Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In her strongest work to date, Lois Lowry once again creates a mysterious but plausible future world. It is a society ruled by savagery and deceit that shuns and discards the weak. Left orphaned and physically flawed, young Kira faces a frightening, uncertain future. Blessed with an almost magical talent that keeps her alive, she struggles with ever broadening responsibilities in her quest for truth, discovering things that will change her life forever.
As she did in The Giver, Lowry challenges readers to imagine what our world could become, and what will be considered valuable. Every reader will be taken by Kira’s plight and will long ponder her haunting world and the hope for the future.
Thoughts: Once again, Lowry shows her respect for what young people can handle in a novel, since this one features child abuse, the deliberate quashing of artistic gifts, and outright murder for power gains and to keep secrets hidden and the population under control, and a disturbing dose of “history is written by the winners” to go along with it.
And, if you look closely, some nice mocking of those who follow religions blindly. In Kira’s post-apocalyptic world, there is a remnant of the past called the Worship-Object. It’s just two pieces of wood nailed together to create a cross-shape, but people worship it because they’re told to, because that’s what they’ve always done. They don’t know why. They don’t know what it means. But if they don’t show respect to it and worship it, then by damn, they’re just plain rude and ignorant!
Unlike the society that Lowry set up in The Giver, you can’t call this world a dystopia no matter how hard you tilt your head and squint. Things are not perfect. They don’t even try to pretend they’re perfect. The world is harsh and cruel, with no pity for the weak, where everyone’s out for themselves and devil take the hindmost. A scant few days after the main character’s mother dies and her home burned to the ground, the women of the village are out to take that land from Kira in order to build a pen where they can hold their chickens and children, to keep them out of the way, and determined enough to get rid of Kira and her crippled leg that they try to petition to have her put to death. This isn’t a world that’s clean on the surface and rotting underneath. It’s messy right from the get-go, disordered and harsh, and the cruelty seen is all too like the cruelty we see every day in our own lives.
But when it’s discovered that Kira has an artistic gift for embroidery, she’s granted a reprieve and taken to live in the Edifice, where she’s given food and lodgings and care in exchange for making repairs and alternations to the robe that contains the entire world’s history in its designs.
But as so many artists who try to make a living with their art have learned, there’s a big difference between art for art’s sake, or your own sake, and pretty things you have to make because somebody else tells you to. While Kira’s skill is there, the magic goes out of her embroidery and it isn’t as enjoyable anymore.
A particularly striking scene in Gathering Blue is toward the end, when Kira is offered a chance to escape and find a better life elsewhere, in a place that seems almost like paradise compared to what she’s going through… and she turns it down. Not because she’s afraid, but because she sees that other people, even the much-lauded artists, have it even worse than she does, and she wants to stay behind to help them change that and to get better. It’s a powerful moment of self-sacrifice, especially for somebody who’s barely into their teens, and it’s quite moving.
Though I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Giver, the previous book in the series has nostalgia value behind it, which I think boosted its rating in my eyes. Also, I have a greater attraction to dystopias than post-apocalyptic worlds. But those things are purely personal, and the skill at telling a story that’s thought-provoking and disturbing remains just as strong in Gathering Blue as what came before. If you enjoyed The Giver, you’re very likely to enjoy this one too.