Infanticide and euthanasia? Maybe you’re expecting a gory sci-fi or dystopian thriller? Hordes of teens organizing to overthrow the evil empire that inflicts pain and injustice on the people they love? An ending where the main character(s) succeed in changing and/ or overthrowing the oppressive society in which they live? Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” a Newberry Medal winning fantasy released in 1993, often assigned to middle school and young high school readers, appeared on the 100 Best Books for Kids as well as Challenged and Banned Book lists–at the same time! As a matter of fact, “The Giver” is in the top ten list of most contested books in the country. And here you were, ready to send your child to see the movie version in living color!
So, what’s the difference between banned and challenged? A banned book must be removed from schools and public libraries if so ordered. A denied request for removal from the aforementioned places labels a book as challenged. These requests and decisions are local–specific schools, communities, counties, states. All it takes is one parent or adult to raise and objection.
What makes a book challenge-worthy? Unsuited to age group, violence, sexually explicit, religious viewpoints, suicide, sexual awakening, references to the occult and use of drugs are the most common reasons cited. In this case, “The Giver” was challenged for violence, i.e., infanticide and euthanasia despite the fact that the main character, Jonas is horrified to learn of such practices and escapes from this society with two-year old, Gabriel who is slated for “release” (death) by lethal injection at the hands of Jonas’s father who works as the Nurturer in charge of caring for newborns and infants. Jonas flees into the unknown to seek an alternate, just existence for himself and to save the life of this small child whose lack of perfection marks him for a scheduled death.
Let’s take a look at “The Giver” to understand the story. The book is set in the Community as opposed to Elsewhere. Choice is taken away. Most members of society are obedient, static, predictable with sameness being the highest level of achievement. There is no hunger, disease, poverty or pain. Families consist of a mother, a father, one son, one daughter. Marriages are arranged. Couples apply for children who are assigned to them. There are no grandparents since the old are killed off as they are deemed useless. Infants or people who are less than perfect in any way are also killed off. The mood is foreboding as loud speakers blast rules and reprimands in public and in homes. The people cannot see color or experience emotions. Professions are assigned at twelve years of age. Jonas is chosen to be “The Receiver of Memory” the highest honor in the land. He is trained by the man who now holds the position, “The Giver” as Jonas names him. The Giver holds all the emotions and memories that people gave up to attain Sameness and maintain Social Order. As memories and emotions are transferred to Jonas, his humanity kicks in as he realizes people have given up individuality because they fear ostracism which results in death. At the end, Jonas and Gabriel leave the Community, starving and half-frozen. They sled on the ice and snow toward the distant land beyond, focused on Christmas lights and music in the distance. Jonas’s sudden, extreme action forces all experiences, feelings and emotions of the past to surface. Since Jonas refuses to keep these emotions and memories, they revert to the unsuspecting members of the Community. The story is open-ended. We don’t know if Jonas is successful in establishing a life in a new-found society. Is he able to save himself and little Gabriel? Lois Lowry does not tell us.
What we have here is a quiet, serious boy who questions the society in which he lives. He is appalled by his new-found knowledge and terrified by his realizations. He quietly escapes but his absence drastically changes the lives of those he leaves behind. Does this book warrant the controversy associated with it?
Let’s take a look at some other challenged and banned books. According to Marshall Libraries, the top five on the 2013-2014 Most Frequently Challenged Books are in order: “Captain Underpants” series –language, violence, anti-family “The Bluest Eye”–the author, Toni Morrison never portrays incest, rape and pedophilia as wrong but instead presents the perps as sympathetic characters ” The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”–masturbation, racism, sexual objectification, religious irreverence “Fifty Shades of Grey”–sexually explicit, nudity, language, religious viewpoint “The Hunger Games”–religious viewpoint, violence unsuitable for age group
Some past titles include the “Harry Potter” series; “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings”; “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”; “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
We can clearly see the vast differences in content, message and mood among the books cited. Maybe you agree these books present such a negative and subversive view of life to impressionable young people that the reading of these books should be discouraged or completely banned? Maybe you believe the beliefs of a minority should not overrule the rights of the majority?
If specific books are not allowed in schools or libraries, then everyone’s freedom of choice is impacted. How can we make an informed decision on something that is non-existent? Should we utilize the sensitive topics as a stepping stone to conversations with our children? As in the case of “The Giver” doesn’t the main character reject the horrors of his society instead of embracing them? Can’t children learn a positive lesson from a negative situation? True, some of these books are appalling and probably not age appropriate and should not be read without mature adult guidance. Others may present views, characters and situations that are in opposition to the belief systems of segments of society and also require guided reading. It’s unfair to dump all these books into the same “No Read” bin.
In fairy tales and folk tales, as well as in life, we expect to see evil punished. In some of these books, the evil stays evil with little or no consequence. Maybe that’s what’s upsetting? At what age should children learn a sad fact of life–evil is not always punished, nor is good always rewarded? Don’t believe me? Just look at our justice system and who we venerate and who we overlook in our society. I rest my case.
© 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this content may be reprinted or used in any form except by express permission of Elaine Donadio Writes.
To step into Jonas’s world, watch this video.
<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/sT92P2knFeQ” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>
Next week’s blog post…October 25, 2014 “The Heist’s” Gabriel Allon: How Daniel Silva Creates a Sympathetic Character