Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, Son

The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son by Lois Lowry

I read The Giver a few years ago, but Kansas Dad was reading the entire quartet recently, so I decided to read it again and then all the other books as well, which I had not read before. Without lessons to teach and most of our activities on hold, I managed to finish all four books in four days.

The Giver was even better the second time around.

* Spoiler Alert *

If you haven't read these books, especially The Giver and Son, you should run to your library now and read them. Come back when you're done. I promise not to delete the post.

Kansas Dad and I were discussing the ending of The Giver and realized we had completely different understandings of the end. He thought Jonas and Gabe died at the bottom of the hill and I thought they lived. In fact, I thought the ending of the book was its most powerful part: Jonas and Gabe, tired, weak, cold, at the end of their perilous journey, perched at the top of the hill with the end in view. From his received memories, Jonas believes he sees family, love and celebration ahead of them, but he doesn't really know. It's a moment of great hope and anticipation, but is also terrifying.

Though I believe Jonas lived through the ride and did indeed find a home at the bottom of the hill, I also think it's a good metaphor for dying and going to Heaven. We arrive at the end, exhausted from our lives, hopefully ones of sacrifice and love (as Jonas's was), and glimpse the destination. We anticipate love, celebration, and great joy, but we don't really know. We must have faith. Our understanding of those ideas, those truths, are a little like Jonas's memories, not quite perfect, and are therefore merely a glimpse of the wonder that lies ahead. Trembling from exhaustion, and fear, we balance for a moment between two realities, earth and heaven, before the exhilaration of the rush to our Lord.

I don't know what the author thought about the ending of the book, and it doesn't really matter. It made me think of Heaven.

I didn't think there was a need for any more books and was a little concerned they would collectively diminish the power of the first one. The second book, Gathering Blue, tells of another community, one of cruelty and abuse and one crippled girl there, Kira, who faces a choice at the end to run to safety or work to improve the lives of the people in her village. I thought the third book, Messenger, was the weakest. I think it's about tolerance, honor, and sacrifice, but it just didn't match The Giver.

* Spoiler Alert *

Now I'm going to tell you the end of Son. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The last book is nearly as good as The Giver. In it, we meet Claire, Gabe's mother, and see what his birth was like for her, how she loved him as no one else in the community knew love, how she yearned for his touch and his smile. After Jonas and Gabe escape, she is set adrift and finds herself washed up on the shore of a village far away from all she has known. For years, she strengthens her body in preparation for the search for her son. A horrible man called the Trademaster, offers her son in trade for something precious and she agrees because she has no choice. In the end, Claire and Gabe are reunited but he must then do battle with the Trademaster for his mother's life. Gabe's courage, as he faces this Evil without any weapons, and his triumph through the love he shares with his mother, are wonderful, a fitting ending to the series.

I have only one quibble with the ending. In the book, it seems like Gabe has conquered Evil for all time. As Christians, we know only Christ can do that (and will, at the Parousia), but I don't think you have to be Christian to believe that each person can and should do battle with Evil. Every time we choose the Good, every time we sacrifice for someone else, every time we love when it is hard to do so, we make a stand against Evil. Perhaps we even injure it, beat it back, but Humanity alone cannot defeat it. Kansas Dad and I talk of this often, how we are called to build Christ's kingdom on earth. Our work will never be in vain, but it will also never be complete.

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