In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a retrospective of some of our favorite “frequently-challenged” author interviews and book reviews. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Check out the ALA timeline, showing significant banned and challenged books over the past 30 years. These are some of our all-time favorites—can you imagine someone denying you access to these books?
In the spirit of the American Library Association’s upcoming Banned Books Week, I recently picked up The Giver, by Lois Lowry, to see what all of the fuss was about. Surprisingly, this highly decorated book that is frequently taught in schools is also one of the Top 100 Banned or Challenged Books of the last decade for “being sexually explicit,” and having “occult themes and violence.”
In The Giver, eleven-year-old Jonas lives in a community that is completely controlled. Residents are assigned jobs, spouses, and even children, who are given birth outside of the family by women who are designated to do so. The ultimate goal of the community is “sameness” — but this means that no one has freedom of choice. When Jonas turns twelve, he is selected for the most honored job in the community, the Receiver of Memory. Jonas’ predecessor, the Giver, is the community’s sole keeper of life’s memories, which allows the residents to live free of anguish. When these memories are transmitted to Jonas, he finds that he is unable to accept the truth that comes with them.
This award-winning story is compelling and thought provoking. As memories are transferred to Jonas, he begins to question the world around him and whether eliminating the freedom to make choices is such a good thing. The book provides many opportunities to discuss the pitfalls of too much conformity in society, and what it would be like to have every choice made for you.
One challenged theme in The Giver is the community’s custom of “release,” which is used frequently with the elderly, rule-breakers, and newborns that are less than ideal. Residents have no idea that when a person is “released,” they are actually euthanized by lethal injection. When this information is transmitted to Jonas, the realization is almost unbearable because his father has “released” many newborns in his job as “Nurturer.” This subject matter provides an excellent opportunity for young people to form their own beliefs about such practices.
Jonas also discovers that the last Receiver of Memory-in-training (the Giver’s daughter) chose to be released by injecting herself after learning the truth about the community. While some have argued that The Giver portrays suicide as a viable option for dealing with despair, Jonas’ own actions are an excellent example of how there are always alternatives to suicide.
The fact that the book has been challenged for being sexually explicit is somewhat surprising since there is virtually no sexual content. Each resident of the community is given daily medication to eliminate “stirrings” at the onset of sexual thoughts or feelings, so sexuality is not a part of their lives.
After reading The Giver, it is almost impossible to miss the irony. In the past decade, there have been many attempts to control access to a book that eloquently illustrates the danger of too much control in society. Personally, I’m with Jonas. A society that allows people to have freedom of choice is a much better place.
Thanks so much for joining us for Banned Books Week 2012! If you’ve missed any of the BBW 2012 series, you can find it all right here.