Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Giver: A Challenged Book

Most books are challenged for children because of sexually explicit content or offensive language, but The Giver by Lois Lowry does not contain either of these topics.  Instead, it is seen as not suitable for the age group for which it is aimed, middle school children, because of violence.  Those who challenge the 1993 novel claim that it is too dark.  About a third of the challenges result in a ban of The Giver.

While the novel does contain darker themes, such as ultimate control over a dystopian town, euthanasia, and the cultural memories (things such as war, famine, and pain) Jonas receives from the title character, I never found the descriptions gratuitous.  Enough description is given to understand the torment Jonas undergoes when he discovers the truth of his world; the pain is not dwelt upon more than is necessary.  In the challenge listing on the Freedom to Read website, the objecting parent stated that grade 11 might be a more suitable reading level.

I read the book for a novel study in grade seven when I was 12 and loved it--I've always considered it the book that lead me to an appreciation of dystopian novels in my teen years.  After the dawn of The Hunger Games in 2008 (which is often challenged itself), the amount of dystopian YA novels is much higher.  Books like Divergent, Delirium, Matched, and Incarceron are right up there in popularity with the vampire books.  However, I never found these as dark as The Giver, and they are meant for older audiences.  Maybe The Giver seems darker because it is meant for younger audiences and still contains these themes; it was also the first one I read, so maybe the other books did not seem as depressing afterwards.

I'm not saying that the darkness of The Giver means that the challenges and resulting bans are a good thing.  It was a great novel to read in grade seven, and lead our class to as much of a discussion as a class of twelve-year-olds can hold about a book.  However, I think that keeping in mind the reasons behind the challenges, especially when it comes to reading levels, is important.  It all comes down to the individual child and their parents to choose reading material suitable for their reading level, as long as "suitable for their reading level" doesn't become "only following with our beliefs and no one else's."

I don't think The Giver falls under this "only following with our beliefs and no one else's."  The attitude of the parents challenging the book--at least in this instance--seems to be that it is too old for the children, not explicitly inappropriate.  The impression I get from those who challenge other books for sexually explicit content, swearing, or LGBTQIA content is that these are things that they see as wrong to be portrayed in literature for their children in general, not waiting until a grade 11 reading level.  Therefore, I would say that while I don't agree with the challenge of The Giver, it is a lesser evil.

What do you think?