You may have heard of Lowry’s The Giver, which won the Newbery Award and was made into a beautiful movie.
But did you know it’s only the first in an even more beautiful set of four books, each more life-affirming than the last?
Books written for the Young Adult (YA) market are some of the hottest sellers today. I think a large part of their appeal is that–no matter the age of the reader now–we’ve all been young and we’ve all faced the universal themes of coming of age and exploring the options of life that a young adult faces, whether these challenges are set in the modern world, the past, amongst vampires, or in the future.
Lois Lowry is a master of the YA novel. Winner of not one but two Newbery Awards (considered by many to be the highest award for children’s books) in The Giver Quartet she weaves a four-part fable that takes place in the world of our future: Modern civilization has collapsed and new human societies have begun to rebuild.
The Giver is the first of the series and its protagonist is 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in one of these new societies. In many ways his world seems ideal compared to ours today–there is no hunger or lack, no pain or suffering, and everyone works together as a tight-knit community. At the age of twelve, all children find out their individual place in society and begin working on their new assignments as adults. Jonas is given the rare assignment of Receiver of Memory, and he is taught by (you guessed it) the Giver. As Jonas begins experiencing the memories that everyone else around him has been denied for their own good, he slowly decides that, perhaps, a world without pain and suffering is a world that is not truly human. What has been sacrificed to attain this constant state of peace may be more a curse than a blessing. Jonas must decide, what is the best course of action for a society such as his?
Gathering Blue, the next book in the series, is about a girl named Kira who lives in a very different society that does not have the technology of Jonas’s world. Lame and looked down upon as an orphan, Kira is unusually skilled in embroidery, a highly prized ability that earns her an honored position regardless of her other shortcomings. It is her job to use her skill to restore the aging robe that tells the history of her people in embroidered pictures, worn once a year by the Singer, who tells the history of her people’s past that must never be repeated. She soon realizes that her “honored position” is actually a type of prison and that the ceremony for which she works so hard to prepare has a much darker truth at its core.
Messenger is the story of Matty, a minor character from the second book who becomes quite major. He has escaped the society of Gathering Blue and now lives in a truly Utopian village made of fellow defectors from the more flawed societies surrounding it. A gifted messenger, he travels between towns delivering messages and obtaining what is needed for his new home. But when an ancient evil returns, poisoning the life-giving forest that protects the village and threatening its very existence, he must make a dangerous journey to rescue the most precious package he has yet delivered.
Son is the conclusion of this series and my favorite of the four (which is really saying something). I cried on and off throughout the reading of it. The stories of all the characters introduced in the first three novels are beautifully resolved together in a triumphant finale.
The Giver Quartet offers a hopeful picture of what humanity might one day achieve if it confronts and conquers its darkest realities. Beautifully told and written, please give yourself the gift of reading all four. Preferably more than once.
Muchier Scale: 10 out of 10.