Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger (Lois Lowry)

I am no fan of rereading. I have a hard time maintaining interest in something I've already read when I know that there are so many other things out there to discover for the first time. That said, there are a few books out there that I love to reread: Harry Potter (two years ago, I reread the series from first book to last and it was such a pleasure to see how carefully and cleverly Rowling laid her clues and built her characters), The Time Traveler's Wife (though I have never read it all the way through it a second time--I enjoy flipping through the book and reading a few random scenes every now and again), The Perks of Being a Wallflower and, perhaps most of all, The Giver.

When I read Lois Lowry's Newbery winner for the first time, I was eight years old and I remember being amazed and a little bit frightened. In the subsequent four or five times that I have read it, I find myself discovering new things to love and be frightened by. That's part of the magic of the book: it can find new ways to make you look at and question your world (which should be the ultimate goal of dystopian fiction).

The book is set in the hypersterilized Community and our protagonist is Jonas, a soon-to-be twelve-year-old. Initially, nothing seems particularly different about this place--people live in houses and go to school and their jobs. Families are happy. The longer we spend inside this place, the more it becomes apparent that it is a very different world. Marriages are things that are applied for--a person is matched to another person by a committee, the same committee who assigns them children. These babies, "newchildren" in the book, are not born to the parents. Instead, there are women whose job it is to deliver them. All professions are assigned to a person, again based on the committee's evaluation of everyone's strengths.

Everything is the same. No colors, no weather, no different hair cuts or skin colors. This is, for me, the most disturbing and frightening aspect of the Community, and what ultimately makes the book so successful. Jonas is elected to be the Receiver of memories from a world in which these differences existed previously--our past world. I cannot think of a way of discussing the rest of the plot without further spoiling the magic of the book, so I will end it there. I recommend this to everyone and I think it is something that should be reread with frequency.

My Rating: 5/5
The Giver on Goodreads

The second book in The Giver series is Gathering Blue and I'm afraid to say that it was not nearly as good as The Giver. That's not to say that it's bad--it's a perfectly adequate book that just doesn't hold up to inspection in the face of the first book.

This is more of a "spiritual sequel" than an actual sequel. We jump from the Community to a village that is quite primitive in terms of its technology (for example, the main character is shocked that a building has flowing water). The story takes place at about the same time (perhaps a few years after) the events of the first novel, and in this village, people who are weak or different are not allowed. Babies with birth defects are often left out in the field to die.

This hasn't stopped our main character, Kira, from living. She has a twisted leg and struggles to walk. However, she is quite talented at creating things from thread. After her mother dies, she becomes the caretaker of a magnificent robe used in an annual ceremony of the village whereby the entire history of the world is recounted to the villagers.

Where is book fails lies ultimately in its world creation: we are clearly in a post-apocalyptic future because of the way in which primitive and (to our eyes) modern things exist side-by-side, but unlike the Community that Jonas lives in, nothing really evokes such horror--sure, it's awful that less-than-perfect humans are left to die, and the implication later in the story about faked deaths and "accidental" deaths doesn't sit well, but it's not nearly on the same level of "I-feel-weird-on-the-inside". Overall, still a good book.

My Rating: 4/5
Gathering Blue on Goodreads

Messenger, the third book in the series, is my least favorite (not that I hate it) of these three. It's the shortest; here, we focus on Matty, a character who appears as an adorable scamp in Gathering Blue. He's moved from the village to another village that accepts all of the rejected people from communities everywhere, kind of like the Isle of Misfit Toys but without all of the scary claymation (I seriously hate claymation--is Rudolph even claymation?).

Because everyone is accepted and differences are embraced, the village is pretty utopian. Of course, paradise cannot stay paradise forever, and so things start to go wrong--a wicked man called the Trademaster shows up and begins to trade people parts of their inner, truest selves for petty things like the removal of a birthmark or a Gaming Machine (which sounds an awful lot like a slot machine). There's also a forest that seems to possess a consciousness and wicked intentions. Or something.

Out of the three, this book is the most fantastical--the sentient forest, the sinister Trademaster and the protagonist's ability to heal things with his touch are all pretty important points of the story. It's not as engaging as the first two--having already met Matty in book two, we have expectations for how he is to behave, but he seems a much different person in this book, robbed of his personality. Kira and Jonas both feature as characters, though their roles are rather minimal and they, too, feel different from the characters we already met.

This book was peculiar. It had more potential than Gathering Blue but I ended up liking it less than the other two books. I felt unsatisfied after coming to the end, especially because of the ending, which I will not spoil here. Characterization was not, I felt, at its best; I suppose I just expected more from this book and so was consequently let down more. I need not have such lofty expectations.

In the cases of Messenger and Gathering Blue, they are both fine books that don't reach the same level of emotion that The Giver can inspire so powerfully. They're great books to make kids (ages 8-13) ponder life and human behavior and interaction and differences, but they don't really hold up as well as The Giver.

My Rating: 4/5
Messenger on Goodreads
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