One thing I enjoy about reading Young Adult books is their relative lack of complexity. Strong YA fiction generally has one or two themes and communicates them simply and clearly, sometimes eliciting a stronger visceral reaction than some more complex but less immediate works. That's how The Giver was for me.
The Giver is the story of Jonas, an eleven-year-old boy living in a perfect community. In this community, no one is ever sad, sick, or hurting. Everyone is always well-fed, and no one ever dies. Unwanted children and the elderly are “released” in a beautiful ceremony that almost no one ever gets to see.
On their twelfth birthdays, children in the community are assigned positions within the hierarchy. There are birthers, caretakers, speakers, and so on. Jonas, however, is assigned to a special position, that of Receiver. The job of the receiver is to receive memories, feelings, and experiences from the past and keep them inside himself to protect the others in the community from the pain and unpleasantness they might bring. These experiences are given to Jonas by the previous Receiver, or the Giver from the title. As more and more experiences are revealed to Jonas, he begins to see the dark underbelly of his society, particularly “Release,” which is revealed to be a code word for involuntary infantacide and euthanasia.
In his excellent review, Christopher noted that the problem with dystopian societies is that most of them do not represent realities in which any normal person would wish to live. He includes in his assessment the society in The Giver, but I'm not so sure I agree. Without politicizing this commentary, I'd simply note that the ideas of euthanization for the elderly and infanticide for the unwanted child are not unheard of, and a society in desparate pursuit of happiness at any cost might well adopt similar (albiet less extreme methods of dealing with unpleasant realities.
Anyway, regardless of your view of the society it projects, The Giver is an impactful book, full of powerful scenes that work even when you can see them coming, such as the revelation that Rosemary, a failed Receiver who chose to euthanize herself rather than live with the knowledge she had received, is the current Giver's daughter. Also, the depiction of Jonas's father cheerily euthanizing an unwanted child while Jonas watches is chilling.
As it stands, The Giver is a solid dystopian story with a strong human aspect. It's also a really quick read and well worth the hour it'll take to get through it.