The central story is based around a boy named Jonas who is nearing the age of twelve in which he will be given his adulthood profession and begin his training. His family unit is like all others in the community where the most intimate actions they share as a family, is sharing of feelings, sharing of dreams, etc. during certain times of the day. In aging, if adults are deemed to be socially capable, they have the option of receiving a spouse, not by their preference, and further one son and one daughter creating a family unit. None of those in the family units are actually related by blood to each other though and again, this is only an option if social requirements have been met. This also applies to newborn babies; if they can sleep through the night without crying and behave as a well-behaved newborn baby should, they are given to a family unit and in failure to do so, they are ‘released’ from life. This detail is important because Jonas’ father brings home a newborn who needs a little extra attention to learn how to act socially correct so he may live and be nurtured by a family unit in the future. Even though the family tries to avoid it, Jonas in particular gradually grows to love this baby who they call Gabriel. When Jonas reaches the age of twelve, he receives the occupation of Receiver of Memory which is a most honored position however he doesn’t understand this until he meets his mentor, the current Receiver of Memory or Giver, which he is to become. After schooling, he meets regularly with the Giver who knows all according to the leaders through memories he has received and books he has read, and he passes this information to Jonas through dream-sharing. Through the process, Jonas becomes aware of human emotions, the sensations and reality of what weather was like, war and violence, disease, music, color; things that people in the community could not even fathom. Explaining these things doesn’t make any sense to Jonas until he has felt them for himself. With these realizations he now understands, he is more curious of why his community is the way it is, what releasing is and why it occurs, and injustices that take place in the community. He gets frustrated, upset, and saddened now because those in his community have no idea about anything really; they are satisfied right where they are. When Gabriel is ultimately scheduled for release, Jonas’ fire is ignited and he takes action against this society he lives in. He takes Gabriel and leaves to Elsewhere, where he and Gabriel will be safe to feel, to love, to live in different weather patterns, with joy at times and pain in others. In this endeavor, Jonas creates memories of his own and he saves Gabriel’s life as well as his own.
While reading, I was both intrigued and frustrated simultaneously; intrigued because I was curious to see how the protagonist would rise above and go beyond the norm to challenge injustices which occurred, and frustrated because the characters could not understand how wrong their world was in controlling them. Sameness is what is acceptable as it is also what is most easily controlled to keep the society functioning as it does but in the instances in which twins were born, the child who weighed more was given the chance for a family unit while the other was released from life. I was most troubled by this because I am a twin and if this were true for me and my twin, my twin sister would not be here and what people don’t understand is a bond is formed between twins in the womb, not easily broken. Also, when love is mentioned, Jonas’ mother expresses the term ‘love’ as being ‘overused’ unintentionally making Jonas sad. Humans are created with human emotion—we cry when we’re born—to deny this is to deny are very selves which is how the people are in this story. To give all this to one person is empowering to them in the same way it is burdensome.