I taught middle school communication arts for nine years and during that time I found some amazing books for my students to read. I was the student in school that was never very happy when I had to read the book everyone else had to read, and yet I became a teacher that assigned the same book to the whole class. I did this for many reasons but often it was because they were books I loved myself and wanted to share. Fortunately for me these books also became favorites of many of my students. I plan on sharing several of these books with you so you can read them or recommend them to the preteen-teenager in your life.
“I never liked reading til you made me read The Giver.” A former student told me this and I could do nothing but grin ear to ear. The Giver is about a young boy named Jonas. Jonas lives in an utopian society. Students have always asked me for at time frame on this specifically asking if it happens in the future. I don’t know from context clues in this book at it’s companion I can make a guess and that’s what I share with them but the truth is we really don’t know. What we do know is this world if very different from our own. Spouses are assigned to one another, children are given to families, Birthmother is a JOB yeah you read that right a job (always a headshaker that one is, tends to lead to some interesting questions too that I’m not always eager to answer lol). It is nearly December and time for the Ceremony of Twelve, as well as all the other aging ceremonies. See in this society all children born in one year become “one year older” on the same day be they two months or twelve months in actuality. Each year brings something new maybe clothes, their own bicycle, a haircut, but it is the Ceremony of Twelve that is the biggest. At 12 children are assigned their job. At 12… this is always a big talking point. Each job is only assigned to one child per year and there are only 50 children in each year. Jonas is skipped at the ceremony leading to some serious angst until at the end he is told that he has not been assigned he has been chosen. Jonas is to be the new Receiver of Memory. As Jonas begins to train for this position his thoughts and feelings about his community change dramatically. This is a must read for anyone and everyone!
Kira lives in another much less advanced society in the same world as Jonas. Gathering Blue is a companion to The Giver in that it occurs at nearly the same time while it is not a sequel it might just answer the question you were left with at the end of Giver. My former students could tell you that question but I won’t give it away. 😉
The setting of Gathering Blue is what led me to my conclusion about the overall setting of this universe. Students asked me year after year when and where this takes place. I have no direct answer as I’ve never found one from Lois Lowry perchance because she wants her readers to think, but I have told students what I think, what I have inferred from the books and other things. I believe this is a post major cataclysm world, I remind kids of the Simpson Treehouse of Horror episode for Y2K, most of them have seen it repeats at some point, where Lisa gets the invite to the shuttle taking off to start a new world with the best and brightest. I also tell them I saw a similar thing in the movie Deep Impact where the best and brightest of the US were gathered in the Ozark caves. I think Jonas’s community is the result of the best and brightest while Kira’s is that of those left behind.
OK and now back to the book. Kira is born with a physical disability in her community this is cause to take her out in the field and leave her for the animals but her mother fights to keep her. Kira’s mother then dies when Kira is a pre-teen another woman in the community wants the lot Kira’s cot (cottage) stood on to create a pen for her children (yeah stellar mom material there). She takes it up with the Council of the community who award her Kira’s space but take Kira in for a special job where she finds she is not the only orphan that has been taken in.
Throughout the book Kira’s constant friend is Matt, a little boy from the roughest edge of this rough community. When she needs blue thread to finish a section of the robe she is embroidering Matt sets off in search of it (yep he’s gathering blue).
Matt, now Matty’s story continues in Messenger. He has moved away from Kira’s community to yet a third in this strange world. We meet old and new characters as Matty hopes to receive his title/job, he hopes for the title of Messenger but there is something more to him. Something more to him like there was something more to Jonas in The Giver and Kira in Gathering Blue. I was excited when this book came out because it seemed to wrap up the loose ends from both previous books. Be warned the ending is not your typical fairy tale happy ending then again not all stories do have a happy ending, a good life lesson. Still it’s worth the read even for the tears you may have at the end.
I was positively shocked a few months ago when I was wondering through the library to see a new Lois Lowry audiobook that said it was the conclusion of the Give Quartet. Um what it’s a quartet now? There’s another book??? I very nearly ran to the juvenile lit then teen sections to try and find the paper copy of the book. While seriously disappointed it wasn’t on the shelf I didn’t give up and off to the computer I went to put Son on hold. Son is the story of Claire a girl from Jonas’s community who was assigned the job of Birthmother. This was an interesting look at a side of the community I wished I could see during The Giver, but it led to some inconsistencies between the two books. Claire talks about Birthmothers having 3 products (children) after orientation and preparation which could be a year to two years. while in Giver Jonas’s mother specifically tells his little sister Lily that it’s a two year job two babies and that’s it. Not sure if this is simply because the general community knows so little about the Birthmother job or if it’s a matter of it being so long between writing Giver and Son that Lowry made a mistake. Either way being detail oriented like I am it took me out of the story for a little bit but it didn’t take long for me to get back. Claire has a product, read baby, she has trouble during delivery and has to have an emergency c-section now maybe this just struck me more because I also had to have an emergency c-section but it was hard to read, harder because Claire has no idea what’s going on her eyes are covered the whole time. Due to the problem she is released from the position of Birthmother, she asks about her product and is told he is ok. He hmmm at this point I was wondering who the he would be because from the book jacket I knew it was a boy that left the community that could be Jonas or the newchild his family was caring for Gabe. The story continues with Claire taking on a new job and finding a way to volunteer at the newchild center so she can be with her son whom she becomes very attached to. When her son leaves the community so does she.
When next we see Claire she has been rescued from the sea and has amnesia. This is yet another rough/primitive community in this world but this one is overall happy and the people get along well much like in Messenger. Claire recovers her health and then her memory. Reading her struggles I cried a few times. There is a third part of the book that seems to be very short, the end comes very quickly but is satisfying. If you’ve read the other three books go get this one, if you’ve only read The Giver, read all three others you won’t regret it. If you’ve already read them all I’d love to hear your opinion.