The unfortunate headline in an USA Today article in 2001 kind of says it all: “Suicide Book Challenged in Schools.”
Most of the challenges regarding THE GIVER cite the subjects of suicide and euthanasia as reasons to pull the book from the curriculum or library. [According to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, a challenge is a formal, written attempt to remove a book from a library or classroom. ] For instance, one parent in the Denver area complained that book was dangerous because of its portrayal of suicide in a neutral to positive light. Parents in Blue Springs, Missouri also attempted to get the book pulled from the eight-grade curriculum in 2003. One parent there said:
“This book is negative. I read it. I don’t see the academic value in it. Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative.”
The irony is that THE GIVER is about a society that only presents the positive and keeps everything negative away from its populace.
The world of THE GIVER has eliminated fear, pain, hunger, conflict, and illness. Life flows very efficiently for everyone in the Community. It chooses your parents, job, spouse, and children. Every detail of your life is controlled, down to your choice of words and what you read. And, any child who is too unruly, any elder who is too old, or any rule breaker who's too incorrigible is "released" from the Community.
When Jonas turns 12, he (along with all of his year mates) is assigned his carefully chosen job. Because of his special ability to see "beyond," he’s to be the next Receiver—the one person who carries all of the negative (as well as the positive) collective memories of the Community. (If the Receiver did not hold these memories in his being, they would be released out into the world, and the people of the Community would then have to feel pain and suffering once again.)
The old Receiver becomes the Giver, the one who imparts the memories to his replacement, Jonas. As he starts experiencing both fear and love, Jonas realizes how colorless the Community really is without the full spectrum of emotions and experiences.
He also learns that being "released" actually means being euthanized. He sees his own father "release" an infant because it was a twin. Then Jonas learns that the Receiver candidate before him—the Giver’s own daughter—released herself because she couldn’t handle the world as she saw it through Receiver eyes. Rather than succumb to the same despair, Jonas sets off to free his people—by giving them back their collective memories—good and bad.
The book doesn’t encourage or condone suicide and infanticide. And, I don’t think the parents behind the challenges really think the book does. They--like the people of the Community--want to shelter their children from topics that might disturb them—like kids committing suicide and fathers killing babies. I cannot fault those parents for that, particularly if the child is very young. However, should tweens and teens be protected from negative ideas? The parent from the Denver area thought suicide was a dangerous topic because of his state’s high suicide rate—and because his kid was in the same school district as Columbine High School.
Did this dad (and the other challengers) have a point? Should we protect kids from negative ideas?
Or was Jonas right? Do we owe it to our children and ourselves to let them read (and discuss) both the good and the bad things in life?
BTW, in most cases I found on the ALA site, the schools opted to keep THE GIVER as part of their curriculum or library.