Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993)
Bantam-Random House, 1999

“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”

From the opening sentence, this novel has an ominous tone. Doesn’t it? ::squirms in chair::

And it’s pervasive. Only a few pages later, his younger sister is whispering about “The Ceremony of Twelve”, which is what is making Jonas apprehensive.

And there is talk of another threat — release — in that first chapter as well; Jonas’ father is discussing whether the committee will release the infant, Gabriel.

There are only two occasions on which release is not viewed as a punishment: for the old (it is a celebration) and for the newchild (and even then there is a sense of what-could-we-have-done).

This concept — and many others — are not-quite explained; indeed, Jonas, who inhabits this world, still has many questions. The world in which he lives is like our world in many ways; but there are ways in which it differs, too.

Some of these are evident in the story’s opening pages but the majority of them — both differences and similarities — are discovered as the pages turn.

And it’s nearly impossible to slow their turning. This is a compelling and relevant tale, with an unforgettable boy at the heart of it.

Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue (2000)
Dell LaurelLeaf – Random House, 2002

‘They came to take you,’ Katrina whispering the story to her [daughter] in the evening, in their cot, with the fire fed and glowing.
‘You were one day old, not yet named your one-syllable infant name –’


‘Yes, that’s right: Kir. They brought me food and were going to take you away to the Field…’
Kira shuddered. It was the way, the custom, and it was the merciful thing…’ (4)

As with The Gift, at the heart of Gathering Blue is a resilient and remarkable child.

Kira was almost put to death as an infant (because her leg was not properly formed) and her life is at risk once more, albeit indirectly, in the opening pages. And, yet, just as there was something which set Jonas apart, Kira, too, has an ability which makes her valuable to her community.

Both hero and heroine are not perfect: as they make discoveries about their surroundings, they are anxious, even fearful. This second story does not have quite the same sense of foreboding, but Kira’s life is characterized by uncertainty and the tension related to that does increase as the story unfolds.

Lois Lowry’s Messenger (2004)
Walter Lorraine Books – Houghton Mifflin, 2004

As with The Giver, the tension with Messenger begins with the opening sentences.

“[He] was impatient to have the supper preparations over and done with. He wanted to cook, eat, and be gone. He wished he were grown so that he could decide when to eat, or whether to bother eating at all. There was something he needed to do, a thing that scared him. Waiting just made it worse.”

Life in The Village has changed. It was once a refuge, a place sought out by those who had suffered elsewhere and sought relief, refuge, and acceptance.

“The peaceful scene had changed into something no longer beautiful. It had an ominous feel to it, a feel of impenetrability.” (101)

Our hero is from elsewhere, where he learned to lie and cheat to defend himself. Readers of the earlier books recognize him from pages read before. (I won’t say which because part of what I most enjoyed about this third volume was discovering the interconnections between the tales.)

“Suddenly he felt that they were all of them doomed.
He had forgotten completely about his own power. He had forgotten the frog.” (82)

Lois Lowry hadn’t intended these stories to continue beyond The Giver, so I was hesitant to read on with the series, even though I absolutely loved the first volume in it when I first read it for a bookclub (which normally elected to read books written primarily for adults)  nearly ten years ago.

But apparently she couldn’t stop thinking about it either, as the author, so she wrote on. And I am so pleased, as a reader, to have read on. I actually woke up in the middle of the night and used a flashlight to finish reading the final volume because I’d been reading it until I fell asleep and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it once I’d woken up again.

These stories are not only highly suspenseful, but thought-provoking in the best ways; they are more about asking questions than providing answers, as they force the reader (along with the characters therein) to confront uncomfortable truths. If you think Lois Lowry’s books are just for kids, The Giver will challenge that belief. And then you’ll be hooked.

Have you read any of these? Been tempted?