Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After conjuring the pitfalls of a technologically advanced society in The Giver, Lowry looks toward a different type of future to create this dark, prophetic tale with a strong medieval flavor. Having suffered numerous unnamed disasters (aka, the Ruin), civilization has regressed to a primitive, technology-free state; an opening author's note describes a society in which "disorder, savagery, and self-interest" rule. Kira, a crippled young weaver, has been raised and taught her craft by her mother, after her father was allegedly killed by "beasts." When her mother dies, Kira fears that she will be cast out of the village. Instead, the society's Council of Guardians installs her as caretaker of the Singer's robe, a precious ceremonial garment depicting the history of the world and used at the annual Gathering. She moves to the Council Edifice, a gothic-style structure, one of the few to survive the Ruin. The edifice and other settings, such as the Fen--the village ghetto--and the small plot where Annabella (an elder weaver who mentors Kira after her mother's death) lives are especially well drawn, and the characterizations of Kira and the other artists who cohabit the stone residence are the novel's greatest strength. But the narrative hammers at the theme of the imprisoned artist. And readers may well predict where several important plot threads are headed (e.g., the role of Kira's Guardian, Jamison; her father's disappearance), while larger issues, such as the society's downfall, are left to readers' imaginations. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Lowry has created a haunting alternative society in Gathering Blue just as she did in The Giverthat is not to say that it is the same society in both books. The Giver is ideal for 4th -6th grade students and has become a classic in children's literature; Gathering Blue is more complex, less obvious, and a better YA choice. The plant that provides the blue color Kira needs as she dyes threads is not easily found; it is outside of the authoritarian society in which she survives. In the village she knows, the adults are abusive, the children surly, the hierarchy unquestioned. She was born with a twisted foot, which would mean sure death except that her mother protected her and promised that she would be a contributing member of the society. Now, as the story opens, her mother is dead and the adolescent Kira is brought before the council on trial, accused of being useless, condemned to death. A council member defends her on the basis of her skill with cloth, a skill learned from Kira's mother, who was responsible for a crucial part of the annual rituals that hold this culture together. Kira is saved from death, brought into a comfortable Council Edifice, where she eventually meets two other creative young peoplea wood carver and a singerwho are also there to prepare for the ceremonies. The greater theme Lowry explores here concerns the meaning of creativity and how artists can be controlled by authoritarian regimes. One of the many good features of this story are the hints about the destroyed past preserved in the rituals no one understands fully. What could this mean, "ravaged all, bogo tabal, timore toron, totoo now gone?" KLIATT Codes: JS*Exceptional book,recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Houghton Mifflin, 215p, 00-024359, $15.00. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)
Gathering Blue is the intense story of Kira, a young weaver girl with a crippled leg. This tale is set in a in a harsh and brutish future world where the handicapped and weak are shunned or abandoned as having little to offer. In fact, many are taken to a "Field of Leaving" to lie among the bodies of the already dead. It is here the story opens After her mother's death, Kira is tending her mother's body for the customary time. But when she returns from the Field of Leaving, she finds that the village women want to drive her out of her home and take over its gardens now that Kira's mother is no longer there to protect her. Kira confronts the ringleader with the law regarding conflicts, and the disagreement is taken to the mysterious Council of Guardians, which makes all the laws for the village. When Kira finds herself in the council's hands, she is puzzled that they seem so interested in her skill with a needle and thread. But she is even more surprised by the council's decision to remove her from the village and make a new home for her in the ancient building that houses the Council of Guardians. Here, Kira is given a comfortable room much finer than anything she had ever known in the village. She is given fine clothes and all the food she needs. She is also given a task of great importance: repairing an ancient robe that tells in pictures the history of the world. This robe has been worn for generations by a singer who, once a year, sings a long song for the whole village, a retelling of what was, what is, and what shall come to pass. Soon, she finds there are other children who live within the council's walls, children who are orphans like her and have their own specialskills: Thomas the woodcarver, and Jo the singer. Like Kira, they are all set on a task of restoration. With a job that allows her to use her skills and friends that have similar tasks involving their own artistic skills, Kira is extremely content at first. But she soon realizes that the council's grip on all the children is much tighter than she realized. The children's artistic abilities had blossomed until now. Now their own ideas are being strangled because they can do no more with their talents than what the council says. Kira must decide whether she should stay and continue serving the council or go to a place she has heard of, a place where people live free and where a rare plant grows that produces blue dyethe one color that has grown faded on the Singer's robe. This book is simply amazing. It brings rich pictures to the reader's mind and has a feel reminiscent of The Giver (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), another of Lowry's books. Lois Lowry has already won many awards and I think this one will win her even more. 2000, Houghton Mifflin, $15.00. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Brittany Rogers The Five Owls, March/April 2001 (Vol. 15 No. 4)
