I vividly remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized, at the same moment that Jonas realized, what release actually meant.
The world had been a little strange, a little inaccessible to me, but up until this point, I had been strung along by the utopia of the society represented in The Giver. The sameness, the ‘equality’, the simplicity of cultural amnesia and a rigid ‘for the greater good’ system of rules. Welcome to the world of Jonas in Lois Lowry’s 1994 Newbery award-winning book The Giver, a powerful and controversial book about a u/distopian community and a young boy’s dawning realizations about oppression, choices, and the many dimensions of humanity.
I was in grade 5 the first time I read The Giver and it is still one of my favourite books. This dystopian read about a futuristic society was a reading journey outside my realm of experience; this book took me down a different story path: Jonas’s society bothered me, frightened me. But being bothered or frightened by a book is a sign of good writing, it means that the reader is engaging with the content, reflecting on their reading, forming opinions and applying those opinions to their own social issues.
The Giver, despite its many fans and awards, has met with phenomenal opposition, so much so that it is on ALA’s most frequently challenged and banned books-list from 1990 – 2009. Controversy over the book focuses on two topics: suicide and euthanasia. Release is euthanasia. When members of the community exhibit frailties or weaknesses, or even make too many mistakes, they are released from the community. There is also mention of suicide, members of the community can opt to be released, a minor character does so, hence the suicide charges.
Admittedly, as an adult I now have a great deal more experience to help me understand the world of The Giver. I can now better analyze why a society might choose to live with rigidity and sameness, and I can see reflections of The Giver society today in our own existence. As Jonas and the Giver discuss what is happening in their society Jonas says, “We really protect people from wrong choices.” The Giver’s response is frighteningly clear that the reason the government takes away the ability to choose is because, “It’s safer” (Lowry 99).
When asked for her opinion on book banning Lowry responded:
“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 okay for a parent to say, ‘I don’t want my child to read this book.’ But it is not okay 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.” (Source: Lois Lowry’s Web site)
I concur. The Giver is a powerful cautionary tale that remind us of the value of human relationships and personal choice.