In Part I of the dystopian literature theme we talked about A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. A used book store owner recommended that I read The Giver by Lois Lowry, and after doing so I bought the other books in the quartet – Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son. As an active reader, The Giver disturbed me more so than other dystopian novels. This one of the most complete book summaries I have done and by reading the summary for each of the books in The Giver quartet you do not have to read the books.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver by Lois Lowry is another dystopian novel. While I was reading the book, I was reminded of Anthem by Ayn Rand, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In The Giver, sameness is valued, and there is no place for anything that’s different. In the community where the story takes place, the weather is the same every day, the people dress the same, and everyone is expected to be the same. Those who are sick are released, and when you get very old, you are released as well. When you are born, you are given a number and you do not receive your name until you attend the special ceremony. If you do not develop at the same rate as babies your own age, you are released.
Your spouse is selected for you, and they pair men and women who balance each other. At about eight years old, children begin volunteering, and they are closely monitored so that when they are 12 years old, their vocation in life is chosen, based on what they have an affinity for. There are four people in the family, a father, a mother and a boy and a girl. When the children grow up and leave home, the father and mother are placed in a Home for Childless Adults, and when they become old, they are placed in the House of the Old.
A husband and wife do not procreate. There are special women for that role. The women who procreate, are important for three years when they bear children, after which, they are relegated to positions that others look down on. Whenever you get to an age where you have sexual urgings you have to take pills to suppress the feelings. This is a perfect world, where members of the community are under control. There are no diseases and no war. You do not have choices, and every member in the community has a specific role.
When children are 12 there is a big ceremony – The Ceremony of Twelve – and they learn what their future vocation will be. Eleven year old Jonas is different because he can see beyond. Every so often he gets a glimpse of something that is inexplicable to him. For instance, he sees a red apple, and that is unusual because there is no color in that society. Everything is the same, no deviation. At the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas is excited yet anxious because he has no inkling of what his vocation will be. All the 12 year olds sit together in the order of the number they are given at birth. One by one, the tweens are going on stage as their numbers are called, but when it comes to Jonas they skip over his number. This causes him great anxiety, and embarrassment to his family.
After they have assigned all the 12 years olds their vocation, the Chief Elder, the leader of the community, apologize, to everyone and explains why Jonas has been skipped over. It turns out that Jonas is being given a special role. He will be the next Receiver in the community. The Receiver is the keeper of all knowledge. He is the only one who knows the history of the world, long before the community morphed into the way it now is. Jonas will receive special training and the present Receiver will transfer all his knowledge to Jonas. The Receiver holds an important position in the community, and that is a lot to place on the shoulders of one person.
Although residents of the community should be truthful at all times, the Receiver is allowed to lie, and also has access to all information. Jonas’ father is a nurturer, so he cares for the baby. There is a baby boy who is not developing very quickly and will likely be released. His father takes the child home with him to get extra care with the hope that it will aid his development. The father commits a crime, which is looking at the name of the child before the ceremony. The baby’s name is Gabe.
Jonas starts to get his training from the Receiver who starts to transfer his knowledge to the boy. As he transfers knowledge he feels lighter, and less like Atlas who carries the world on his shoulder. After one year of receiving knowledge, Jonas gets to experience virtual snow and rain, sees a sled, and learns that life exists outside their community. And for the first time, he has access to books. He also experiences pain for the first time and learns that release means death. He actually sees a video of his father injecting a baby and killing it, simply because the baby was not developing as quickly as is expected. Jonas realizes that his father has been lying to him.
The Receiver is very much like Jonas. He doesn’t like what is happening in the community but he believes he is too old to make a difference but Jonas can. The two hatch a plan for Jonas to leave the community, because if he does, the knowledge will go to the people and their eyes will open. It will be painful for them, but they will manage and the community will grow stronger because of the forced change. One night Jonas stays overnight at the Receivers place so they can plan Jonas’ escape. When the boy returns home the next day he learns that Gabe will be released because he fusses when he doesn’t get the extra nurturing. Jonas has been transferring some of the images that were transferred to him to calm the baby.
Jonas realizes that he has to leave earlier and take Gabe to save him. He steals his father’s bicycle because it has a child’s seat and he and the toddler leave the only community they know. They travel during the night and hide during the days because a helicopter is searching for them. The escape is very difficult and perilous. They are hungry and experience real snow, but they are not equipped for the cold. Jonas sees a sled and recognizes it, and he and Jonas ride down the hill on it. They are close to starvation, but at some point, Jonas sees beyond and knows that they are going to be okay, and the story ends.
