Jan 25, 2009

Gathering Blue and Messenger by Lois Lowry

Gathering Blue is Kira's story. Kira is a young girl who's despised by her community because of her twisted leg. In Kira’s village, people with obvious physical flaws are normally taken to The Field and left to die, but, at her mother’s insistence, her life was spared. The book opens shortly after her mother’s death, however, and without her protection the villagers begin to press her to leave. But Kira has a talent, and because of this she is given a new home and a task: to repair the robe the Singer wears in an annual ceremony called The Gathering. With the help of her friends Thomas and Matt, Kira begins to realize that the things she was always told about the world might not be quite true.

Gathering Blue is a companion to The Giver. It’s set in the same world as Jonas’ story, but in an entirely different community whose inhabitants have no knowledge of what’s outside their boundaries. So someone who hasn’t read The Giver can pick up this book and understand it perfectly. There’s only a small reference at the end of the story whose full significance they might not quite realize, but that doesn’t make the story any less enjoyable.

I enjoyed The Giver more than Gathering Blue, but this is still a brilliant book. Some of the themes it deals with are similar: the dangers of isolation, of ignorance, of being oblivious to the outside world. Gathering Blue is not exactly a dystopia in the same sense the first book in the trilogy is, but Kira’s community is by no means ideal. Far from it.People’s lives are dominated by fear, and there is no place for those who are perceived as week. Some of the characters are compassionate, but empathy is certainly not encouraged.

Kira, however, is different. Not only because she was allowed to survived despite her physical imperfection, but because of what her knowledge of pain and of vulnerability allows her to understand. She’s a wonderful character, and throughout the book we get to see her wisdom and kindness affect other characters, and, ultimately, bring about change.

Messenger is much more of a direct sequel to Gathering Blue than Gathering Blue was to The Giver. And it actually ties the two previous books together by featuring characters from both. The main protagonist of this book is Matty, who we first meet in book two. The Village – the community where he’s now living – is beginning to change, and not for the better. Both his adoptive father and the leader of the community are concerned, and so his Matty himself. When some of the Village’s inhabitants decide to close its borders to new members, Matty is sent to his birthplace to fetch his friend Kira, so that she may join them before it’s too late.

Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for what Lois Lowry did with this trilogy as a whole. I absolutely love her writing, her worldbuilding, her ideas, the things she has to communicate. Looking at all three books, I see a scale of sorts: The Giver is very clearly a dystopia, and it’s hard to look at the character’s way of life and not be horrified. Life in Kira’s village is not quite as bad as that, but there’s clearly much room for improvement. Finally, in Matty’s village people are friendly and life is comfortable.

What I think Messenger is telling us is that once a welcoming community has been formed, an effort needs to be made to keep it that way. And that effort is just as great as the effort necessary to build it in the first place. There’s danger when a community, any community, becomes insulated, when it ceases to be open to new ideas, new people, new ways of life. I think this passage applies to a lot of what we see in all three books:
But now he knew there were communities everywhere, sprinkled across the vast landscape of the known world, in which people suffered. Not always from beatings and hunger, the way he had. But from ignorance. From not knowing.From being kept from knowledge.
And not knowing includes not knowing what is happening in the rest of the world. It includes closing up. In this trilogy we go from a dystopia to an almost-utopia, but we are shown the danger that a seemingly perfect society will go right back to the beginning of the cycle if it becomes too obsessed with protecting its way of life. There is a particularly brilliant scene when Matty is watching the community debate about whether or not to close its borders, and he realizes with horror how much the “us” and “them” dichotomy is beginning to enter people’s speech.

As you can tell by now, there was a lot I loved about Messenger. But unfortunately the ending left me very dissatisfied. Not so much the fact that we don’t exactly get the ending we were hoping for – that’s true of all three books in the trilogy to some extent, and it never bothered me before – but the fact that it felt a bit rushed. A lot of questions were left unanswered in a way that feels more careless than ambiguous. So many things that seemed important to the story were merely brushed aside. So much was left unexplained.

I still think this is a great book. But this time I felt that the book was too short to handle all the themes Lois Lowry was trying to address. The story was somewhat crushed under their weight. All the Lowry books I’ve read so far were short books that dealt with deep themes in a very satisfying manner. I really wish I could say the same about Messenger, but I can’t. Not quite.

Other Blog Reviews:

Gathering Blue

5-Squared
Maw Books
Becky’s Book Reviews
Bold Blue Adventure
Rhinoa’s Ramblings
Back to Books
The Written World
Books and Needlepoint

Messenger
Maw Books

Becky’s Book Reviews
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

(Please let me know if I missed yours.)

24 comments:

  1. Great review! I read these last year, and really loved them. The Giver is one of my all-time favorite books. These were great, but don't really compare to The Giver. I agree that the books were too short to handle everything she was trying to say. She's basically only got time to highlight the issues, instead of really delving into them.

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  2. I loved The Giver but felt about the end the same way you describe The Messenger - that it was too rushed. Gathering Blue was the same, though not quite to the same extent. I was hoping The Messenger, when I read it this year, would wrap up nicely and make me feel less unsure about those other two books. Ah well.

    I agree with your thoughts on Gathering Blue nearly exactly.

