Banned Books Week: Cassie-la Guides You Through “The Giver Quartet” by Lois Lowry

The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son (Advanced Reader Copy) by Lois Lowry
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Genre: Fiction, childrens, dystopia, fantasy, my childhood is now complete
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Summary: In the future, a young boy named Jonas is given a prominent position in his community as the Receiver of memories… Until he finds out the dark secrets they base their lives around and he escapes with a baby named Gabriel. His lives cross over with the heroes and heroines in the other three books in the quartet, from maimed Kira who has a skill for sewing, Mattie who wants nothing more than to be named Messenger, and Claire, Gabriel’s Birthmother in this classic dystopian series that has finally reached its conclusion.

If you first read and encountered The Giver in Middle School (like most American students… Or Canadians and Australians according to the internet), then chances are you have been waiting your whole childhood to find out what happened to baby Gabriel and Jonas. Or if like me you were under the assumption that the ending hinted Jonas and Gabriel entered a symbolic heaven after freezing to death you’re probably incredibly confused that they’re alive enough to be in three other books. It may have taken 19 years, but you will finally have most of your questions answered in this gripping conclusion to one of my favorite dystopian novels. Let the rejoicing commence!

The Giver is the book that started it all in 1993, drawing ire because of its depictions of infanticide and references to sexual connotations called Stirrings. Oh noes! Some even argue it promotes suicide and claims that it has “occult themes”, i.e. Jonas’ ability to see color in the colorless community is witchcraft and was banned in 2001. This is why you can’t have nice things Missouri.

WARNING: Here be spoilers if you’re 19 years behind and have yet to read The Giver. Also, Tarrlok is a bloodbender. (ERMAHGERD TERLERKS A BLERDBERNDER.)

For those of you who have never read the novel (and you should!) it follows a Twelve (that is 12 year old) named Jonas who is given the position of Receiver in his community. His job, chosen for him by the government is to retain past memories for its citizens. Specifically memories of emotions which have been suppressed from the community through medication to promote ideas of sameness. Spouses are chosen for you, children are assigned and the world is a color-less place, all to prevent jealousy and other dangerous emotions from ruining its citizens. Jonas, not accepting this life (especially when he learns about the true meaning of release) escapes the dystopian society with a baby set for death to find a new life. Like you do.

In 2000, everyone who read The Giver in Middle School went onto higher education and Lowry released Gathering Blue. The book is set in a completely different community and follows Kira, a maimed girl with a special gift that she can tap into when she sews. Touted as a companion book to the first in the series, Kira lives in a primitive village where girls are forbidden to learn how to read and write, and the number of syllables in a person’s name denotes their age. Because that’s the best way to determine age.

After a dispute with a cruel member of the community, an orphaned Kira is taken in by the Council of Guardians and assigned to repair the robe of the Singer, who sings of the history of the community once a year. Much like the place Jonas escaped from, Kira quickly learns the devious workings of the Council and plans to escape when the time is right. While Jonas does not appear in the story (it’s a companion book for a reason) Kira’s friend Matt makes veiled and obvious references to a pale-eyed boy in the community beyond the woods who we are led to believe is Jonas. And just like that the symbolic death metaphor goes out the window.

A mere four years later, in 2004, Lowry came out with Messenger, the follow up to Gathering Blue. The book follows Mattie, Kira’s friend who was once Matt but due to syllables and rank and all that good stuff is now Mattie. He lives in a place called Village, led by a pale-eyed boy known as Leader. AKA Jonas. Yup, we’re finally back to him. His not so symbolic sled (it’s no Rosebud) that he arrived on is now even in a museum. So so wrong about him being dead. We hear hints about the old community he escaped from and learn about this new place, a community where those who leave or are cast out from other places are welcome. For now. ::ominous music::

Due to Jonas’ experiences with sameness and the wrongs of where he grew up, this community does not allow secrets, encourages learning for all its citizens, and freedom for all. However, despite his desire to change things, Jonas assigns people titles or “true names” based on their strengths. For example, a blind man in the community who can see beyond is named Seer, and a devious figure who runs the Trade Market is dubbed Trademaster. It’s a slight step down from identifying people by syllables but a step up from referring to them by numbers.

Finally, Lowry has finished her series and given us Son eight years later, which ties up the stories of Jonas, Gabriel and Kira. The book starts initially in the same community as The Giver and runs concurrent to the events experienced by Jonas, but from the point of view of a Birthmother named Claire. AKA a Vessel who produces Products. We get to see the narrative through her eyes and also see some peripheral characters again like Jonas’ father and Gabe. We never do learn his Dad’s name, but he’s still one of my favorite characters. Despite the child murder he’s a pretty fun guy.

This book is more than twice as long as the others in the series and is split up into three parts, the first focusing on Claire during the time Jonas is named as Receiver, the second following her as she too leaves the community and the third book being from the point of view of baby, now teenage Gabriel in Village. The Tradesmaster makes appearances in both books two and three in the last book, as he’s the Big Bad in both Messenger and Son. He serves to give the series more of a fantasy element. This of course is in addition to the fact that pale-eyed children like Jonas, Gabe, Kira and Mattie have special otherworldly gifts (i.e. seeing the future). Think Children of the Corn but less evil.

So why is this series so important? For one, it’s an engaging story for children that is both entertaining and informative. They will be so intent on the story that they almost won’t realize they’re learning, during The Giver in particular. Thankfully, Son also has these elements, particularly in book one and three. Who doesn’t want a child to enjoy learning about the importance of choices and freedom? You go Lois Lowry!

THE GOOD:
-Amazingly written children’s series that actually teaches something
-Engaging series that you can’t seem to put down (still entertaining as an adult)
-Nice to have a definitive endpoint after a 19 year wait
-Informative, thoughtful and easy to digest; I’m still in love

THE BAD:
-Interest held mostly by Jonas’ initial community, hard to leave and go Elsewhere- HAR HAR HAR

I would like to thank Lois Lowry for finishing this amazing series and keeping the finale just as smart and intelligent as The Giver. After re-reading novel for the first time since Middle School I can honestly say this book has stood the test of time. Bonus: the child in me is overjoyed that Jonas and Gabriel were able to escape and live a happy and fulfilling life. Metaphorical heaven be damned!

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