The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 8, 2012

Lowry’s classic banned book expands into series

By Jacque Gage
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — This year’s Banned Book Week wrapped up Saturday, but it’s just coincidence that the books I decided to review this week are some that have been on the American Library Association’s most-challenged list several times in the past.

Libraries worldwide have always supported an individual’s right to read whatever book he so desires. Personal tastes often encompass various genres, topics and titles to read. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have such personal freedom.

Also coincidental is an email I received this week via a library list-serve. Although all libraries support individuals’ right to read, not all governments do.

According to a news report, about a month ago in Cuba, librarians were arrested after attending a technology workshop on the use of Kindles. According to the report, Cuban authorities consider independent librarians as counterrevolutionaries at the service of the U.S. government.

I’m supposing unfettered electronic access to books constitutes a threat to the government.

“The Giver,” by Lois Lowry, is a story with a similarly totalitarian government in the backdrop. In this book, society has given complete control to the government. There is no war. There is no poverty. There is no sickness. There is no unemployment. There is no love. There are no choices. There is only “sameness.”

Until age 12 each citizen becomes a year older at a ceremony, at the same time. At age 1, a baby is assigned to a family unit to be raised. At age 3, girls are given hair ribbons so their hair will be identical.

At 4, children are given jackets that buttons in the back to foster dependence and cooperation with others. Seven-year-olds receive front-buttoning jackets as a first sign of maturity.

Bikes are given away at the Ceremony of Nines. At age 12, a child is assigned his or her life’s work.

At the Ceremony of Twelves, all the children received their vocation except Jonas. He was skipped over when his job should have been assigned. At the end of the ceremony, Jonas is finally singled out to become the Receiver of Memory.

As the Receiver, he is mentored by the Giver, the only person possessing the memories of the community before sameness was begun. Jonas discovers books, colors and music, as well as the less-pleasant things. This newfound knowledge demands choices Ñ hard choices Ñ for Jonas.

Originally written as a standalone title, “The Giver” has ultimately turned into a tetralogy. (I learned a new word trying to describe these books.) At the end of the “The Giver,” Lowry leaves a lot to the reader to decide how it should end. Over the years, possibly because of reader demand, Lowry has expanded this story to include “Gathering Blue,” “Messenger” and, just released on Tuesday, “Son.”

“Gathering Blue” appears to be a stand-alone book as well, also featuring a dystopian society. It is not until “Messenger” that the three books begin to get tied together.

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of “Son” to the library. It will not only ask more hard questions, but hopefully bring the story full circle to completion. Although the books are considered juvenile fiction, there is a lot of meat in them for adults to digest and to form a basis for conversation with kids who read them.

Some good themes for discussion include personal choice, the role of government, human relationships, the preciousness of life, the type of world we will leave for our children, and the quest for truth.

Joplin Public Library has the first three of this tetralogy in print, audio and electronic format. Initially, the library will have the fourth volume in print format. Celebrate your freedom to read at Joplin Public Library!

Jacque Gage is the director of the Joplin Public Library.