Falling ever further behind at my attempt at daily Christmas countdown blogging, here’s a post meant for the fourth coming out on the seventh. Hopefully there will be more to come tonight so long as the work inbox stays relatively clear. But onwards!
Lois Lowry’s The Giver was one of my favorite books in elementary school. Before The Hunger Games rose in popularity, I imagine The Giver was the primary introduction to dystopian worlds for most kids. I haven’t read the book in years, but I still recall the scenes where Jonas discovers the true nature of the world he lives in, the flashes of color and pain that come with it. Lowry’s use of language borders on the poetic, and I suspect that authors such as her are the reason I adore creators like Neil Gaiman today.
A few months back, I entered a reading period focusing on kids’ books. Some, such as Tamora Pierce’s “Circle of Magic” and “The Circle Opens” quartets, were childhood favorites. Others, such as Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants (my thoughts on it can be found here), were new to me. Gathering Blue, which takes place in the same universe as The Giver but is not a direct sequel, had been sitting on my shelf, unread, for several years at this point, and now I would like to recommend it to you all for your Christmas considerations (as well as The Giver and the other two books in the quartet that I haven’t read yet- Messenger and Son).
The recent trend in dystopian literature places emphasis on action. Fights to the death and violent revolutions take center stage. For anyone expecting Gathering Blue‘s protagonist, Kira, to follow this template, the story will likely feel anti-climactic because this book is all about the art, my friends. Kira lives in a brutal village struggling to survive, where the weak and disabled are sent away to die, children are raised to be aggressive fighters, and the leading Council of Guardians is more concerned with staying in control than enforcing laws. Kira, disabled with a twisted leg, has a life harder than most until the Council discovers her unique talent with weaving. She’s a natural, using techniques lost ages ago and possessing talent that no one else in the village can match. Taken in by the Council, she meets the woodcarver Thomas and a child singer named Jo, each, like her, possessing unparalleled skill.
At its core, Gathering Blue examines the value and role of art and creativity in society, and how it can be twisted. Like Jonas in The Giver, Kira slowly uncovers terrible truths about the nature of the society she lives in. She discovers mysteries relating to her own past and considers ways she might use her art to enact change. And through her personal trials and struggles, she remains remarkably compassionate and idealistic. In a pop culture focusing on the violent aspects of dystopia (and threatening a Hunger Games theme park), I think it’s valuable to remember that there are strong characters who can exist in these worlds and not engage in violent rebellion. And really, Lowry’s beautiful prose is always worth a read (you may also want to consider Gossamer for some truly touching writing).