It is a seeming Utopia. The children are all well mannered. The adults are content and behave in ways that benefit society. Everyone knows their place in society and all are content. It has to be a complete fraud. This is the world The Giver inhabits. The society rewards those who emphasize how they are the same as everyone else; differences are not to be discussed. It would be rude to discuss differences, and there are few differences as it is.
Jonas is eleven. He is soon to turn twelve in The Ceremony of Twelve. Each December all of the children have a Ceremony graduating them into their next year of life and education and they are granted certain privileges at each step. In a society of sameness, Jonas is somewhat different. He is one of the very few with blue eyes and every now and then he sees a flicker of…something…but it doesn’t last and he doesn’t understand. At the Ceremony of Twelve all of the new Twelves are appointed their new jobs which they will do for the rest of their lives. Jonas is set apart even here when he is selected to the Receiver of Memories. It is the most honored of all occupations and only one person holds the position in the entire community. It is a great honor. It is also the event that shows Jonas just how different the Sameness is.
Lois Lowry won the Newbery Medal for this book, which is perhaps the highest literary honor for fiction written for children. The Giver is deserving of this award. The Giver is written simply and is easy to understand, but there is a real depth to the storytelling and the lesson that Lowry is presenting here. Lowry has written about a society which has embraced being the same so deeply that any aberrations will be punished (to a greater or lesser extent depending on the violation) and something has been done that the citizens only know a certain amount about themselves and their world. It is very limited even though everybody believes they are truly happy, and perhaps they are. But the Sameness comes at a great price: The Receiver is the only individual who truly knows all of what was given up and what the rest of the world holds. He knows the very good and the very bad that the world has to offer. It is a crushing weight. The subtle message as Jonas learns all of this is that it is differences which need to be embraced and should not be something to fear. Differences are what make life truly interesting and worthwhile. But there are some out in the world who want to eliminate some differences because it makes them uncomfortable and The Giver is something of an answer to any sort of prejudice and misunderstanding and celebrates those who go out of their comfort zones to really see what differences are.
What makes The Giver so remarkable is that it is a novel that works both for adults and for children and is highly readable for both age groups. Adults can enjoy the book just as much as a child, though perhaps in a different way. Highly recommended.