Will the Giver Movie Prompt More Schools to Ban the Book?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 14 2014 4:26 PM

Why Do So Many Schools Try to Ban The Giver?

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Since its release in 1993, The Giver has been one of the most controversial books in American schools. Between 1990 and 1999, The Giver ranked 11th on the list of the books most frequently requested for removal. In the 2000s it was 23rd, just two spots below To Kill a Mockingbird. This Friday marks the release of the first film adaptation of The Giver, which is likely to renew fandom, as well as opposition, to the dystopian young adult novel.

I talked to Barbara Jones, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), which maintains a database of attempts to remove books from schools. There is no way of knowing the exact number of actual attempts, as the OIF can only track those reported in the media or submitted to them by individuals, but since 1990 they have recorded over 11,000 separate instances of what they call “challenges,” “attempt[s] to remove or restrict materials.” For The Giver just under one-third of all challenges (for which the outcome was reported) resulted in a removal. The state that has seen the most attempts to remove The Giver is Texas, but the book has also been challenged in Massachusetts, Washington, and many other states all over the country.

In the last two decades, the most frequent reasons for a book being challenged in the United States have been categorized by the OIF as complaints that the book contains “Offensive Language” or is “Sexually Explicit.” But The Giver is not usually objected to for either of these reasons. The most frequently cited reasons to challenge The Giver have been “Violence” and claims that the book is “Unsuited to [the] Age Group”—or in other words that it’s too dark for children.

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The chart below plots the top five most common reasons The Giver was challenged in red. The bars in blue represent how often that excuse was given for all book challenges the OIF has recorded.

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Jones said that so far The Giver has not seen any recent uptick in challenges, but given the movie’s summer release she believes this is likely to change soon. Jones said, “It’s August now and when people hear of the movie and figure out it’s in school libraries it’s likely to see more challenges.” The OIF reports that last year the top three most challenged books were Captain Underpants, The Bluest Eye, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The Giver may not make it that far on the list this year, but it’s likely that the movie’s release will spur more challenges when school resumes.

But even if a few protective parents get their way in some districts, and the book is removed from a handful of libraries, it’s unlikely to stop the vast majority of young readers from finding it. The Giver has seen a surge in book sales ahead of the movie’s release, and on Amazon’s list of best-selling Teen & Young Adult Books, it currently ranks No. 2.

Ben Blatt is a Slate staff writer and co-author of I Don't Care if We Never Get Back. Follow him on Twitter. Email him at ben.blatt@slate.com.

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