** spoiler alert **
I found this 1993 book derivative. Sort of a child spin on 1984, etc. It's basically a simplified dystopian, scifi book for kids that explores euthanasia, the definition of family, making choices and the ramifications of your choices, all wrapped in a coming of age story about a 12 year old boy named Jonas.
The last half of the book is better than the first. Probably could have been better as a shorter story. The book is didactic and appears to be written as a classroom teaching tool to get kids to explore the above subjects - and it probably works very well for this purpose. The level of writing appears to be about third grade (maybe even second grade), but the subject matter is middle/high school. Perhaps the writing level is what makes this book a good tool for teachers dealing with a variety of reading abilities within one class.
The ending is left vague (probably to inspire classroom discussions of literary interpretation) and is perhaps what won over the Newberry judges (actually brought to mind the ending of a better book, The Road
) - Are Jonas and Gabe dead and this is some sort of positive afterlife experience framed by The Giver's favorite memory or do they physically survive in Elsewhere which is the embodiment of The Giver's favorite memory? And, of course, who can miss the symbolism of baby Gabe whom Jonas chooses to try to save from being euthanized. Even the author states it in an interview "babies represent the future" and "new life."
The logic falls apart in many places: number of births per year (only 50 babies are placed in families per year) & number of births per birthmother (only 3 per); selecting mates who are not really mates but really spousal units (since all sexual urges are suppressed using a daily pill), etc, etc.
May possibly need to be pre-vetted with adopted children as all the children in the 'family units' are adopted and the birthmothers are portrayed as not-so-bright women preforming a job that is not respected in the community. Birthmothers are assigned low-level labor jobs after they bear the requisite three children and they are not allowed to have a spouse or raise any children.
Other things to be prepared for: If twins are born, the child with the lower birth weight is euthanized (which is a major event described in detail). If a baby cries a lot or is fussy, it is euthanized. The elderly are treated well, but eventually euthanized.
Additionally, below are just two examples of things in the book that when I read the book I thought 'I've seen this before':
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
(Season 1, Episode 9, Nov. 1987). While The Giver
completely does away with the sensual element and is more utilitarian, both communities appear deceptively utopian. In Star Trek
, Wesley Crusher, playing with the Edo kids, innocently violates a planet law and is sentenced to death. In The Giver
, if you violate the strict community rules three times as well as other infractions, you are "released" - meaning sentenced to death and euthanized.
, published in 1949, is a more openly controlling society, but has many similar elements. For example, when O'Brien turns off the telescreen, Winston responds "You can turn it off!" "Yes, we can turn it off." On page 79 of The Giver
Jonas learns that the speaker can be turned off and "almost gasped aloud." "To have the power to turn the speaker off
? It was an astonishing thing."
Could go on and on, but I think I've beat up on this book long enough. I'm intrigued by the wide range of responses. While I was underwhelmed, it appears this is a well-loved book (even by some of my friends) and the Newberry Medal will ensure it continues to be read by hordes of students every year. As for me, after reading this book, I plan to check out the selection criteria and process for the Newberry Medal.