally reaches the age when he and his classmates are to find out what their assigned roles will be as adults, they are brought before the Chief Elder, who, one by one, makes the assignments. Jonas is initially skipped in the order of assignments and doesn’t learn what his assignment will be until everyone else has gone. He learns he isn’t going to receive a normal assignment like the rest of his classmates did. Instead, he has been selected to be the next Receiver of Memory, and that he is to be trained in isolation by the current Receiver of Memory, whose role is now is to be “the giver” of all his memories to Jonas.
The next day, when Jonas reports to The Giver, the process begins of transferring the memories from all of history into Jonas. Jonas receives the memory of changing weather, of the coldness of snow, and the exhilaration of a sled ride down a hill. Of emotions like love and happiness, and fear and anger. He’s given the memory of pain and war, and of every possible memory mankind at one point experienced. As these memories accumulate in Jonas, he learns that he has no way to share the joy and the burden of these memories with anyone else. No one else has any concept of what he’s experiencing and wouldn’t be able to understand what he tried to describe.
These memories not only allow Jonas to experience feelings and emotions no one else around him does, they also open his eyes to things happening “for the good of the community” that he can no longer accept and deal with.
The Giver has a lot to offer in its few pages. It’s not surprising most of my kids read it for school. Those of us who went to school before it was required reading, would do well pick it up and read it.
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