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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Giver Quartet

Lowry, Lois.
1993. THE GIVER.
2000. GATHERING BLUE.
2004. MESSENGER.
2012. SON.

I don't know how I feel right now. I just finished the fourth installment of The Giver Quartet, and I am sad, happy, confused and angry - all at the same time!

Let me start at the beginning.... I read Lowry's The Giver in college for a children's literature class. Because that was several years ago, I decided to listen to it on audiobook this go round, on my drive to and from work. If you haven't read this book, I highly suggest you do. It's about a boy named Jonas who lives in a different society than ours. Things are highly controlled and people do not make the same choices we do. Children don't have birthdays, every December there are ceremonies where children are given rites of passage. When children turn 12, they are given their career assignment that they will have for the rest of their lives. A committee makes this decision; individuals don't choose what path they want their lives to take.

At Jonas's 'ceremony of 12' he is given a special assignment. He is to be the new receiver of memory. What does that mean? Well, I sort of know. Ok, I don't really. Just read the book, maybe you will understand? Little by little Jonas comes to realize that things in his world are not how they always were and he is left with a choice to make. I won't say more than that!

Then, I listened to the second book, Gathering Blue, on audiobook in my car. I was duly warned that this book is a companion, NOT a sequel to The Giver. Gathering Blue tells the story of Kira, who was born with a crippled leg and lives in a village where brute strength and cunning are valued above all else. By law, she should have been cast to the beasts when she was born but her mother would not allow it. The story opens with the death of Kira's mother, and finding herself an orphan (her father was killed by beasts before Kira was born), Kira must go to the Council of Elders to ask to keep her hut. She is surprised when they give her land to a vengeful woman named Vandara, but invite Kira to come live in the Council Edifice to work on repairing the Singer's Robe. Kira has a gift for working with needle and thread. Every year the community gathers to hear the history of the world, sung by a special Singer. In Kira's new home, she discovers a boy named Thomas, down the hall, whose gift is carving wood. He is tasked with carving the staff the singer uses. Thomas and Kira together discover Jo, a very small girl who has been selected to be the next singer. Kira and Thomas have many comforts that others do not because of their special talents; however, Kira discovers that she and her artist friends have less freedom than she originally thought.

Kira also has a friend named Matt. Matt is a small boy from the Fen, a very squalid and poor area in the village. Matt is Kira's one true friend and the only character besides character Kira that shows any sympathy, compassion, or kindness. Matt is rough around the edges, but in the end gives Kira some of the answers she has been searching for.

Which leads us to the third installment, Messenger. Messenger is the shortest of the four novels, and I read it in one day. The main character is Matt, now grown up into a teenager and called Matty.
He lives in a different village now. This village was once a place where people were welcomed and accepted, but slowly it has become a place hostile to outsiders. A vote is held among the citizens, and it is decided that the Village will close its borders to outsiders. Matty, the usual messenger for the Village, is chosen to take the message that the Village will close forever. He needs to get the message to the daughter of the man they call the Seer, so that she can decide whether or not she will come to the Village. However, the forest he must cross becomes dangerous and sinister. In this book The Giver and Gathering Blue are connected, but I won't spoil anything. I enjoyed Messenger just because Matty is such an endearing character, and the ending is.... ah, you'll just have to read it.

Son is the fourth and final novel in the quartet. We are taken back to the village where Jonas lives in The Giver, but the story is told through the eyes of a girl named Claire. At her own Ceremony of 12, Claire was chosen to be a birthmother. Although her parents tell her there is honor in being chosen to be a birthmother, Claire still feels some shame at her assignment. Claire is inseminated and then marvels at her growing belly - the birthmothers are separated from the rest of the population. When the time for the baby to be born comes, Claire is blindfolded so she cannot see. However, something goes wrong and the baby is not coming. The next thing she knows she wakes up with a scar on her belly and no baby.

Claire is re-assigned to the fish hatchery because she cannot have any more babies. But she deeply misses her baby. She finds out that her baby was a boy and he is referred to as #36. Claire visits the nurturing center and finds her son. It turns out he is having a hard time adjusting and one of the nurturing staff has been taking him home in the evenings because he does not sleep well at night. Soon, the reader discovers that the man at the nuturing center is Jonas's father. As December and the ceremonies approach, it is determined that #36 will stay at the center for a while longer to see if he improves. As the next year approaches and he does not, it is determined that the child will be 'released.'

As we know from reading The Giver, Jonas saves the child from certain death. But Claire also leaves the community to try and follow Jonas and the child, on a supply boat. The supply boat encounters a storm, though, and Claire finds herself shipwrecked in an isolated community. She is taken in by an old midwife, Alys, and over time becomes comfortable in the village. However, she still longs to see and know of the boy who is her son. A man named Lame Einar teaches her how to climb through the mountain pass that is the only way out of the village. Once she finally does reach the top she meets a sinister figure called Trademaster. Lame Einar warned her about him; in order to see her son she will need to offer a trade. Although she has no material possessions to trade, he takes her youth in exchange for taking her to the village where he son now lives. Claire decides to observe him from afar instead of disrupting his life.

The final act of Son is told from the point of view of Gabriel. He finally discovers the truth about his past and discover he has a special gift like Jonas, Kira, Thomas the singer, and Jo the singer. Gabriel wants to go to find his mother, but before he does, Jonas must explain who the old lady in the village is.

This post is already way too long, but I was fascinated by these books. There is so much symbolism and imagery in these stories. These books also bring up questions of who decides what a society places its value on, and is it better for individuals to have more choice or less choice?

I am frustrated because I still have so many unanswered questions. But I've discovered that sometimes the best books are the ones that leave you wondering.

Keep reading,

Mrs. Cox


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