A dystopia is a community or society, usually fictional, that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of utopia. Such societies appear in many works of fiction, particularly in stories set in a speculative future. Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.The community, the setting of The Giver, is a perfect example of a dystopia. On the one hand, life in the community is orderly, safe, and happy. Members pursue careers perfect for their gifts and personalities. Senior citizens are pampered and well cared for. Families encourage everyone to talk about his or her feelings and dreams. Honesty and truth are valued.
The first half of the book sets the stage. The reader learns what it's like to live in this community. It seems a good and pleasant place. Some of the strictures seem weird, but perhaps it's just a small price to pay for the multitude of benefits. Who wouldn't want meals delivered and all dishes washed? Who wouldn't want to work in the career best suited to one's gifts and talents and enjoyment? It's tempting. . . .
In striving to do what's "best" for its members, the community's totalitarian government, the Committee of Elders, has taken control of almost all decisions: what to wear, what to eat at meals, whom to marry, how many children to have, what career to follow, when to get a bike, what to name your child, what music to listen to. . . . all for the sake of peaceful community living. Everything runs smoothly, and when it does not, steps are quickly taken to remedy the situation.
In fact, some of the government's decisions are quite surprising, and Lowry reveals these a little at a time as they come up in the narrative. To me, this is a mark of a brilliant story-teller.
In the second part of the story, Jonas, the twelve-year-old protagonist, becomes the mentee of a very important member of the society. In his training, he learns the dark side of the community. His mentor, the Giver, accepted these "drawbacks" and lived with the knowledge. What will Jonas decide to do himself?
Lois Lowry has written an exceptional book, one that makes readers think. Moreover, it ends on a hopeful note, something I look for and appreciate in children's literature. I'd list The Giver as a middle grades and up novel. My grade: A+
Caveat: You may want to pre-read this book if your child is highly sensitive (or wait until your child is older). There is one particularly upsetting scene that might not be right for certain readers; however, this scene is crucial to the overall plot.