Friday, March 12, 2010

Finishing Lois Lowry's trio

I reread Lois Lowry's The Giver a year or so ago and was once again impressed by the hauntingly enigmatic ending. So I was delighted to learn that she had written two more books as companions to it. It took me a while to get around to reading them, but I finally did and am glad to have some resolution to this story.

Gathering Blue features a completely different character in an opposite setting from Jonas's world in The Giver -- though, we find out later, it takes place at the same futuristic time. Kira was born into a harsh and brutal society where any weakness or flaw is worthy of death. Kira herself was born with a lame leg, but her special gifts help her to stand out and receive an honored task in the community. At least, that's what she thinks at first. Over time she begins to uncover secrets about her community that make her realize that her honored role is really relegating her to a lifetime of imprisonment. Similar to The Giver, Lowry explores the vitality of individualism and creativity and their role in creating a healthy society. But this society's form of oppressiveness is more primitive and cruel than where Jonas grows up, and really could be read as an isolated tale.

The ending of Gathering Blue was pretty abrupt and anti-climactic, I thought. Just as Kira comes to understand what her future holds for her, she is faced with the difficult decision of either fleeing to safety or staying to try and help her society change. Her decision is an interesting next step in the conflict, but it didn't really work as an ending. Instead, I felt like it ended when it was just getting good. Another thing I wasn't a huge fan of is that Lowry could sometimes be a little over-the-top on the social commentary. But considering that's the real point of these books, I decided I could cut her some slack. It is for a young audience, after all, so I guess you can't rely too much on subtlety.

Messenger is the last book in the trio and brings the two stories together in a final conclusion. Matty, a young boy we first met in Gathering Blue, is the featured character. He is now several years older and growing into early manhood in the Village community briefly mentioned at the end of Gathering Blue. Unlike the societies portrayed in the first two books, Village is full of good people who live rich and meaningful lives due to their compassionate selflessness that contributes to an overall sense of wholeness. But selfishness and materialism are beginning to creep in and threaten to destroy the utopian society they've created. At the same time, Matty is beginning to discover a secret and fearful power he possesses and wonders what it means for his future and the future of those he loves.

The conflict in Messenger was more interesting and dynamic than that in Gathering Blue. It was also easier to get involved with the characters, especially since some of them we'd seen before in both Gathering Blue and The Giver. There were some inconsistencies in the ideology that bothered me, like the fact that people in the Village are given special life-long tasks and titles similar to what we've seen in The Giver, but supposedly it's a good thing even though there's still no sense of choice in the matter. And the ending, while more dramatic than Gathering Blue, still lacked the power of The Giver. But overall it was nice to tie up some of those loose ends and because they were both quick and easy reads, it was a few hours well spent.

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