Intrigued by one of PattyP's posts I ordered The Giver for my kids and read it yesterday to check it out.
Now I am deeply disturbed.
This is going to be a bit of a spoiler so be warned.
The first part of the books was really good, depicting life in an idyllic society where everything is planned and everyone is kind and coureous to everyone else. Parents are patient and talk at length with their kids, teachers take genuine interest, punishment is well-considered and fair and everyone follows the rules. They aren't exactly brainwashed but they do see themselves as contributors in a society and believe in the rules they are asked to follow. No one is hungry. Arguments end in respectful apologies. There is no war or want or neglect.
It sounded awesome.
Then our hero, a 12-year-old boy, nice kid, is selected to be the new Receiver for the community. We find out that this means receiving the collective memories of all people from all time, even the early days when there was war, hunger, neglect and murder. By receiving these memories he protects everyone else from having to deal with them.
This isn't the disturbing part, so far the book is still just intriguing.
What the boy discovers as he receives more and more memories are colors (which no one else in the community can see) and emotions (which no one else in the community can feel). It turns out that people have chosen safety and order over colors and emotions.
This is illustrated by what's going on at home. At first it seems like the boy has a perfect family life, with kind, patient, successful, openly communicative parents. Early on in the story his dad - not his real dad but one of the parental appointees responsible for raising him - brings home a third child, a baby boy who is not growing fast enough. The dad works with newborns until they are old enough to place in foster families and is concerned that this little boy isn't growing fast enough. He thinks he'll do better in a real home environment. The stakes are high because if the boy fails to meet his standard growth measurements he will be 'released' from the community instead of being fostered out.
So here we learn something disconcerting about the society but the dad seems like a good, concerned person who is genuinely trying to give the baby boy a chance. The whole family rallies around the baby boy, Gabe, and treats him with love and affection.
Gabe lives with them for about a year and a half at which time he has still failed to grow sufficiently and has difficulty sleeping through the night. The dad explains conversationally over the dinner table that Gabe will have to be released after all.
From his training as receiver, our hero knows this means that Gabe will be killed and is horrified by his family's casual attitude to this. He therefore decides to run away with Gabe in order to save him.
OK, I'm on board with that.
At this point the book is almost over. There are a few more pages describing his getaway with Gabe, how they hide from the search planes, how the memories he has received so far fade as he moves further from the community and finally, how they starve and freeze when they leave the cultivated community lands. By the last page, Gabe is a limp scrap of expiring life and our hero is trying desparately to keep him warm and alive with his last memories of sunshine.
Then, at random, they find a sled on a mountain top that the boy somehow knows will be there and sled down to some mysterious people that are supposedly waiting for them, which I assume is a comforting fantasy that occurs as they are both freezing to death.
I hated the end of this book. I'm not sure where these two boys were supposed to go once they left their safe, controlled community but surely freezing to death on a mountaintop wasn't the only option.
If anyone else who has read this book has a different interpretation I'd love to hear it. I'm haunted by thoughts of sweet little Gabe today.