When you went back to read it after so long, did anything surprise you?
When I go back to read books I've written, no matter how long after, I always find things I wish I'd done better or differently. I always felt the last section of The Giver is too rushed and short. Once Jonas leaves the community with the baby, it's supposed to be a long period of time, but it's a short section of the book. I did that for a stupid reason. I thought I'd been told the book had to be under 200 pages, and it was getting close, so I purposely made it short. Later the editor said, "Oh, you could have gone on." But had I realized that and gone on at a more leisurely pace, I think it would have been tough. There's only the boy, and the baby, who can't talk, and nature, and it might have been difficult to spin it out for a long time.
So, I wish I had a chance to redo that. But oddly enough that reminds me of another place, and this is in the fourth book. The girl, Claire, is in a place where the birth mothers live. And in writing about that, I thought, this is going to be so boring. They're in this building. What do they do? There's no books, there's no music...and so I got out of there very quickly.
But you opened it up with the mask!
Sort of like Hannibal Lechter.
What's the experience been like to have had such a frequently challenged book?
I do not remember the first time that it happened but it must have surprised me. Except that, going back further—Anastasia Krupnik had been challenged, specifically for one thing, it has the word shit in it. If it had been 10 years later the editor would have told me not to put that in, it would have been easy not to, but it was published in '79, it was written in '78. Somehow things were a little more relaxed then. We had a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, and after him when the government became more conservative, that's when the challenges and censorship started. That book was challenged more than once and removed from the hands of children. So I was not new to challenges and censorship, but of course it took a whole different form with The Giver, and it continues to this day.
I've never really sorted out in my mind why it's challenged so often. Those who object hold up two different scenes. One is, reference to "the stirrings," which seems to be, so, well, it's something any kid that age is familiar with and has been taught about in school, but also it's alluded to so vaguely, it's hardly explicitly sexual. The second, and it is explicit, is when the father kills the baby, and that's been referred to as euthanasia. Certainly the book doesn't promote euthanasia, but that charge has been brought. And that's often from someone who hasn't read the book thoroughly and doesn't see why I included this.
I have a feeling that those two incidents are not the real reason, but they're something that people grasp onto. I think it's a book that makes some perhaps very conservative parents uncomfortable because it's a book challenging the authority set down by the government, the parents, the older people. It's a boy seeing the hypocrisy of the older generation and breaking the rules to combat it. No one's come out and said it, but that's the only thing I've figured out in my mind that can bring out that kind of unease.