In a perfect world in what could possibly be the not too distant future, Jonas is born into a system where everything is organised for citizens by the council, right down to rights of passage like ribbons in the hair and learning to ride a bike. The story begins when Jonas is an Eleven (eleven years old) and is nervous about his ceremony of Twelve, where he will be assigned his future career based on aptitudes. He can guess what some of his friends might be given, but Jonas has tried a little bit of everything. What will he get?
At the ceremony, Jonas's name is not called when it should be. The crowd is just as stunned as he is. And then, at the very end of the ceremony, Jonas is given a great honour. He is named the new Receiver of Memory, a role in the community which prevents chaos and fear.
Jonas works with a wizard like figure, the Giver, whose job it is to hold onto memories from the old world, memories of snow, of war, of things good and bad which have no place in the new society. Things like Christmas, and grandparents. His retention of these things keeps the people of the community both ignorant of the good things they are missing, and safe from the pain they are spared. The elders are particularly hopeful that Jonas will be a good Receiver, as ten years previously a Receiver failed in her task, and the memories she had already been given flooded out into the world and confused the citizens. Will Jonas succeed?
Or will knowledge set him free?
This young adult novel is a great introduction into the world of speculative fiction and is reminiscent to me of a novel I read earlier in the year, Hugh Howey's 'Wool' (although this was written much much earlier). The novel critiques the way that modern societies are run and calls into question many of the things we take for granted as fundamental human experiences. As a writer, Lois Lowry must tackle the challenge of writing a believable narrative where certain experiences that the reader might be familiar with are unfamiliar to her character. For example, the world is colourless; as time goes on, Jonas begins to see colours, and this fascinates him, but Lowry cannot simply say that is what's happening. She must show us.
This was incredibly readable and enjoyable, although I think would have made more of an impact on me when I was a teen. I did notice on Goodreads a few reviewers (one in particular) found the novel propagandistic, but if it was so, I think it was against mainstream political systems and not for them. It was certainly against government intervention in people's lives.
I would compare this book to Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (but a children's version) or Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
Have you read The Giver? I'd love to know what you thought.
If you haven't I urge you to read it before you see the film, later this year.