I read Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993, winner of the Newbery Medal 1994) when it was first published (I was a teenager), but the related books to it, Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004), were both written after my childhood days, so I hadn’t read them before. My book club recently decided to read Messenger, so I finally rectified that! I technically read them “out of order” then, reading Messenger before Gathering Blue. I enjoyed the latter two, but because I am no longer of the impressionable stage of life that I was in when I read the original, I didn’t love either of them as much as I have enjoyed The Giver.
Each of these books by Lois Lowry focus on a different type of dystopian community. Because there are some overlapping characters, it is called a “series,” but one technically does not need to read them in order because of the different settings of each story. I was fascinated to read these as an adult, with a little more perspective on the quite different dystopias Lowry focuses on.
In The Giver, the world appears utopian. There is little argument and disagreement. Families, jobs, and children are assigned by a wise committee of experienced elders. But when Jonas is assigned to become the next Receiver for the community, he discovers that behind all the rosy appearance in the community, something is missing: choice and emotion. I loved how Jonas was chosen to be the strong one, and how he had to overcome his fears, because in his world, fears were not something he had ever experienced before. I enjoyed watching him develop as he learned what is missing from life when there is no joy or sadness.
In Gathering Blue, in a strikingly different community (one could not consider this utopian at all; it is definitely a problem society), Kira is a newly orphaned teenage girl who had been born with a crooked leg. In her violent society, such a crippling is labeled as a disability, and people are often left to die because they are not useful. The society is one built on the apparent collapse of a modernist society, and all has regressed to an “every one for himself” philosophical way of life. Women are restrained in traditional roles in the home and discouraged from reading, while men violently argue with each other for power. Kira, however, despite her gimpy leg, has an inborn gift: as she sews, she is able to see the future. When the community leaders persuade her to use her gift for their own sake, she sees more clearly the way the society had been, the disaster it currently is, and the positive ways society could change. Although I was drawn in to Kira (she was a very likeable character), I struggled by the end of the book to see the ultimate resolution of the novel. Maybe Lowry intended it to be open-ended, much as the end of The Giver was. Just as Jonas strove to do good for his community in the end, Kira believes her gift can likewise help her community.
The final novel, Messenger, was a bit different and far shorter. While I liked it, once again, the short length and the shocking ending left me a bit unsatisfied at the end. Young Matty lives in yet another community that, once again, appears to be a utopian one. People can choose what they are, the community learns and grows from one another, and outsiders are welcomed in. However, the surrounding Forest, which has a life of its own, seems to be bringing selfishness and conceit into the village. Just as young Kira found she had a gift, Matty finds that he too is different. When his gift is needed, he is able to step in.
*spoilers* Although Messenger is short, there was enough for our book club to discuss, and it was fun since it was a children’s book. Most obviously, there is Matty’s selfless giving. He was a Christ-like figure in how he gave his life to save the village and his beloved friends. I loved how he discovered his talent, and I enjoyed watching how The Seer could perceive moods and attitudes, given the conversations and observations he had, even though he was blind. The concepts of trading and materialism versus the beauty of the forest and the rest of nature seemed to have a transcendentalist feeling to it. (Ha! Isn’t it funny how you read about one thing and then everything seems to fit in the same category!) *end spoilers*
I have always been impressed with Lois Lowry’s ability to write. I grew up reading and rereading the Anastasia Krupnik series, and I loved The Giver and Number the Stars even in my teenage years. Although the second two books in this particular series were not as satisfying to me as an adult, the creation of the various societies and the revealing ways in which each is horrific tells us something about the negative sides to human nature. But then again, the heroes in each book show us the reasons not to give up hope for humanity quite yet.