SUMMARY: (5 of 5 stars) I’d never even heard of this book until a friend mentioned it on Facebook as an example of dystopian fiction, but apparently all of my friends have and they loved it. I did not enjoy reading this book because it’s horrifying and painful to read, but it’s a good book and a very quick read.
It’s the story of a boy who is born into a society of near-perfect equality, but is assigned the role of “Receiver” for his community. And in training for his life’s work, he starts to understand all sorts of horrible things about life there.
SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward, I’m going to discuss this book without any concern about spoilers. So, if you don’t like spoilers you should stop reading now.
If I had known that this book was going to tear my heart out through my bellybutton, I probably would have taken a minute to collect myself before reading it.
It’s the story of Jonas, a young boy who lives in a society of near-perfect “equality.” Or as close to equality as someone who has no grasp of humanity might conceive of it. There’s no art. There’s no love. People can’t even see color! Or hear music! Reproduction is carefully managed and regulated. Manners are tightly regulated. And every person’s life is dictated to them from beginning to end.
Oh. And people get murdered all the time, but no one cares because caring is a feeling and these monsters have no feeling.
So, Jonas is assigned his life career of being the community “Receiver.” Basically, he is to be given all the memories going back generation upon generation. And when the leaders of the community are confronted with a new or difficult decision, they come to him to ask if he has any memories that might help them make the decision.
This task of storing memories also means that he stores the emotions of the community. So, he is overwhelmed by the whole experience and conspires with the current Receiver — who becomes the “Giver” when Jonas is assigned to be the Receiver — to escape the community.
So, when Jonas leaves, all the memories and emotions that he was storing leave him and return to the community. I can only imagine that those people burn the whole damned place to the ground when that happens.
Oh. And he kidnaps a baby so that his father doesn’t murder it because it doesn’t sleep through the night all the time.
Yeah. Like I said, it’s a horrible, horrible place to live.
The genius of the story is that all of these horrible things are revealed very slowly. The reader is really drawn into Jonas’s experience and feeling the explosion of emotion that he feels when he realizes everything that has been happening around him.
The ending is very ambiguous. I believed that Jonas and the baby died. I realize this is a world where people have magical powers, but I thought the baby was feeding memories back to Jonas to keep him warm and to make him think he was heading toward some people in the snow storm just so he would keep moving. But in reality they were just lost in a snow storm.
But I googled about it and the author says they live. Also, there are some sequels to this book, which usually suggests that the protagonists carry on in some way.
I don’t know if I’ll read the sequels just yet because that was a lot of emotion for me to take in when I wasn’t expecting it.