Banned Book Week: The Giver

Published in 1993, THE GIVER by Lois Lowry is one of the most frequently challenged books in the last two decades. The book climbed to #11 on the ALA’s list in the 1990’s and slipped to #23 during this past decade. Why is this Newbery Medal (1994) winning book so often challenged?

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.


Susanne Winnacker said...

Allowing teens to read about certain topics (rape, suicide, death, abuse, etc) isn't dangerous. Not letting them read about those topics on the other hand IS dangerous because it keeps them from learning how to deal with them.
I hate hate hate book banning.

Theresa Milstein said...

This is going to be a popular book to review today.

In 2002, I was a seventh-grade assistant. I hadn't read middle grade or YA since I was a a teenager. I saw it was required reading for seventh-graders, so when they were taking a state test, I decided to read it. I was blown away.

It shocked me it was on the banned book list too.

Jemi Fraser said...

The Giver is one of my favourite books to read aloud to my students - I've read it aloud from grades 5 - 8. It's such a thought provoking book. The kids LOVE it.

So many fantastic discussions - including the traumatic effects on others of suicide, the power of individuality, the dangers of following the crowd without thought & the power one person can have. Banning any book drives me nuts!

Anonymous said...

If we protect our children from all the negatives in life, how will they survive in the real world? It's not realistic. I love THE GIVER. It's an amazing novel and definitely has a place in the classroom.

Unknown said...

I agree with all the points above - how can we expect children and teenagers to learn how to deal with all the negatives in the world - perhaps learning about the worst in society will help them to understand why those acts are bad and therefore not commit them.

lotusgirl said...

I adored The Giver when I read it. It's so thought provoking.

Amie Borst said...

it's kind of ironic that it's banned book week - and my daughter was given a required reading assignment that i had to say no to.

while the book that my daughter's class was reading (The Outsiders) is a classic piece of American literature, i felt that for MY daughter, she wasn't emotionally capable of handling the graphic images and language.

do i think that means the book should be banned?

absolutely not.

it just wasn't one i felt approrpiate for her at this time in her life.

will she be more ready for it at 14 or 15? probably. will i let her read it then? sure, if she wants. but i suspect she won't want to because the first chapter alone upset her that much. it will forever be engrained in her mind. and for a child who LOVES reading, i hate to think that she read something that might just turn her off to books.

Kristin said...

One of my all time favorites.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I heart the Giver. Hard.

I guess the way i look at is you are certainly in the right to shelter your kids from negativity if you feel it's neccessary. But you don't have the right to decide if anyone else's children should be sheltered.

Jen said...

I've yet to read The Giver (sad, I know) but it's on my list now.

I agree with an earlier comment, NOT allowings kids to read the "hard stuff", within their scope of intelligence and ability to emotionally process it, is dangerous. If no one speaks on the hard stuff, then kids will go out there to find out on their own. Without parents, teachers, or mentors.

That's more frightening to me than letting a 13 year old read about a society that controls its people.

Great post!

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

The closest my parents ever came to keeping me from reading things that they thought contained disturbing materials was to honestly tell me, "that book/movie/tv show will make you unhappy." Then they let me decide for myself. Sometimes I listened, sometimes I didn't. Often they were right. But they gave me the choice. Being older, becoming an adult, it's about making choices instead of having others make them for you. If you keep teens from everything that might make them unhappy, they're never going to grow up, or they'll do it without your knowing or your guidance.

Yvonne Osborne said...

I loved The Giver and did an extensive discussion about it on my blog about a year ago. Thanks for this review. Well done!

Angie Smibert said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by to discuss the Giver today. Personally, I agree that kids need to read the hard stuff--unless there's a really compelling reason. And then the parents have the right to keep their child from reading something, but not to keep everyone's child from reading it.

KA said...

One of my favorites. Sometimes when a book is banned, I can understand why people object to it, even when I disagree. But this one? I just don't get it.

Sierra Gardner said...

This is one of my favorite books, even as an adult. I'm reminded of something that Orson Scott Card said when discussing Ender's Game (another story that is read by children and is disliked for it's thematic elements). He said that even when he was young he never felt like a child. I didn't either-I felt (and generally was) capable of handling these kind of books. And so are many of these young people.

Unknown said...



the giver....