- The Giver – 4.5/5 (published 1993)
- Gathering Blue – 3.5/5 (published 2000)
- Messenger – 2/5 (published 2004)
- Son – 3/5 (published 2012)
It had been many years since I originally read The Giver (and was mind-blown by it), and until recently I didn’t even realize that there were other books that followed it. So I was pretty excited to dive into this quartet. However, while I found The Giver as brilliant as ever, I felt that the other books really dropped off, especially Messenger, and, to some extent, Son. I’m not even sure that I can give this series a rating as a whole because of the wildly differing ratings between books. I guess a 3/5 overall, but I strongly recommend reading The Giver even if you decide to give the other books a miss. And you totally can, because while the rest of the books sometimes involve characters from the first book, none of them really build on themes from the first book – and it’s the themes that make The Giver so fantastic.
There will definitely be spoilers throughout the rest of this review, as it’s impossible to really rant without spoilers. So if you intend to read the series, do that first and then come back and see if you agree with me…
The Giver is a brilliant book that reveals everything in perfect time. As the reader slowly grows to understand the community where Jonas lives, it becomes more and more creepy, and it’s done just so, so well. It’s not a very long book, or one full of lengthy descriptions or conversations, but it’s very brevity is part of what makes it so amazing. The concept of individuality and feelings exchanged for safety is really intriguing.
For me personally, the only let down is the ending, which is rather strange and ambiguous. First off, the plan that the Giver and Jonas hatched never really made sense to me. The reason that the original Receiver’s memories returned to the community was because she died, and it doesn’t really make sense to me that Jonas just leaving the community would release those memories to the people. The ending, with Jonas and the sled is also just really weird. Like is there an actual sled? Is Jonas just hallucinating? Does he actually die out in the snow or does he really make it to safety? The ending is abrupt and a little strange, which is why the book doesn’t get the full 5* for me. However, part of that is just personal opinion.
Gathering Blue is listed as a companion novel, not a sequel. However, I would not have even placed it as that if I had just come across it at random. The story takes place in a completely different location with a completely different culture. Still, it was a good story overall. I really liked Kira, and watching her discover things about her village was intriguing, a similar self-discovery path to Jonas’s in the first book, this concept that just because things “always have been” doesn’t necessarily make them right.
However, I still had some questions about this book. Like what is the whole thing with the Beasts? It seems obvious that they aren’t real and are being used as a method of manipulation by the village’s leaders, but that’s never really made clear. Overall, the village leaders’ whole purpose isn’t really explained in any way. Apparently they are trying to control the people to… what? They’ve made sure they have control over certain talented youth in the village, but we never find out exactly what they plan to do with them.
And again, an ambiguous ending. So Kira is going to stay and ‘fix’ things – but how? Just by weaving some cloth? There aren’t really any answers, and I wasn’t particularly left with confidence in her ability to change the whole village. Overall, I enjoyed the story, but was a bit let down by the vague ending and the complete lack of connection to The Giver.
I don’t really know what I was expecting when I opened Messenger, but what I got was… weird. This whole book felt extremely strange, and I don’t know if I am just getting worse at understanding things, or if it really doesn’t make any sense. First off, it got strangely… supernatural, I guess. The first two books felt like they could be real, a future world but still our world. But in Messenger, the gifts that people like Kira had in Gathering Blue suddenly become Gifts, and they are a strange supernatural ability that transcends understanding – it felt like this was a weird fantasy book instead of something dystopian like the first two books. I mean, Matty can heal things just by putting his hands on them and thinking about it??
The forest, which was just a… well, forest, in Gathering Blue suddenly becomes Forest, a restless and potentially malevolent force that physically attacks people, determining whether or not they can ever reenter the woods. Just… ????
