**spoiler alert** Son by Lois Lowry is the fourth and final book in THE GIVER series. I’ve had serious problems with previous installments in this ser...more**spoiler alert** Son by Lois Lowry is the fourth and final book in THE GIVER series. I’ve had serious problems with previous installments in this series, and unfortunately this book does little to nothing to resolve those problems. My main issues have been that there is no source or explanation given for the mystical gifts that very few of the people possess, and that there is no explanation for the evil force that pervaded Forest in the last book.
Son starts back in the first community in the series. Clare has been chosen to be a Vessel, or a birthmother as they were called in the first book. When her first delivery goes wrong, she is reassigned to work in the fish hatchery. However, she can’t forget her baby. She starts volunteering in the nursery, and eventually discovers which child is hers. When the baby is transferred to another community, she swears she is going to track him down and runs away on one of the delivery boats.
And then there’s a middle section of the book where she lives in a fishing village for several years. I’m really not even sure what the point of this section was. That she’s never seen a chipmunk? That they aren’t taught the names for colors back in the original village (which is presented differently than it was in the first book, where it seemed as if people all saw in greyscale, which made Jonas actually seeing red so revolutionary, but now it just seems they aren’t given words for them)? She does fall in love with Einar in this section, but he teaches her how to be strong enough to climb the cliffs surrounding the village, so she does, and leaves him. Also, I think we would be seeing serious inbreeding problems in a village this isolated that is this small and has apparently been here for hundreds of years, but there is no evidence of that. The only reason I can see for the second section is to make Clare’s overwhelming dedication to finding her son even more obvious, and to have her be so physically fit that the contrast between who she is at the end of the second section and who she is in the third section is more stark.
And then we get to the third section. I'm going to talk about the third section later so you can avoid spoilers.
My suggestion is to read the first and possibly second book in the GIVER series. Really though, just read the first, The Giver. Lowry writes really interesting worlds and charismatic characters, which only slightly makes up for the fact that the plot really doesn’t make any sense at all.
Okay, seriously, you have personified Evil as the bad guy? Doesn’t that seem a little… simplistic? How does Evil become a person with whom you can interact? And if Evil is a person, are there other attributes walking around as well? And how does Evil have magical powers? And then we beat the personification of evil by telling him that some of his evil plans didn’t come to fruition. If he’s been watching the village for so long, wouldn’t he have known that? I mean, Matty died in the last book defeating all of the evil, but apparently not this Evil, and I just give up. You think he would have noticed by now that there was a huge setback to his evil plans. I mean seriously, I read the last chapter, and literally was shaking my head in disbelief that this was how she was going to end the series. And again, no explanation for the gifts – they just show up around puberty it seems, and then fade away when you get middle aged. [END SPOILERS](less)
The book flap describes Messenger by Lois Lowry thusly: “For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.” Do you want to know why I used the book flap description for the first time ever? Because I don’t trust myself not to get all snarktastic just describing the book.
Warning: Review is going to be snarktastic.
Okay, I freely admit I am getting more and more irritated by this series as I go further along. You want to know why? Because it makes absolutely no sense at all. This book centers around Matty from book two and Jonas from book one. They are now in village number three in the series. Apparently it’s a village a book. And bad stuff is happening in village three, known oh, so creatively as Village. What kind of bad stuff? Well, people are being selfish. And there’s some whisperings about a Trade Market where people are trading… stuff. And then the forest is coming alive and killing people. Whaaaa?
So, apparently, either Forest (not the forest, just Forest, like Village and Mentor) is feeding off the bad feelings of the villagers and becoming sentient and evil. Or it’s the other way around and the villagers are absorbing the malevolent intent of the Forest and becoming selfish, but either way, how in the heck is Forest sentient? If Forest is absorbing the bad feelings of the villagers, then the village in the second book, which also borders on the forest, should have made it become evil long ago. And because conditions have improved in the second village, we should expect to see a decrease in evilness in the forest, but we are seeing the opposite. That would mean that Forest is not responding to the intentions of the villagers. But apparently Forest has been killing villagers for years, but not before giving them Warnings. (Yes, there are lots of capitalized things in this book.) Which would argue for a certain level of benevolence to Forest, but still, Forest is alive and killing people and the villagers accept this as normal. At least the villagers in Village do, but apparently, this wasn’t a topic of concern in the second village, and yet, it is the same forest/Forest. Continuity is hard, y’all.
