September 30-October 6 is “Banned Book Week” for 2013. It is a coincidence, however, that the books I’d decided to review this week are some that have been on the ALA’s “most challenged” list several times in the past. Libraries worldwide have always supported an individual’s right to read whatever books an individual so desires. Personal tastes run to various genres, topics, and titles to read. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have this personal freedom.
Also coincidental is an email I received this week via a library list-serve. Although all libraries support an individual’s right to read, not all governments do. According to a news report, just 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 constitute a threat to the government.
The Giver, by Lois Lowry has a similarly totalitarian government. 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 and at the same time. At age one, a baby is assigned to a family unit to raise. At age three, girls are all given hair ribbons so their hair will be identical. Age four children are given a jacket buttoning in the back to foster dependence on 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, he discovers colors, he discovers music, as well as discovering less pleasant things. This newfound knowledge demands choices, hard choices for Jonas.
Originally written as a stand-alone 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/does end. Over the years (because of reader demand?), Lowry has expanded this story to include Gathering Blue, Messenger, and just released October 2nd, 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 be tied together. I am eagerly the library’s receipt of Son which will no 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, what kind of world will we leave for our children, and the quest for truth among others. Joplin Public Library has the first three of this tetralogy in print, audio, and electronic format. Initially, JPL will have the fourth volume in print format.
Celebrate your freedom to read at Joplin Public Library!
P.S. There is an interesting New York Times Magazine article just out on Lowry. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/magazine/lois-lowry-the-childrens-author-who-actually-listens-to-children.html?_r=1&ref=magazine It’s worth the time to read!