We find out that Jonas arrived at the village where Matty now lives (Matty was Kira’s friend in Gathering Blue, and these two villages are few days’ travel apart). This is the first we’ve come across Jonas since The Giver, and apparently he and Gabe literally arrived on a sled? So there really was a sled on top of the hill? Like… why? Why was a sled just sitting by a tree? Did Forest put it there since apparently it just does whatever it wants? Anyway, since then, even though Jonas is still just a teenager, he has become the leader of this village (“Leader”, because everyone receives their “true name” when they become an adult, so they are basically known by some random quality instead of a name – Mentor, Healer, Herbalist, Seer, etc. also strange). He also has a Gift. In The Giver it made sense that Jonas “saw beyond” because what he was actually seeing were things that the other people from his town had been genetically modified to not see, e.g. color, etc. But in Messenger, Jonas/Leader is able to actually see things beyond his literal line of sight – so he can ‘see’ the progress Matty is making through Forest, etc.
So yeah, the Gifts become kind of weird, and suddenly the story no longer feels like it’s a future version of our world, but like it’s something entirely different, which put everything off-kilter for me. And this doesn’t even get into the weird Trademaster thing, where this strange guy shows up and people from Village can go and trade with him, except apparently they are actually trading parts of themselves? And in exchange they start getting mean and nasty, but then in the end Matty magically heals Forest and Village and everything and everyone just goes back to normal… I guess?!?! It was a really weird book and I felt confused literally the entire time I was reading it.
Finally, we get to Son. This book started really well. It’s about Gabe’s birthmother, Claire. Of course, in the community where Jonas and Gabe came from, people don’t have children naturally; certain females are chosen to be inseminated and bear a Product. Now the book already started weird to me because apparently the community had the Birthmothers have their first pregnancy at age 14?? And while this is quite possible, it doesn’t really fit in with everything else in the community, which is done at maximum efficiency. Like age 14 is not the ideal age to have your first child, so I don’t feel like that is really when they would have impregnated the Birthmothers. But whatever.
Anyway, basically Son starts as a kind of prequel/parallel to The Giver, except from Claire’s perspective. Something goes wrong during her birthing process and they have to surgically remove her baby. However, during pregnancy, Birthmothers are exempt from taking the Pills that keep people from having feelings. Claire is declared unfit to give birth again, and reassigned to the Fish Hatchery… but no one remembers to have her start taking the Pills. So Claire is left with actual real feelings, and, like a natural mother, yearns to find/see/hold/have her own baby again. She manages to locate him, and is able to visit him (without anyone knowing that she is his Birthmother, of course), and this is the whole first part of the book and is done really well.
Then. Then the part comes where Jonas and Gabe run away. Lowry conveniently has Claire escape from the community, but does it without really telling us how –
Years later – many years later – when Claire tried to piece together memories of her last days in the community, the last things she could see whole and clear were the bicycle moving away and the back of the child’s head. The rest of the hours that followed were fragments, like bits of shattered glass.
So somehow Claire manages to get on a supply boat, ride out to the ocean, get shipwrecked, and then get washed up on a beach, all in about two pages with no real explanations. This really felt like cheating.
Next, Claire ends up in a remote fishing village, that apparently has no way in or out?? Like they have this horrific path that no one can climb that goes straight up a cliff, or they can try to leave by boat except the currents are too dangerous. I don’t mean to be weird here, but Lowry specifically says that no one could remember the last time a stranger arrived in their village… doesn’t it seem like this place would be horrifically inbred? It felt extremely strange, again.
Eventually Clarie regains her memory and is determined to find her son. A crippled guy helps her train to climb the cliff path. He did it this one time, years and years ago, but conveniently remembers every single step of the way, down to the exact distances she is going to have to jump between rocks at certain places, so he makes her train FOR LITERAL ACTUAL YEARS and then she leaves. Of course, she gets to the top, and guess who is there?? Trademaster!
By this point, I was so aggravated with this entire book that I almost didn’t finish it, and basically skimmed the rest. Blah blah blah Claire trades her youth. Oh surprise, she never bothers to tell Gabe that she’s his mother. Instead, she just hangs out like a creeper in Village and watches him from afar. Eventually Gabe has to go do a final battle with Trademaster because he has a Gift, of course.
It just. It didn’t make sense. None of it really made any sense.
So this review has gotten regrettably long and rambly, but the point is that I was really intrigued by these books, but then they just kept making less and less sense as they went along. The Giver had a very tight, poignant narrative that was thought-provoking and eye-opening. The rest of the books were just kind of weird fairy tales that didn’t seem to have much of a point. I don’t regret reading them, but I don’t really see myself returning to them, either.