With characteristic grace, Lowry pulls her reader into this tale of a devastated world in which judgments are harsh and the dead are left to rot in the fields. Here we find Kira, her leg twisted from birth and her heart, impossibly, nourishing hope. Kira is in a struggle for survival, and the world she inhabits has been crafted with care. The narrative voice is compelling, and in the end, the reader is left with the satisfying sense that in the creation of beauty out of cruelty lies infinite potential. Those who appreciated The Giver will find here another readable, futuristic fantasy, set in a world of flaws and fortunes that bear contemplation in relevance to our own. 2000, Houghton Mifflin. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
This outstanding novel is set in a futuristic hunter-gatherer society in which primitive laws and barbaric custom hold sway. Fatherless thirteen-year-old Kira, almost killed at birth because of her twisted leg, was saved when her mother intervened. After her mother dies, Kira turns to the village's Council of Guardians for help when the village women try to kill her for her meager plot of land. The Council spares Kira because her extraordinary weaving talents will allow her to complete the ceremonial robe worn in the village's annual gathering by the village Singer. Kira is sent to live in the Council offices, where she meets Thomas, a young woodcarver using his exceptional skills to complete the Singer's staff, and Jo, a six-year-old being trained to take over the duties of the Singer. The three prodigies, however, soon begin to lose the joy they had previously taken in their gifts. As the annual gathering draws near, Kira and Thomas discover that their parents and Jo's might have died at the Council's hands so that the Council could control the children's remarkable talents. Lowry has created a world diametrically opposed to the technologically centered, rigidly structured world of The Giver (Houghton, 1993/VOYA August 1993). This title similarly leaves its young protagonist at a crossroads, and one hopes that Kira's story will continue. The author weaves in details that bring Kira's world to life as seamlessly as Jonas's in The Giver. Readers can see and feel Kira's excitement when she finally acquires the ability to make blue, a color that has eluded her people. This extraordinary novel is remarkable for its fully realized characters, gripping plot, and Lowry's singular vision of afuture in which technology does not predominate but has instead been essentially discarded. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Houghton Mifflin, 224p, $15. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Leah J. Sparks
SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-As Gathering Blue (HM, 2000) begins, a harsh, barbaric community of the future challenges the right of Kira to remain a part. Orphaned by the recent death of her mother, Kira has been cursed by a deformed leg and blessed by unsurpassed artistic talent. Facing the Council of Guardians, she pleads her case and finds an important role that plunges her deep into the heart of this enigmatic civilization. Lois Lowry, the consummate yarn-spinner, has deftly woven this cautionary tale so reminiscent of her Newbery tour-de-force, The Giver. She takes a bleak and colorless landscape, embroiders it richly with her storytelling prowess, and even treats us to an introductory spoken passage filled with insight into her thoughts and motivations for writing the story. Gathering Blue lends itself well to the medium of audiobook. The unusual-yet-familiar vocabulary used by the villagers can be recognized readily through the expert reading of actress Katherine Borowitz. The story is loquacious, mysterious, and thought provoking a must-have for young adults. The audio version is certain to be popular on circulation lists and with teachers.-Lisa Denton, J.S. Russell Junior High School, Lawrenceville, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Lowry returns to the metaphorical future world of her Newbery-winning The Giver (1993) to explore the notion of foul reality disguised as fair. Born with a twisted leg, Kira faces a bleak future after her mother dies suddenly, leaving her without protection. Despite her gift for weaving and embroidery, the village women, led by cruel, scarred Vandara, will certainly drive the lame child into the forest, where the "beasts" killed her father, or so she's been told. Instead, the Council of Guardians intervenes. In Kira's village, the ambient sounds of voices raised in anger and children being slapped away as nuisances quiets once a year when the Singer, with his intricately carved staff and elaborately embroidered robe, recites the tale of humanity's multiple rises and falls. The Guardians ask Kira to repair worn historical scenes on the Singer's robe and promise her the panels that have been left undecorated. Comfortably housed with two other young orphansThomas, a brilliant wood-carver working on the Singer's staff, and tiny Jo, who sings with an angel's voiceKira gradually realizes that their apparent freedom is illusory, that their creative gifts are being harnessed to the Guardians' agenda. And she begins to wonder about the deaths of her parents and those of her companionsespecially after the seemingly hale old woman who is teaching her to dye expires the day after telling her there really are no beasts in the woods. The true nature of her society becomes horribly clear when the Singer appears for his annual performance with chained, bloody ankles, followed by Kira's long-lost father, who, it turns out, was blinded andleftfor dead by a Guardian. Next to the vividly rendered supporting cast, the gentle, kindhearted Kira seems rather colorless, though by electing at the end to pit her artistic gift against the status quo instead of fleeing, she does display some inner stuff. Readers will find plenty of material for thought and discussion here, plus a touch of magic and a tantalizing hint (stay sharp, or you'll miss it) about the previous book's famously ambiguous ending. A top writer, in top form. (author's note) (Fiction. 11-13)
From the Publisher
"Lowry returns to the metaphorical future world of her Newbery-winning The Giver. . . . Plenty of material for thought and discussion here, plus a touch of magic and a tantalizing hint about the previous book’s famously ambiguous ending." (6/15/00) Kirkus Reviews with Pointers
"Lowry is a master at creating worlds, both real and imagined, and this incarnation of our civilization some time in the future is one of her strongest creations." —Booklist, starred review (6/1/00) Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
Read an Excerpt
"Mother?" Copyright 2002 by Lois Lowry
There was no reply. She hadn't expected one. Her mother had been dead now for four days, and Kira could tell that the last of the spirit was drifting away.
