Is there a difference between a dystopia and a false utopia? I feel like the distinction should be made. Also, because I fell down a rabbit hole on Goodreads last week when I read a scathing (and overly long) review of The Giver and then many of the two-hundred plus comments on it, I feel that I should say that I actually felt a large degree of sympathy for the Elders and creators of Jonas's community. They weren't evil. They weren't trying to be harsh or despotic. They were trying to engineer the perfect community, and they thought they could do that with their assignments and precise language and incontrovertible rules.
I read this once years ago and then again last February. I don't usually do plot summaries in book reviews, but since the synopsis here is quite brief, I should probably say a little more (bearing in mind that I've already forgotten stuff in the intervening six months): Jonas lives in a 'Community', isolated from others, where life is conducted by a strict set of rules and laws. Everyone is assigned a role according to their talents (not their desires) at the age of twelve. Children are borne by Birthmothers ("there's very little honor in that assignment", Jonas's mother says at one point), then removed and given to Nurturers, and then assigned to approved couples, one boy and one girl each. Babies ('newchildren' who don't grow as fast as they should or sleep through the night (or are otherwise Inadequate), and the elderly, as well as people who transgress against the Community's rules, are 'released' - this is a vague term until later in the book.
As the book begins, Jonas is approaching the Ceremony of Twelve, where he'll be given his Assignment - assigned his role in the Community (Assignments include Birthmother, Laborer, Instructor, Engineer, Doctor, and many others). He spends some time trying to be precise in his language about exactly how he's feeling about this; he begins with the word frightened, amends it to eager, and finally sharpens it to apprehensive. Precision in language is a valued thing in the Community, which you have to kind of like (okay, I have to kind of like).
|Photo by Gidzy|
So. There you have it. An attempt to create a utopian society by legislating out much of the messiness of human nature, and then (foolishly?) granting to an intelligent member of that society the power to begin questioning it, which leads to a bunch of dominoes falling. It's not the only time this story has been told, and perhaps it's not even the best telling, but I found it very effective. Eve read it a few weeks ago - she even put down An Abundance of Katherines to do so, which is saying something, since she's in the midst of a total John Green love-fest - and she said she really liked it too, although I meant to ask her for some specific thoughts on it before she went to school today and I forgot.
I can see this book appealing to young readers - older young readers, many of whom definitely have a taste for dystopic fiction. It's also the kind of book where higher levels of understanding and insight can be gained on successive re-readings.