Remember like a year ago when I read The Giver? Yeah, I thought not. For those of you who don’t remember, The Giver is a dystopian young adult novel in which a twelve year old named Jonas is chosen to be the receiver of all the prior knowledge of his community. In so doing, he learns that there just might be a better way to live than the way things are in his community. He ends up running away, with a baby his family has been caring for, at the end of the novel. I remember feeling that The Giver ended abruptly, and I was hoping that the three additional novels in the “quartet” would add some depth and breadth to Lowry’s world. I fully expected to get back to these books sooner than I actually did (not a surprise), but I’m glad that I finally got back to them.
My favorite thing about vacations and plane travel will probably always be the opportunity for uninterrupted reading. I’ve been over this with you guys before. The main reason why I’m mentioning it now is that I read Gathering Blue while I was in Florida and on the plane back home, and I was so involved in this book that I barely even napped, which is my second favorite plane activity.
Gathering Blue introduces us to a dystopia that’s much different from that shown in The Giver. In the world of Gathering Blue, there are tons of emotions. There are also tons of rules, but the rules are much different from those in The Giver. In Gathering Blue, imperfections are very much frowned upon, and people who have birth defects, or who are deemed to be undesirable for one reason or another are sent out to the fields and left to die. Parents are mean to their children with impunity. When our protagonist, Kira, loses her mother, their home is burned while she is off doing the ritual four days of mourning, because there was concern that her mother may have had an infectious disease. After this, Kira returns back to the village where several of the women unite to demand that Kira be sent away to the fields to die since she has a bad leg and is therefore not of use to the rest of the village. There is a trial to determine what will become of Kira, and she ends up being chosen to be the Threader, the person in the community who restores the robe worn by the Singer when he sings the Ruin Song at the annual Gathering. Wait, what? Okay, I’ll back up. Once a year this community has a Gathering, where the community’s official Singer performs the oral history of the world as these people know it. He carries a hand carved staff with images of the events of the world, and wears a huge robe with embroidered pictures of the history of the world. Kira’s mother was once in charge of repairs and restoration of the robe, and Kira assisted. But now her job will be to do all that, as well as finish embroidering the robe. This job is extremely important to the leadership of the community, and as such Kira is furnished with a place to live and all of her meals are provided so she can focus on her work. She meets Thomas the Carver, who is in charge of restoration of that staff the Singer carries when he wears the Robe to sing the Ruin Song at the annual Gathering. She and Thomas become friends, and together they learn some important truths about their community.
But, wait! I forgot about Matt. Matt is a little boy who is Kira’s only friend before she goes to live in the Council Edifice with Thomas the Carver, and he’s important because he helps Kira, and also because he runs off in the middle of the book and finds a new community where Kira’s long-lost (and presumed dead) father may or may not live. He’s also important because he’s the main character of the next book in the series, Messenger. Here, he’s mostly just the plucky sidekick, but an entertaining one.
This book takes place in the same world as The Giver, but the two communities in the two books are very dissimilar, and I had a hard time figuring out how they co-existed. In the world of Gathering Blue, no one has running water. Kira doesn’t know what it is at first when she goes to live at the Council Edifice. The community in The Giver is so advanced that they have medications for people to take to keep them from having emotions, and a whole system for reproduction that involves artificial insemination of young teenage girls (more on that later). I enjoyed this book more than The Giver, I think, but not as much as I’ve enjoyed future books in the series (you’ll hear about those in the next few days). It was a quick read, and good to have available during vacation. Lowry is definitely world building here, and this book added a layer of complexity to The Giver that I’m grateful to have. I suspect that most people would enjoy this book, well, most people who enjoy dystopian young adult fiction would enjoy this book for sure, and it’s reasonably well-written, so fans of good writing would probably enjoy it too. I also like Kira and Matt a lot as protagonists, which is good, because they turn up in future books. One thing I think I would have appreciated is having at least some foreshadowing into how the worlds of The Giver and Gathering Blue will run into each other. I didn’t appreciate anything of the sort. But then, I was reading it awfully fast, and maybe I missed something subtle. Stranger things have happened.