"Mother." She said it again, quietly, to whatever was leaving. She thought that she could feel its leave taking, the way one could feel a small whisper of breeze at night.
Now she was all alone. Kira felt the aloneness, the uncertainty, and a great sadness.
This had been her mother, the warm and vital woman whose name had been Katrina. Then after the brief and unexpected sickness, it had become the body of Katrina, still containing the lingering spirit. After four sunsets and sunrises, the spirit, too, was gone. It was simply a body. Diggers would come and sprinkle a layer of soil over the flesh, but even so it would be eaten by the clawing, hungry creatures that came at night. Then the bones would scatter, rot, and crumble to become part of the earth.
Kira wiped briefly at her eyes, which had filled with tears. She had loved her mother, and would miss her terribly. But it was time for her to go. She wedged her walking stick in the soft ground, leaned on it, and pulled herself up.
She looked around uncertainly. She was young still, and had not experienced death before, not in the small two-person family that she and her mother had been. Of course she had seen others go through the rituals. She could see some of them in the vast foul smelling Field of Leaving, huddled beside the ones whose lingering spirits they tended. She knew that a woman named Helena was there, watching the spirit leave her infant, who had been born too soon. Helena had come to the Fieldonly the day before. Infants did not require the four days of watching; the wisps of their spirits, barely arrived, drifted away quickly. So Helena would return to the village and her family soon.
As for Kira, she had no family, now. Nor any home. The cott she had shared with her mother had been burned. This was always done after sickness. The small structure, the only home Kira had ever known, was gone. She had seen the smoke in the distance as she sat with the body. As she watched the spirit of her mother drift away, she had seen the cindered fragments of her childhood life whirl into the sky as well.
She felt a small shudder of fear. Fear was always a part of life for the people. Because of fear, they made shelter and found food and grew things. For the same reason, weapons were stored, waiting. There was fear of cold, of sickness and hunger. There was fear of beasts.
And fear propelled her now as she stood, leaning on her stick. She looked down a last time at the lifeless body that had once contained her mother, and considered where to go.
Kira thought about rebuilding. If she could find help, though help was unlikely, it wouldn't take long to build a cott, especially not this time of year, summerstart, when tree limbs were supple and mud was thick and abundant beside the river. She had often watched others building, and Kira realized that she could probably construct some sort of shelter for herself. Its corners and chimney might not be straight. The roof would be difficult because her bad leg made it almost impossible for her to climb. But she would find a way. Somehow she would build a cott. Then she would find a way to make a life.
Her mother's brother had been near her in the Field for two days, not guarding Katrina, his sister, but sitting silently beside the body of his own woman, the short-tempered Solora, and that of their new infant who had been too young to have a name. They had nodded to each other, Kira and her mother's brother in acknowledgment. But he had departed, his time in the Field of Leaving finished. He had tykes to tend; he and Solora had two others in addition to the one that had brought about her death. The others were still small, their names yet of one syllable: Dan and Mar. Perhaps I could care for them, Kira thought briefly, trying to find her own future within the village. But even as the thought flickered within her, she knew that it would not be permitted. Solora's tykes would be given away, distributed to those who had none. Healthy, strong tykes were valuable; properly trained, they could contribute to family needs and would be greatly desired.
No one would desire Kira. No one ever had, except her mother. Often Katrina had told Kira the story of her birth–the birth of a fatherless girl with a twisted leg–and how her mother had fought to keep her alive.
"They came to take you," Katrina said, whispering the story to her in the evening, in their cott, 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, to give an unnamed, imperfect infant back to the earth before its spirit had filled it and made it human. But it made her shudder.
Katrina stroked her daughter's hair. "They meant no harm," she reminded her.
Kira nodded. "They didn't know it was me."
"It wasn't you, yet."
"Tell me again why you told them no," Kira whispered.
Her mother sighed, remembering. "I knew I would not have another child," she pointed out. "Your father had been taken by beasts. It had been several months since he went off to hunt and did not return. And so I would not give birth again.
"Oh," she added, "perhaps they would have given me one eventually, an orphan to raise. But as I held you–even then, with your spirit not yet arrived and with your leg bent wrong so that it was clear you would not ever run–even then, your eyes were bright. I could see the beginning of something remarkable in your eyes. And your fingers were long and well-shaped–"
"And strong. My hands were strong," Kira added with satisfaction. She had heard the story so often; each time of hearing, she looked down at her strong hands with pride.
Her mother laughed. "So strong they gripped my own thumb fiercely and would not let go. Feeling that fierce tug on my thumb, I could not let them take you away. I simply told them no."
"They were angry."
"Yes. But I was firm. And, of course, my father was still alive. He was old then, four syllables, and he had been the leader of the people, the chief guardian, for a long time. They respected him. And your father would have been a greatly respected leader too had he not died on the long hunt. He had already been chosen–to be a guardian."
"Say my father's name to me," Kira begged.
From the Paperback edition.