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry is the second part of the Giver trilogy. Unfortunately, Jonas and Gabe are not mentioned, so you are left wondering what happened to them. The story focuses on Kira. We are not sure of Kira’s age – she could be a pre-teen because her name has two syllables – but she has a disability – one of her feet is turned inwards so it makes walking very difficult. Her mother Katrina has just died and Kira has to wait in the Field of Leaving for four days until the spirit of her mother moves on. Kira is now an orphan, her father was killed by a beast when he was out hunting before she is born.
In the society in which Kira inhabits, they do not care for the weak, and in fact she should have been killed because she was born with a disability. They believe in giving back imperfect children to the earth. Her mother was a strong woman who resisted the leaders taking away her baby daughter, and since Kira’s grandfather had once been an esteemed leader and was still living, they left Kira alive. In addition, before her father died he was slated to be a member of the powerful Council of Guardians.
Although Kira and her mother were poor, they always found a way to manage and take care of themselves. Katrina was a weaver and taught the craft to Kira, but the mother could see that her daughter would become a much greater weaver than she ever could be. Now that Katrina has died as well as her grandfather, it will be very difficult for her to survive in a society that shuns those who they perceive as being weak. While she is away in the Field of Leaving, they burn her things so as not to spread any illness. She is worried about what will become of her. While she is away, her young friend Matt secures some of her things for her and he is waiting to see what will become of her, if the community will send Kira to the Field of Beast.
When Kira leaves the Field of Leaving and returns to the spot where she lived with her mother, Valdana, the instigator, and other women are already plotting the girl’s demise. Kira reminds them that they cannot harm her, they have to seek the advice of the Council of Guardians. Kira is summoned to the Council and so is Valdana, who makes her case against the girl. The Council asks Kira if she wants to speak on her behalf or get a council member to defend her. She opts for a council member and Jamison acts on her behalf. For each claim that Valdana makes against Kira, Jamison admits that it is true, but he counters with exceptions to the rules.
Kira wins the case, and she is told to get her things. She meets Matt, and he gives her the things that he secured for her before they were burned, one of which is a necklace that her father gave to her mother. Matt helps her to move, but she doesn’t have many possessions. She later learns that she is moving into the federal building. Kira’s life is transformed, and now she has access to indoor plumbing, she didn’t know that such a thing exists. Living in the building is also Thomas the carver. It’s interesting because the two have very unique gifts – Kira’s thread sings and speaks to her, and she is able to see ahead, and so does the wood that Thomas carves.
The Council of Guardians spares Kira’s life because they need her gift as a weaver to repair and complete the robe worn by the Singer. The robe is important to the community because it houses the history of mankind, and the Singer also has unique gifts like Kira and Thomas and once a year at a public gathering, he sings their history. The Council of Guardians is very cunning, and what they want to do is to manipulate history instead of allowing it to unfold, and they need Kira to weave in the untouched section of the robe.
Kira hasn’t yet learned the art of dyeing, so they send her to an old woman, Annabella, who taught Katrina how to dye. Annabella has four syllables which represents four generations of wisdom. The old woman teaches Kira a lot, and Matt often walks with her to Annabella’s cottage. Kira learns a lot, and she finds out that it is difficult to make blue, and that blue is plentiful in another community and points her finger in the direction. Girls are not allowed to learn to read and write so Thomas writes down all the information that Kira learns from Annabella each day. And watching Thomas, Kira learns to write and read. Kira often talks about beasts killing people to Annabella who tells her more than once that there are no beasts.
Kira has to balance learning while mending the robe because Jamison wants it to be completed before the gathering. Each day he inspects what Kira has done and he is pleased and recognizes that Kira is a lot better than her mother Katrina. One day she tells him that Annabella says there is no beast because she is confused since her mother was told that a beast had killed her husband. After she tells Jamison what Annabella said, the next day she learns that Annabella has died. This is upsetting.
Thomas and Kira discover Jo, a small girl who is also in the federal building. She is locked up in the basement. Jo has a beautiful voice, like a bird, and lyrics come to her naturally, so she too has their special gift. Kira starts to realize that the Council of Guardians wants the three because of their gifts, and she realizes that they killed her mother to get access to her.
Kira has always shown love to Matt, unlike all the other people in the community. It is also distressing that children are not valued there and their parents often beat them and they are expected to be seen and not heard. Because of the love that Kira gives to Matt, sharing her food, giving him a bath, he wants to repay her kindness, so one day after he receives a beating from his mom he leaves and go in search of blue for Kira to give her as a gift, but Kira doesn’t know this.
