20 Bad Books To Give To Young Kids

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(Image via Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

19. The Giver

The Giver is a 1993 novel by Lois Lowry that pulls few punches. It openly depicts a near-future dystopia, in which people give up their ability to feel or express themselves for lives free of strife or pain. Though readers might at first be fooled into thinking that the society depicted within is a utopia, it soon becomes clear that the world of The Giver is deeply flawed.

The book follows Jonas, a young boy who is selected to become the next “Receiver of Memory”, who stores all memories and records of the time before the “Sameness”. This twelve-year-old is suddenly given the task of dealing with newfound emotions and concepts of right, wrong, and moral uncertainty. He’s helped by the current Receiver, who asks that Jonas call him “the Giver”.

I think we all agree to being twelve is difficult enough on its own. Most kids are just entering puberty and dealing with the million and one issues that suddenly arise as they begin their path to adulthood. It’s difficult to imagine this being more grueling, and yet here’s poor Jonas being asked to carry the moral consciousness of his whole community.

It gets more horrifying when Jonas realizes the truth of his community’s practices. Undesirables and deviants are rejected from the Community and forced to live in the vague Elsewhere beyond their settlement. At first, Jonas thinks this is a physical place where the others gather. However, the Giver soon shows him the truth – these unwanted people are actually killed and their bodies disposed of in a trash chute.

In order to change what Jonas and the Giver agree is a corrupt community, Jonas must leave and return his accumulated memories to the people. The novel ends ambiguously, with Jonas and a “unwanted” baby escaping and suffering the effects of hypothermia. (If it makes you feel any better, author Lois Lowry has stated that Jonas survives).

The Giver is a good book, and an important one. It teaches children the beginning of a lesson about morality, memory, and the soul of a community. Perhaps not quite right for a kid at the elementary level, but be sure to gift it to them as they grow older.