Also, we have learned that things have gotten better in the first two villages. Do we know how? NO! Do we know how the main characters get their Gifts? NOPE! Does anyone explain why the nature of Jonas’ gift has shifted from seeing the true nature of things to farseeing? NEIN! Do we know how Forest has become sentient after all these hundreds or thousands of years? OF COURSE NOT!
I don’t have a problem with evil sentient forests. I do have a problem with forests on earth becoming evil and sentient with little to no warning and there being no discernible causal mechanism. I’m okay with mutant trees caused by ionizing radiation from the nuclear war that destroyed the world. But you need to mention that there was a nuclear war and other things needs to be affected besides just Forest. Also, I have a bit of a problem with the idea that Jonas, who runs away from a village dominated by central planning and lack of individual choice, is now the leader – in fact, he is Leader – of a village where he is responsible for giving everyone names that replace their individual name and define them in a role for the rest of their life. That’s right, you lose your given name when you hit puberty, right about the time you get assigned your life career in the first book, and get a Title to replace it. It as if he has gone from one not-so-utopia to another. And that’s not even getting into the heavy handed, “We don’t like foreigners ‘cause they’re dirty and talk funny” rhetoric that is given to the villagers who fall under the influence of the… evil influence. I mean seriously, I don’t even know why the bad people are being bad. But it was a big strong evil influence, because that’s what the heroes have to fight in this book.
Lowry does manage to write characters that the reader cares about, and even though this installment lacks the detailed world building of the previous two books, she still does a good job of turning Forest into a main character (even though it is one with no backstory and confusing motivation.) Messenger was originally supposed to be the final book in the trilogy, but Lowry has a fourth book planned to come out in October, which is good, because if this had been the end of the series, I would have been severely irritated. I am holding the severe irritation in abeyance until after I have a chance to read the conclusion which had better answer some serious questions or I am going to throw the book across the room and break its spine.(less)
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry is the loosely linked sequel to The Giver. Set in the same world, this story is set in another village that has survived post-apocalyptic collapse of larger society. Instead of the peaceful, well-ordered, cooperative world that characterized the first book, Gathering Blue is set in a dirty, hardscrabble village, where violence and betrayal are commonplace.
The story centers on Kira, a young woman with a deformed leg. Normally, she would have been left to die at birth because of the deformity, but her widowed mother fought for her, and so she was allowed to live. Now, with her mother dead from disease, and her cottage burned to prevent the spread of the illness, she is alone with no one to protect her or help her survive the harsh future she faces except for a little dirty boy from the Fen, named Matty. Luckily, she has a Gift. She can embroider beautifully. What she doesn’t know is that her Gift is going to be her way out of the harsh violence of her childhood, and into the much more controlled, hidden violence of the political elites. The main part of the story focuses on Kira’s adventures in the palace, and her growing friendship with Thomas, a young man who also has a Gift. Both of them are isolated and forced to work for the Council of Elders. As they discover some of the darker secrets hidden behind the polite façade, Kira and Thomas have to decide where their allegiances lie and how they can save the society they live in.
Gathering Blue does a wonderful job of creating interesting characters, and placing them in a setting that is ripe for conflict. The problem with this book for me is that the story ends just as the conflict is fully set up. There is no resolution to the plot at all. Instead, we see Kira make a decision that something has to be done to remedy the injustices that are the foundation of their village. And then the book ends. This is a problem typical of middle books in series, but this volume faces an additional challenge in that it is so loosely linked to the first volume that it doesn’t feel like it is advancing the overall story at all. Also, I am wondering what services the political system is providing to the villagers that the villagers uphold a class of elites that seem to be doing absolutely nothing for them.
