At 165 pages, in my copy, I'd say this was a short story. It's classed as a dystopian novel and has won an award.
It tells the story of life through the eyes of a boy who turns twelve years old in, what seems to him (and portrayed to the reader), a perfect society. However, he is given his lifetime profession at his coming of age ceremony and since he's been chosen as the new Receiver his eyes are opened gradually to the imperfections that he wasn't aware of that run the society. The old Receiver becomes the Giver of the title.
This is the first of a quartet that I bought in one volume and I look forward to reading the other three parts. This was well written and I did not spot the twist at the end.
My husband gave me this book for Christmas on the recommendation of a friend of his from work who reads a lot, but, I've noticed, rarely reads and enjoys the same books I do. So I was not sure how much I would enjoy the book and really didn't decide until the very end (when I decided I liked it a lot).
The book is told by an unnamed narrator who has had the misfortune to be a young man during a major war in which a new weapon with very troubling and unanticipated lasting effects is used. The narrator and his friends and acquaintances must determine how to deal with this new world they have created.
Seems straightforward, but it's not. The troubling effects are nightmarish, so much so that I found I could not read the book right before I went to bed. Harkaway does an astounding job of describing not only these effects, but what makes them so deeply troubling. He also shows the efforts of different groups of people to process what has happened and what to do about it. Predictably, they come up with different plans, which are at odds with each other, and there is a lot of conflict among the groups. There narrator is also personally affected by what happens in ways that do not become clear until much of the way through the book. And so there's a lot of juggling of plot and information and I often felt exhausted reading it and not quite sure what was going on (I read it in book form and didn't have the benefit of the search function of my tablet). I am not someone who sticks with a book that I don't like just because I started it, so there was enough there to grab me and keep me reading. And in the end, I ended up liking this book much more than I thought I would when I was in the middle of it. In fact, if you like these kinds of stories at all, I highly recommend it.
Harkaway writes well and so the characters are engaging and funny and sad. Most of the characters came alive for me as people, although I got some of the secondary characters confused. It's a long book and every now and then I would think "who is that?" Part of this may have been my fault for having another book going at the same time (in order to have something to read right before I went to sleep). I would recommend not doing that and keeping a pretty close watch on even the minor characters. They sometimes reappear in important ways.
I should mention (as most reviewers do) that Harkaway is John Le Carre's son, but the genre and style of writing are so different that the most you could say is that they both have a great affinity for language.
Now, there's one plot point I had to really work through and I'm going to put it in a spoiler in case anyone reads the book and wants to discuss the issue:
I had never heard of the "Divergent" trilogy until one weekend when my newspaper had a short article about the author and I saw "The Hunger Games," with a teaser for the new "Divergent" movie. I thought it looked interesting and bought the first book, quickly followed by the next 2.
I often enjoy fantasy or scifi YA fiction, with some notable exceptions. I thought the "Twilight" books were unreadable garbage, the first one stinking slightly less than the others, but none of them being good. I was hesitant about "The Hunger Games," not because it was YA, but because the underlying story is so horrifying. But I read and enjoyed them, although I didn't think they were particularly well-written. I like the "Divergent" trilogy even more, although I have my reservations about the second two books, particularly the last one (more on that later).
The book is set in a future Chicago, large parts of which are an uninhabitable wasteland of partly-demolished buildings. The river and part of Lake Michigan that were part of Chicago are now marshy. Everyone who lives in Chicago belongs to one of 5 factions, which are named based upon the specific characteristic that the faction members fully embody. The Abnegation value self-denial and service to others. The Amity value friendship and peace. The Candor believe in being frank and open. The Dauntless value fearlessness. And the Erudite value knowledge. At 16, each child takes a test to find out which faction best suits them and the next day, they have to choose where to go. Usually, children are suited for and choose the faction in which they grew up, but not always.
Our heroine, Tris Prior, is raised in Abnegation, but finds that she is suitable for 3 factions (Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite). That means that she is "divergent." For some reason, this is considered very dangerous and her test-giver tells her to tell no one that she is divergent and fudges her scores to show that she's only suitable for one. Tris then chooses Dauntless and goes to their "area" to receive training, which reminds me a lot of my son's black belt training only with more sadism. There, she meets a young man, Tobias (nicknamed "Four") who is one of her trainers. They fall in love and, I am very happy to report, there is no love triangle.
The Abnegation are the leaders of Chicago because, obviously, you should only want as your leaders people who don't want it for themselves. But they seek to impose their values on others and not all the others (particularly the Erudite) agree that selflessness is so wonderful. So they stage an uprising that involves Tris and Tobias and their friends taking sides and making decisions, often with insufficient or inaccurate information. Roth does a very good job of slowly revealing the complications, some of which I guessed, but several of which I did not. By the end, there are significant challenges to the entire faction system, but every victory is hard won and no victory is complete.
The writing is actually pretty good. I know that sounds like faint praise, but what I mean is while Roth is no Stegner, she does create some very good images. At one point, Four leaves the trainees with Eric, who is a sadist, and Tris thinks, "Four leaving makes me nervous. Leaving us with Eric is like hiring a babysitter who spends his time sharpening knives." There are a lot of images in the book like that, which makes it fun to read.
Roth also fully explores the concept that everyone's best quality is also their worst. The Erudite value knowledge, but don't care how it is used at all. A children's rhyme describes them as cold. The Dauntless value freedom from fear and so the same children's rhyme describes them as cruel. The Abnegation don't allow for any individual decision-making. The Amity want everyone to get along to the point that they won't defend one group when they are attacked by the other. And you can imagine the problem with Candor. She actually does a good job with this aspect of the story and since it's really the focus of the trilogy, that's a good thing.
I found the plotting solid. Nothing really moved too quickly or too slowly and most of the story hung together well. I thought the middle book was the weakest on plot. I kept getting confused and then I read that the author said that the huge success of the first book meant she had to get the second one out quickly and so she had to rush it. It shows a bit and I'm sorry that that happened to her. A more established writer might have been able to push back, but I don't get the feeling she did that.
The third book had a problem that I also attributed to the rush. With few exceptions, she alternates the chapters, one being told by Tris and one being told by Four. Even though they seem like very different people in the books, it was hard to keep straight whose voice you were hearing. They sound too much alike, so that if I stopped reading mid-chapter, I would pick up the book, start reading, and then have to look back to remind myself which character was talking.
The biggest problem in the third book for many, many people and the reason that it gets lower ratings in amazon and other places (but not from me) than the other 2 books is
If you like dystopian YA fiction, this is really a very good example. I recommend it highly within the genre.
Lois Lowry was another author that I adored as a child with her series about Anastasia Krupnik. I hadn't realised that she was also a winner of the Newbury Medal (the American equivalent of the Carnegie Medal - judged by Librarians) in 1994 for this book, The Giver. It's completely different to her other books, and I honestly couldn't tell you if I'd read it when I was still at school.
This is science fiction for younger readers, so some of the themes aren't as developed as they might be in a full blown adult sci-fi. This may be a deal breaker for some adult readers, but it really shouldn't affect it's intended audience (compare to Stephenie Meyer or J K Rowling!) or those willing to suspend a bit of belief.
I can see why it earned it's Newbury medal - it's well written but easy to read, it's certainly delivers on developing the reader and giving a lasting experience from the book.
It's also been done many times since in YA fiction - clearly the greatest form of flattery!