Censorship and Lois Lowry's The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry (Amazon Link)

In the “ALA list of most frequently challenged books from 1990-1999” (which in my mind is the perfect reading list), Lois Lowry’s The Giver ranks number eleven, following such titles as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Adventures of Huckelbury Finn, and Bridge to Terabithia. In an article in USA Today (2001), entitled “Suicide book challenged in schools,” the main reason stated for challenging Lowry’s novel is its light treatment of infanticide, suicide and euthanasia.

Censorship is usually a touchy issue when determining what books should be kept on the shelves in a library or in regards to what novels are appropriate to teach to a specific grade level of student. There are issues that may not be deemed appropriate for the school setting. I, myself, recently pulled Lauren Myracle’s ttyl from the shelves of the RMMS library, deeming it unfit for the 7th and 8th graders we serve due to explicit sexual content. Have I read it? Yes. And once I got past the language I thoroughly enjoyed it. Would I put it in the high school library? Yes. The three protagonists have experiences that students can relate to. I will admit that many of my 7th and 8th graders have had these experiences as well, but I still do not believe it to be appropriate for the age group. [Edit: At this point, I’d put it back in the library. My experiences with middle school students and my ideas on censorship have evolved since then.]

Taught in an elementary school, I’m not surprised that The Giver met some tension. I’m not sure students that young are mature enough to deal with the issues of infanticide, suicide and euthanasia that the novel deals with. At the middle school, however, it is a novel that can lead students to form their own opinions on these issues, and have informed arguments amongst themselves about these issues. That is, if the novel is taught.

I disagree with the parent in the USA Today article who suggested that these issues are treated lightly. He did read the novel, but I think he did not internalize the main character’s reaction to the discovery of what releasing really is. The treatment, outside of Jonas’s reaction, is not necessarily lightly. Children are warned not to use release as a joke when chastising another child for an indiscretion.

The novel also brings up issues of conformity and choice, two that are important in the lives of adolescents. They want to be seen as old enough and mature enough to make their own choices, but their choices frequently involve making themselves similar to one another, thus conforming to a norm. Again, if the novel is taught, and not simply given to students to read on their own, the conversations that can be had regarding the thematic ideas in the novel are conversations that can help shape the lives of these adolescents.

Conversation is key.

Denver (AP). Suicide book challenged in schools. In USA Today. (July 20, 2001). Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/2001-07-20-the-giver.htm

Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. St. Paul, MN: EMC Paradigm Publishing

Myracle, L. (2004). ttyl. New York: Amulet Books.

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