I enjoyed reading Gathering Blue. Lowry does a wonderful job of creating characters you can root for (and against) and creating interesting settings. The problem is that there is no meaningful resolution to any part of the action. This lack of resolution, similar to the ending in The Giver, left me feeling irritated, however. I hope the action advances meaningfully in the next book.(less)
Briony has lots of secrets. She’s a witch. She can see the Old Ones. And when she loses her temper, bad things happen, like the accidents that crippled both her sister and her step-mother. Luckily, her step-mother figured out why these things happened, and taught Briony the trick to make sure they never happen again: she must always hate herself. Always. And she can never tell anyone else about her secret power, or she will be hung. But when the locals decide to start draining the swamp near the town for the train to go through, the Old Ones retaliate, striking down the children of the town with Swamp Cough. And when Briony’s sister contracts the fatal disease, she knows it is up to her to fix the problem, even if it may cost her her life.
Chime is an odd book. The writing is very stylized, and as Briony serves as a quite unreliable narrator, her internal dialog makes up a significant portion of the book. This provides for a brooding, despairing tone to the tale, because Briony hates herself, and has been taught to hate herself for years. While the plot of the story sounds familiar enough – young magical person faces down both societal scorn and magical mayhem to save the day – Briony is severely emotionally abused, and that provides a new look at an old tale. This also provides a level of maturity to the story that would otherwise be absent. There is also some sexual content, including violence that will be of concern to parents and teachers of younger readers.
Franny Billingsley has a very stylized prose – I am not sure if it is just a stylistic element in this book to distinguish the oddity of Briory and her perceptions, or if is common for her as I have only read this novel – that reminded me at times of Catherynne Valente, but never with the same ease of phrase that makes you feel like you are reading poetry. Instead beautiful phrases are matched with sentences that just clunk like an out of tune bell. However, overall it has a positive effect with a visually evocative result that makes it very easy to see the characters and the swamp. The oddness of the prose also serves well in describing the Old Ones in all their mystical strangeness.
Literary elements are well used throughout. The plot effectively meanders and circles back, like a stream cutting its way slowly through a swamp, or like a person treading well-worn thought circles in the mind. Readers that are fans of fairy tales will like this story, as well as those who do not mind an unreliable narrator. The resolution was a little too obvious in parts, and there were a few plot points that irritated me, especially in the conclusion, but I think they are mainly due to be being outside of the recommended reading age of 8-12th grade. The seriousness of the content matter – both emotional and sexual – will not let me recommend this for a younger audience, even if they have the literacy to deal with the text.
Overall, I thought this 2011 National Book Award finalist was well done, but it will definitely not be to everyone’s taste. In fact, even though I think it is a good book, I’m not sure I actually enjoyed reading it. Now, of course, enjoyment isn’t hallmark of a good book – I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys 1984 despite it being an undisputed classic – but if you are looking for a book that is going to leave a smile on your face, this is not it. However, I do recommend this book for the appropriate audience. The problem I face is imagining an audience that will have appropriate level of sophistication to enjoy the more literary elements of the writing style that won’t be disappointed by some of the problems with the plot. (less)
Adele is a secret-keeper, physiologically incapable of sharing a secret. Her twin sister Eleda is a Truth Teller, incapable of telling a lie. From the...moreAdele is a secret-keeper, physiologically incapable of sharing a secret. Her twin sister Eleda is a Truth Teller, incapable of telling a lie. From the young age of 12, these sisters assume positions of responsibility in their town, but what happens when they get dragged into royal intrigue and the indiscretions of the most powerful family in town?
As an adult reader of a young adult novel, you always have to keep in mind that the intended audience is younger and assumed to be less sophisticated and well-read than you. That said, a good young adult novel should be capable of being enjoyed by an adult as well, and shouldn't talk down to its audience. While publishers recommend this for grades 8-10, I would probably bump that down to 6-9. At its heart, this is a teen romance set in a fantasy medieval world, and probably even middle school readers will figure out the ending combination of the three different romance stories that stand at the core of this story. However, it is still wonderful figuring out how they are going to get there over what seems to be pretty significant odds.
Sharon Shinn is a beautiful writer. Even though I saw the ending coming, I still finished the book with a smile on my face, which isn't always the case with a good book. This is a satisfying tale, and lacks the prurient material of many young adult romances currently on the market, while still satiating the desire for true love and happily ever after.(less)
Safe-Keepers can be trusted to never reveal a secret. So it's no surprise that when a royal bastard needs to be hidden, a Safe-Keeper would be the log...moreSafe-Keepers can be trusted to never reveal a secret. So it's no surprise that when a royal bastard needs to be hidden, a Safe-Keeper would be the logical place to hide the child. When the royal messenger who left the infant in the dark of night with the Safe-Keeper is found dead by his own hand a few miles away, the secret that the baby boy who was left behind becomes more of an open secret. The Safe-Keeper decides to raise the child with her own daughter who was born that night. But what happens when the King can't have any more children, and starts looking for the child who may be his son?
