Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars
I have never been so excited at the start of a novel only to be so supremely disappointed by the end. The setup for “The Giver” had so much potential and every bit of it goes to waste. The book starts with what looks like a fairly normal family, of which Jonas is the eldest 12 year old son and main character. There’s definite weirdness going on, but have you seen families? They’re all weird in their own special way and many are completely dysfunctional. Dysfunctional Jonas’ family is not. They do very useful and healthy things together like eat meals and talk about their emotions and share their dreams. The setup is almost utopian. Utopian is boring, though, and this is a dystopian young adult’s novel so you just know not everything is what it seems.
It is slowly revealed that Jonas lives in a society that is obsessed with “sameness” and birth to death is rigidly controlled. Babies are given to families and named at age one. Clothes are assigned at different ages. Bikes are given to children at age nine. Jobs are given at age twelve. Color doesn’t exist. Topography doesn’t exist. Asking questions that make people uncomfortable is outlawed. Rules are strictly enforced and chronic offenders are “released from the community”. This is very obviously a euphemism for killed, and makes one of the surprises pretty darn lame. Maybe not for the target audience, I guess. The society is overseen by a council of Elders who create the rules. They oversee every child’s development and assign jobs based on ability. Since Jonas is the main character and this is a dystopian young adult novel, you just know he’s going to get one of the cool and important jobs. I guess you’re right? Well, besides the fact that the job makes absolutely no sense and how it works makes no sense and how it doesn’t work makes no sense and the plot they hatch to change things makes no sense and how it goes wrong makes no sense and Jonas’ decisions make no sense and how it ends so suddenly makes no sense and how the heck there are three other books in this series makes no sense.
I guess you might actually still want to read “The Giver” after reading my review so I won’t give away any of the issues but it left me seething with rage at almost every point after Jonas got his job. That is an incorrect use of words. Let me rephrase. “The Giver” left me with a profound disappointment over the fact that such an auspicious beginning could be transformed into the turgid mess it became. That is also an incorrect use of words. One last time. I mildly annoyed that I read this book despite the fact that I really liked the beginning. There, better.
If you want to teach your kids about the dangers of “sameness”, have them read “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. It is complete and succinct and won’t leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth over the lazy path “The Giver” decides to take.