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Jonas is twelve years old, which means that it’s almost time for his community’s elders to announce which career he and each of his peers will begin training for in earnest. He ponders which tasks best suit him as he goes to classes, volunteers, and while he and his family discuss their feelings every evening after dinner.
Finally, the day of the Ceremony of Twelve arrives. Jonas realizes something is amiss when the announcer skips him and moves on to the next boy. He’s nervous and confused until the Chief Elder finally calls his name last and gives him the Assignment of the Receiver of Memories. He doesn’t even know what this Assignment entails because there can only be one Receiver and that person remains aloof. He quickly learns that the Receiver holds memories going back generations to a time when the world was quite different, everyone was more unique, and everyone felt both greater pain and greater pleasure.
This was published in 1993, when I was 15 years old, and I must have just barely missed having it as assigned reading in school. While it’s probably a classic to many of you, this was the first time I’ve read it. I was surprised by how unsettling it is.
Jonas’s world seems almost perfect at first. Everyone apologizes, no one has temper tantrums, and no one is treated differently than anyone else. Every child receives the same number of toys at the same time. No one is hungry and no one is sick. But what happens when someone does get sick or old or just doesn’t fit in? That’s where the unease creeps in.
As I read this, I could only think of Camazotz in A Wrinkle in Time. I’ve re-read that book fairly recently and I still remember the fear I felt for the boy who drops his ball. It’s a dropped ball–what’s the big deal? But he stands out as different and that is never a good thing in Camazotz. Jonas’s community has the same feel.
This is a short book, at almost five hours, and I wasn’t ready for it to end. The ending is ambiguous and I’ll be honest–I want closure.
I listened to this as read by Ron Rifkin. It was okay on audio but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this narrator. There was something about the high voice he used for children and the breathless way he ran phrases together that didn’t quite work for me. Also, when I listened through my ear buds instead of on my speaker phone, I could hear his lips smacking and that always freaks me out. I really didn’t care for the synthesizer music that was in the background at seemingly random moments. Others might not feel the same though.
I highly recommend this for a thought-provoking look at how narrow the differences are between a utopia and a dystopia. Sameness sounds comforting until you’re the one who’s just a little bit different.
Banned Books Week:
The Giver has been banned and challenged many, many times since its publication. It was number 11 on the list of the 100 most challenged books in the ’90s. It stayed on the list in the ’00s and the ’10s although it didn’t rank quite as high.
As I listened, I knew exactly when I got to a scene that would outrage some parents. Jonas is twelve, which means that he’s feeling some “stirrings,” as his parents call them. He has one dream that I thought was actually fairly innocent. These are feelings that the target age group can relate to and they’re a natural part of growing up. There’s also the infanticide, euthanasia, and some complaints referred to suicide but I must have missed that. I didn’t feel that any of these scenes are graphic or gratuitous. They aren’t easy things to read about or discuss. I get it. Parents are within their rights to ask for a different book for their own children. But making decisions for an entire community is just not cool. Ironically enough, that’s exactly the kind of thinking that probably led to Jonas’s dystopia.
If you liked The Giver, you might also like my reviews of these other banned/challenged books:
- Blankets by Craig Thompson
- Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Buy The Giver from Malaprop’s Bookstore in beautiful Asheville, NC or