The Giver by Lois Lowry has become a classic of middle school reading lists since its 1993 release. It tells the story of Jonas, a twelve-year-old boy chosen to be the Receiver of Memories in a world of Sameness. The novel won the 1994 Newberry Medal, and it’s safe to say that nearly every American teenager has read The Giver at some point in his academic career. It also marked a beginning to the popularity of young adult utopian/dystopian novels that has carried over and influenced some of today’s most popular series, including The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (another frequently challenged young adult series), Uglies by Scott Westerfield, and Divergent by Veronica Roth. Despite it being beloved by many, it is also frequently disputed as inappropriate for its age group; it is recommended for young readers ages 8 and up. It is part of a series including Gathering Blue, Messenger, and the more recently released Son. The Giver was also adapted for film in 2014, making $12.3 million its first week.
The American Library Association lists The Giver in the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990-1999 and 2000-2009, and in the last decade was one of the twenty-five most banned or challenged books.
In The Giver, we meet Jonas as an eleven-year-old boy living in the “community.” In the community, everything is controlled. From job assignments, marriage partners, children, to number of children, the citizens of the fictional society basically have their whole lives planned out for them. Jonas, upon his twelfth birthday, and along with all the other twelve-year-olds, attends a ceremony in which the Elders of the community decide what occupation they will hold. Jonas is skipped over, only to be told he is the new Receiver of Memory. As Jonas goes to his training with the Giver of Memories (the old Receiver) he soon learns that his world view is limited. The community is devoid of color, music, strong emotions. He soon becomes enamored with the life people once led, where they could make decisions and mistakes.
Reception of The Giver has always been mixed, even from the beginning. Some say it should be in the 100 Best Books for Children and some say it should be banned. Those in favor of banning it cite violent and sexual scenes, infanticide, euthanasia, and “sexual awakening” among the inappropriate content within the novel.
The book was challenged in 1995 in Kansas for themes of murder and suicide and was removed from school libraries. From then, charges ranged from “desensitizing children to euthanasia,” use of mind control, selective breeding, “occult, New Age practices,” sexually explicit material, and encouraging suicide. The film version was rated PG-13 by the MPAA, around the age that most teens read the book in schools. The banning of The Giver may have been due to its year of release. It has become a cornerstone in young adult literature, paving the way for many modern speculative fiction novels. Things might have gone differently for The Giver had it been released in more recent years.
When asked about her book getting banned at schools, Lois Lowry replied, “I think banning books is a very, very dangerous thing. It takes away an important freedom. Any time there is an attempt to ban a book, you should fight it as hard as you can. It’s ok for a parent to say, ‘I don’t want my child to read this book.’ But it is not ok for anyone to try to make that decision for other people. The world portrayed in The Giver is a world where choice has been taken away. It is a frightening world. Let’s work hard to keep it from truly happening.”
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