They read chapter 19 in The Giver last night, and so the Q/A period before the daily reading quiz had a bit of a different tone. Many had read ahead, or read the book in a previous class (curse thee once more, ye cursed book thieves), so the release of the twin wasn’t the blow that it was for the rest of them. Still…

This year they seemed to obsess on the box and the chute.

“Why did he put it in a box? Where does the chute go? Was it really a garbage chute?”

“It’s a little more dignified and neat. Probably to an incinerator. Yes.”

“Ohhhh. So sad.”

This year though, a brand new question came up. We were talking about how Jonas freaks out at the thought of Fiona sticking the needle into the old people she once cared for so gently. One kid makes the point that the babies don’t know what the needle is all about…

“But what if the old person starts to question the needle? You know, hey girlie, I thought this was a release, why are you sticking me with that thing?”

I remind them, like the Giver does Jonas, that these people don’t know from questioning “what is.”

“You’re still thinking like you. Think like them; this is just how things work in their world, they don’t know things could be different. Only Jonas and the Giver know that. The Old would just think it’s all part of the ceremony.”

“Yeah, but what if? Would Fiona hafta use the discipline wand on the old guy before she releases him?”

Oh boy. I don’t have to tell you what kind of reaction that one received from the class. Suddenly everyone is picturing Fiona as some sort of kung fu warrior, dismantling an overmatched grampa, with a discipline wand in one hand and a syringe in the other.

Moving on.

“Why do they call it release?”

“That’s been a euphemism for death for hundreds of years. Back in the day, when life sucked and then you died, they believed that it was all about the afterlife. Life was for getting through, surviving. The afterlife was supposed to be the real point. So when you died, you were released from your suffering here on Earth, free to enjoy your afterlife.”

“So you didn’t you just kill yourself?”

“Ahhh. That’s built into the rules. That’s a ticket straight to Hell.”


“Stop. Anyway, you had to prove yourself worthy of the afterlife; that’s what life was for. So death was a release from that. We still use the expression today when we talk about people who have had a long, painful illness, and then finally succumb to it. We still say they were “released” from their suffering.”

They had also read chapter 20, and we discussed the plan Jonas and the Old Guy (our pet nickname for the Giver) cook up. The inevitable question came up about how the whole memory transferring thing works.

“So how do the memories go back to the people? How does that, like, work?”

“Well, as we talked about before, this is another example of what we call, suspension of disbelief. How many of you are Harry Potter fans (shiver)? Well then, in the world of Harry Potter, people fly around on broomsticks and whatnot. How does that work? In the world of Harry Potter, it just does. So this is how things work in the world of The Giver. We suspend our disbelief and nitpicking when we enter the world of the novel.”

I think they actually got it.

Last year’s group also sort of drifted off-topic when we got to this point in the book. Here’s an encore presentation from last November 19,

“…Flopping around at the end of a rope.”

Yesterday, we were debriefing after chapter 19, where The Giver makes Jonas watch his “father” release the lighter of the two identical twins. (Aside: I have a set of twins this year – one year I had 3 sets – and they have been great sports about us joking about releasing one of them. In fact, their birthweights are nearly identical to the ones in the book, with the same separation. One of them we now call “Little Guy.”)

They were appalled by what Jonas witnessed. They couldn’t cope.

We talked about China’s one child policy, and how many times only boys were “allowed to be born.” We talked about Hitler. We talked euthanasia and putting your dog to sleep. We talked about how, since 50 babies are born each year, 50 old people would have to be released. We were having a fine conversation.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning that what the little twin got was a “lethal injection” and that was how they put death row inmates to death in most states.

“Don’t they still hang them in some states?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I heard sometimes they don’t die, and they’re flopping around at the end of the rope, and…”

“Thank you, can we get back to our discussion? These people think they are doing the right thing. They want to make sure that they never return to the days when there was hunger and starvation. They think they have to control the population… Yes, ‘Gene’?”

“Does hanging just break your neck, or does it make it so you can’t breathe or what?”

“I believe it would do both. Can we move on?”

“Why’d he stick the needle in the baby’s head?”

“Your veins are close to the surface; you can see many of them. (Lots of flexing and ewwing.) Babies have a layer of baby fat, so their veins aren’t so close to the surface.”

“What happened to the box after the father pushed it through the hole?”

“My guess is there’s an incinerator on the other side.”

Half the class goes “ewww” and the other half asks what an incinerator is. Now everybody has some sharing to do about some relative’s ashes.

“All right, all right, save it for circle time.”

“Yeah! When’s that?”

“We don’t have circle time. Now can we get back to our discussion? Why would people put up with this?”

“Because they don’t know any different.”

“Nice. And… yes Gene?”

“So what if the rope breaks, and you don’t die? Do they just try again?”

“We’re about to find out.”