After not seeing Matt for a few days, Kira is very worried and goes to his home which is what we would call a ghetto. She learns from Matt’s younger brother what has become of the boy. Matt returns and with him is an old man, which is Christopher, Kira’s father. She has what she needs to make blue dye. She learns that Jamison tried to kill Christopher because of jealousy. Her father cannot stay because if word gets out that he didn’t die, they would be sure to kill him. Kira learns of the kindness that others showed her father in the community that accepted him.
Her father asks her to return with him, but she promises that she will do so later, because she is needed where she is to make sure that the change takes place. Matt leaves with Christopher, the Seer.
The Messenger by Lois Lowry
The Messenger by Lois Lowry is the third installment of The Giver trilogy. For me, this was the weakest of the three because too many things were unresolved, and I learned that there is a new book out, so the trilogy has turned into a quartet. This story focuses on Matt, now called Matty, who is now living with the Seer, Christopher, Kira’s father. And he is the official messenger for the community. The leader is Jonas, who arrived years earlier. We get the sense that things are much better where Jonas and Gabe came from.
There is only one mention of Gabe who is eight years old and very mischievous. I wondered why Gabe is not living with Jonas, the Leader. Jonas was chosen to be the Leader because he can see beyond.
Over the years, Matty has been taking messages from Seer to Kira and vice versa, but he hasn’t been to his old community in over two years. Matty delivers messages for the Leader, and he loves the home where Leader lives, the ornate stairway and the many books. Matty also discovers that he has a unique gift, the ability to heal, but he keeps it a secret, although keeping secrets are frowned upon in the society.
Recently, there has been a change in the community and Seer and Leader are very concerned. The people are changing and are becoming very selfish and want to close their borders to others. They are becoming inhospitable, even people who were once very charitable. The only change is that a Trade Master has come into town and people are making trades, but no one can see what they are trading. For instance, Mentor is a compassionate teacher who spends a lot of time helping students. He has a birth mark across his face, and is stooped.
Leader and Matty notice that the birth mark is fading, he is more erect and he has lost weight and is now quite trim. His disposition changes, and he is now very mean-spirited, kicking dogs, something that he has never done before. His daughter, who Matty is in love with, also notices the change in her father. One day Matty goes to one of the Trades, and when he returns home, he relates everything that transpired there to Seer. Something sinister is going on at the Trades.
There is a public meeting and the majority vote to close the border. Leader needs Matty to put posters telling others that they are no longer accepting them. And residents in the community who oppose newcomers’ arrival are poised to build a barrier. Seer asks Matty to get Kira who promised that one day she would leave her community to be with her father in his community. Matty has three weeks to get her and return, and deliver the flyers.
Matty knows that Leader can see beyond, and Kira can see ahead, so he wonders if he couldn’t meet Kira half way. When Matty enters the forest he notices that it is changing and when he returns it will probably be the last time he will walk through it. When he gets to Kira, she is expecting him because she is able to see ahead when she weaves. She was also able to see the change in the forest. After they enter the forest, it has changed significantly in only a few days and it is very hostile and tries to kill the two.
Before Matty leaves to deliver the messages and get Kira, Leader tells him that he knows his secret and that he should not squander it. While he is away, Seer visits Leader because he wants to know if his two children are safe, his adopted son Matty, and his daughter Kira. Leader tries to hide the truth from Seer because he can see the danger that Kira and Matty are facing. He finally decides to go to rescue them, but he keeps his departure a secret from everyone except Seer.
The journey is very perilous and it gets to a point where Leader can go no further although he can see them. Matty and Kira are injured and close to death. The air is heavy making it impossible for them to breathe. In their weakened state, Kira decides to weave, which Matty thinks is foolhardy, but she ignores him and sees that someone is coming to rescue them. Matty instantly knows that it’s Leader. He tells Kira that Leader can see beyond.
Matty tells Kira to put her needle into the cloth again so that she may meet Leader half way. Leader’s consciousness meets Kira’s and she tells him that they are wounded. Leader tells Kira to tell Matty that they need his help, the world needs his help. Kira imparts the message, but Matty is in agony and feeling hopeless. Nevertheless, he stretches out his injured hands and touch the earth, and he feels a tingle. He summons his gift and feel the power entering his body, and Matty is able to heal the forest, his friends and the people in his community.
Leader is able to get to them, but he sees Matty’s lifeless body. He lifts up Matty, and they head home. The story ends there.