Sharon Shinn develops an interesting idea here. There are people in this society who are responsible for keeping secrets until they need to be told, people who have a mythical ability to know and tell the truth, and people whose presence grants the dreams of others. One of the things about any system of magic is that it should come with a cost. Dream Makers have lives of sorrow and challenge, Truth Tellers are generally feared and unwelcome, but the Safe Keepers don't seem to have that same cost, other than having to keep horrible secrets. It seems a little unbalanced, though that may be because their powers are the weakest.
The idea is intriguing, and I liked the development of the characters, but the plot was a little weak, especially the ending that wrapped up all the different story lines in about 15 pages so neatly that Martha would call it a good thing. It sort of felt like she was only allowed to write a certain number of pages, and got so carried away that she had to slap an ending on as quickly as possible. The idea is interesting enough that I'll seek out other books in this series - I believe they are shared world rather than character - to see what other stories unfold.(less)
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan is a twist on a classic Gothic romance, like Jane Eyre. Complete with a mysterious mansion on a hill, a desperate love triangle, mysterious goings-on and troubled characters, Unspoken throws a twist into the formula by reversing the genders of the main characters, setting it in a modern setting, and adding a sense of humor.
Kami lives in Sorry-in-the-Vale, a small English town that lives in the shadow of the Lynburn mansion. The Lynburns have been gone since before Kami was born, and most of the people in the town are glad they have been gone. However, one day the lights in the mansion are back on, and word whips quickly through town that the Lynburns are back. Kami, an aspiring journalist, thinks this would be a great story for the newly resurrected high school newspaper. However, she is surprised to discover that the Lynburns have returned with not one, but two gorgeous boys her age, one looking like an angel, and the other like a fallen one. Whispers of the Lynburns’ dastardly deeds start resurfacing, and Kami is caught between the attentions of both of the Lynburn boys and the voice in her head that she’s heard since she was an infant. And then animals start being ritually killed in the woods, and Kami is determined to figure out what is going on, and that’s before someone tries to kill her.
Kami is a fun heroine. She’s spunky, mouthy, and headstrong. She has an entertaining group of friends and is a born leader. As the adventure unfolds, she seems to plunge in headfirst without much awareness of the danger, beyond the level you would assume normal for teenage belief in their own immortality. Where I do appreciate Kami’s personality the most is in her refusal to be a stupid swoony girl over the two boys that are interested in her. Rather than stringing them both along, she shows reasonable doubts about both of them and is clearheaded enough to understand why they are interested in her, rather than considering it true love. Without giving away any important plot details, the central triangle drives the plot not just romantically – there is surprisingly little actual romance – but strategically in both revealing the plot and driving the conflict forward.
The book shifts from a fairly Disneyfied spunky girl detective story to a more mature PG-13 with both an increase in violence and language. Additionally, the last 75 pages or so reveals a lot of information and then ends without any resolution. The atmospheric darkness that hangs over the story is not cleared away and has actually darkened as the story ends. I was actually frustrated with the lack of resolution. There are ways to leave the story open enough to continue while providing a sense of closure to the installment of the larger tale.
This is a fun addition to the realm of YA fantasy. As Unspoken ends with a fairly significant cliff hanger, it will be interesting to see where the story goes with a lot of the mystery dispelled and the alignment of the characters more crystalized. The book ends with the central love triangle being completely reconfigured, so I assume that the continued volumes in THE LYNBURN LEGACY will play with the inter-character conflict. I’ll definitely be reading the next book in this series, but I don’t think this book will have the crossover to broader audiences that some YA fiction will, but will appeal to fans of YA fantasy and gothic fiction.(less)
A prequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making. Read Circumnavigated first or this short story will lose much of its...moreA prequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making. Read Circumnavigated first or this short story will lose much of its melancholy charm.