I’m such a good audience for dystopian / post-apocalyptic books that I don’t read them too often, for fear to be influenced into a gloomy/paranoid mood. For example, I have The Road by Cormac Mc Carthy on my TBR pile since, well, forever, but I can’t muster the courage to open the first page despite hearing so much good about it.
Luckily for me, The Giver is not so harsh as what I heard about the Road. Indeed, it’s a YA book, recommended for middle grade programs and considered a classics, although it is often challenged in the US. But because it doesn’t feature violence or oppression doesn’t mean that it isn’t a disturbing read, both for kids and adults.
Jonas is the 11 year old narrator. Jonas’ world is perfect. There’s no violence, no discrimination, no pain, no poverty. Everyone has a job, a home, every child has two parents and a sibling. No one lies, no one is mean. Everyone is well balanced and whenever there’s a minor quarrel among the children, family members quietly discuss it and acknowledge the underlying issues until everyone is soothed and confusion disappears. Jonas’ family meals reminded me of fantasy perfection often offered as a model in psychology magazines, read by over-extended, angst-ridden parents (yeah, me too!)
But soon you get to the point where all this perfection is a bit too much. Too nice. (How can children understand “too nice” I did wonder?) Jonas lives in a world where there is no choice: in order for everyone to have a place, jobs and marriages are designated by the community elders. No emotion: in order to banish pain, love has no place either. At the ceremony of 12 when he’s supposed to be assigned his lifetime job, Jonas will become the Receiver: a job that sets him apart from all his previous contented life.
I was really impressed by the ambiguities of the book. I understand that people may have been challenged by this book so much that they would challenge it in turn. It really questions what is the greater good for a community. The price to pay for getting a good level of safety and comfort for everyone is individual freedom, but freedom looks so risky that many would agree to pay it without a second thought. A bit like Miss Congeniality wanting “world peace” (I own up my non-literary references), no one would probably disagree a generous program to erase poverty, end discrimination and promote respect for all. But beware those who actually want to reach these goals by all means, says Lois Lowry.