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  3. I loved The Giver, but haven't read anything else by her! I really should remedy that one of these days!

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  4. I just heard recently that there were more books after The Giver so it's a happy coincidence that you have a review up!

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  5. I wonder if she meant to write a fourth book but never did?
    nevertheless, I'd still like to read these books, they sound worthwhile, although not flawless.

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  6. I really need to read these! I loved the Giver. It was a fantastic book. I have Gathering Blue sitting here too and I know it wouldn't take much time to read.

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  7. Laza: Yeah, they didn't live up to The Giver, but they were still great. I'd have loved to see her really explore these issues in detail, though.

    Amanda: I actually wasn't unsatisfied with the ending of the first two books, but with Messenger I really was. It raises more questions than it answers, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it could have been handled better. I still think very highly of Lowry, though.

    Kailana: These two are very good, even if not quite as good as The Giver. And so are Gossamer and Number the Stars! And that's all I've read so far :P

    Lenore, I hope you enjoy them when you get to them.

    Valentina: There was an interview with her at the end of Gathering Blue and she mentions wanting to wrap everything up with a third book. Then she wrote it, but it didn't wrap things up, not really. They are still definitely worth reading, though!

    Chris: Yes, both could easily be read in a single sitting. And I really think you'd enjoy them.

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  8. I've had these books on my stacks forever and STILL HAVEN'T READ THEM!!! Story of my life. lol

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  9. I am one of those kids who read Gathering Blue without reading The Giver first and it didn't seem to be a problem, though I might have been a little less confused at the beginning. I really enjoyed it, and it led me to The Giver, which is another favorite. Great review!

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  10. Great reviews! I was out sick with the chicken pox when my elementary class read The Giver. Now 20-odd years later I finally picked up a copy to read. Hadn't realized there were any sequels to it though.

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  11. Until recently I didn't realize that The Giver was part of a triology. I was left with a lot of dissatisfaction (that's not the right word I'm looking for) with the ending and I'm kind of disappointed to hear that you felt kind of the same way with The Messenger. I wonder--would it be better to read this books close together or with some space between them?

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  12. This author has been on my list of need to read for years but I still haven't gotten around to it. These both sound great though!!!

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  13. Andi: lol...I know how it goes :P

    Lu: Yeah, Gathering Blue and The Giver really don't need to be read in order. I really enjoyed both too. I wish I had enjoyed Messenger as much.

    Joanne: It's never too late :P I actually read it for the first time last summer. I hadn't even heard of Lowry until I started blogging! For some reasons her books are pretty much unheard of over here.

    Trish: I didn't realize it at first either. Messenger continues the story of a secondary character in Gathering Blue, but I don't think you really have to read them close together...as long as you still remember who the characters are you'll be fine. One of the things that frustrated me about Messenger actually had to do with ending of The Giver. But I can't explain without spoilers :P

    Ladytink, I hope you enjoy her books! Regardless of my frustration with Messenger I really think she's a great author.

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  14. Oh Nymeth, wonderful, wonderful reviews! As much as I love The Giver, these two had sort of fallen off my radar. I'm so glad you reminded me of them. And reminded my so beautifully, I might add.

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  15. You already know that I loved The Giver, and especially loved using it in the classroom. The first time I read Gathering Blue, and later Messenger, I was a bit disappointed ... but as I read them aloud (numerous times), I decided I loved them, too. The Giver is just such a powerful experience, it's hard for anything that follows. The one that grew on me the most is Gathering Blue, which I dearly love now with it's look at the importance of art in a culture. I think there's some real magic that happens with these books when they are read aloud to a group of young people (not too young, please!). The ideas and discussions they spark are incredible! Your review was very nice. I'm glad you enjoyed them.

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  16. Debi: I have no doubt that you'd really enjoy these. And Annie too!

    Robin: I can see these growing on me with future re-reads too. There was so much I loved about them. Most of all I love what she has to say. And you make such a good point about art in Gathering Blue!

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  17. I've heard of The Giver before. Gathering Blue sounds very good, great review :o)

    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  18. Great review, Nymeth! These two books were already on my wishlist for the longest time. I've read The Giver and loved it.

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  19. Naida, both are excellent books :)

    Alice, I hope you enjoy these two! Lowry is so great.

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  20. Great reviews, Nymeth! Your post reminds me I need to read The Giver soon! I know I've been slow... too slow! ;P

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  21. I loved the Giver! It has really stuck with me. I haven't read the rest of the trilogy yet, but you just convinced me to do so.

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  22. This was a great review Nymeth! I agree that The Giver is the best out of the three but as a whole they are really amazing.

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  23. Here is my link for Gathering BLue

    http://booksandneedlepoint.blogspot.com/2008/10/gathering-blue-by-lois-lowry.html

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  24. I wholeheartedly agree that Messenger was unjustly rushed (it is interesting that these two books in The Giver trilogy thought rushed are the same number of pages). It is in my opinion that Lowry focused too much on the last travel through The Forest (Messenger) and didn't include enough meat on the more important parts, such as The Trading, which was utterly vague. I also did not appreciate the fact that the protagonist of Messenger died. I believe that this ending was abrupt and there is room to improve.

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