Son by Lois Lowry
Son by Lois Lowry is the conclusion of the quartet, and she does a good job of wrapping up the Giver series. Son is more than twice the length of the other books, and I am concerned about that. I do not think that it had to be. Lowry devotes a lot of time telling the story of Claire, Gabe’s birthmother. If you remember, Jonas took Gabe away because they were going to kill him because he wasn’t developing at the same rate as the other children in his age group.
In Son, Lois Lowry starts the story, and we learn that Claire was selected as a birthmother whens he was 12 at the Ceremony. They prepare her body for birthing, and at age 14 she is inseminated. Her pregnancy is different from other birthmothers, and she has to have a caesarean section, which is not normal. After she recovers, she is transferred to the Hatchery because she is unsuitable for the role of birthmother, but no one remembers to give her pills to suppress all human emotions. Claire learns that her son is number 36 and she goes to the Nurturing department and starts to develop a relationship with her son, but this is done in secret.
We are taken to the time when Jonas leaves with Gabe and they are searching for them and cannot find them. Claire is devastated and stumbles on the riverboat that delivers supply. We know that there is a storm, and somehow Claire is rescued from drowning and awake in another place suffering from amnesia. She knows her name but nothing else. Alys, an old lady, the community healer and midwife, takes her in because she has always wanted a daughter.
Claire gains strength, and every now and then get bits of her memory back. She goes out with Alys on calls and starts to learn about herbs, healing and midwifery. She remembers that she had a son, and she tells Alys, but while she is talking some girls hear the story, and not knowing any better they tell others and soon the whole village knows and some people ostracize her and refuse to have anything to do with her. Clair is intent on finding her son Gabe.
It’s difficult to get off the island so Einar who had successfully completed the trip trains her. As the story unfolds we learn that Einar encountered the Trademaster who we learned about in Messenger and Matty gave up his life to undo the damage that he did in the community. Einar would not submit to the Trademaster and was harmed for his opposition – he has a physical disability. Einar and Claire form a friendship and although it is not explicitly stated we know that he has grown to love her.
Claire trains for years until she has the strength to undertake the trip. Einar tells her that there is a man who will approach and whatever he asks for, she should say yes and he tells her about his experience. Einar tells Claire when she is ready for the trip. The trip is not easy, and she is injured by a bird, but she makes the difficult trip. The Trademaster appears and to get to find her son she has to trade her youth. Claire will do anything to see Gabe again. As she starts on her journey to where her son is living, she ages incredibly fast.
For years she watches Gabe, and he notices her but she never approaches him. Gabe has also discovered his unique gift which he is calling veering. He can go into someone using his mind without them knowing. Over the years, Claire grows weak and is now close to death and decides to confide in Jonas, who is now married to Kira and has two children.
The story is incredible, but Jonas believes Claire. On her deathbed, Jonas is holding vigil and Gabe seeks him tohave a talk. Jonas tells him what Claire told him but the tale is too fantastic for the teenager to wrap his head around. Jonas asks Mentor to tell Gabe about the Trademaster and he does. At that time, Gabe discovers that trades are reversible. They have to act quickly if they want to save Claire.
Jonas has been losing his power to see beyond because he doesn’t really need it and it also saps too much of his energy. For one final time, he uses it to see where the Trademaster is located so that Gabe can seek him. Jonas tells Gabe that he has to use his power to finally kill the evil man. When Gabe is going after the Trademaster he realizes that he cannot kill anyone.
We get to the point where Gabe and the Trademaster meet. For a while Gabe forgets what Jonas tells him, then he remembers to use his power so he goes into the Trademaster and discovers that he is hungry – Trademaster feeds off his trades. Gabe tells him of his failed trades and the Trademaster starts to disintegrate because it isn’t human, but pure evil. As the Trademaster disappears into the earth Claire grows stronger and her aging is reversed. The story ends when she is a young woman and waiting for Gabe who is now walking toward her.
In the Son, Lois Lowry does a good job, but I am not quite satisfied with the ending, there are still a few loose ends for me. We learn that Claire is in love with Einar, and I suppose we can guess and conclude that they get together creating our own ending. But was the harm that the Trademaster delivered to Einar also reversed when Gabe used his power? Einar deserves happiness after the way he suffered at his father’s hand while growing up.
What are your thoughts on The Giver quartet? Please write your comments in the box below. Book links are affiliate links.
- The Worlds of Lois Lowry 3-Copy Boxed Set (The Giver, Messenger, Gathering Blue), Son
- Divergent, Insurgent (Divergent Series Box Set)
- The Wrinkle in Time Quintet Boxed Set (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time)
- Fahrenheit 451: A Novel
- Herland (Dover Thrift Editions) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman