Lois Lowry,
Gathering Blue
(Houghton Mifflin, 2000)

While Gathering Blue is not exactly a sequel to Lois Lowry's dark and powerful Newbery-award winning novel The Giver, it is also set in a futuristic post-apocalyptic society bound with rigid structures.

In Kira's world, her twisted leg should have doomed her at birth to exposure in the Field, the place where the dead, deformed or seriously injured are brought. Her mother, Katrina, widowed before Kira's birth, refused to relinquish her, and so Kira was spared.

Now Katrina is dead of a mysterious illness, and Kira faces judgment from the Council of the Guardians, since her lame leg hinders self-sufficiency and makes her a burden to her society. She is afraid that she will be sent to her death in the Field, but her remarkable skill at embroidery saves her. Instead, she will remain under the protection of the Guardians, and her only task will be to mend, maintain and eventually further embellish the robe of the Singer, the individual who sings annually the history of her people.

At first, Kira is relieved and grateful. She is comfortably housed, well-fed, clean and safe. She is doing work she loves. She has friends as well: Matt, a scruffy boy from the Fen, a poverty-stricken area, who visits with his dog, Branch, and Thomas, a boy Kira's age who also lives under the care of the Guardians. Thomas as an exquisite carver, and he is assigned to work on the Singer's staff. Kira's one desire is to find woad, the plant that will allow her to make blue thread, the one color lacking in the spectrum available to her.

Still, there is something that is not quite right with the situation, and soon Kira cannot avoid the truth. She begins to understand that there is more to her talent than a simple flair for embroidery, and she begins to detect the common thread that binds her and the others for good or ill. She faces a tremendous decision, the outcome of which will leave an impact on her world, no matter how she chooses.

As in The Giver, Lowry's writing is intense, tightly focused and deceptively simple. She chooses her words carefully and deliberately: for example, the terms "hubby" and "tyke" are used to identify husbands and children, but in this bleak context, the words are stripped of their original, affectionate connotation. While the society she portrays is stifling and at times ugly, Lowry plants a seed of hope that may or may not flourish. Certainly, a comparison to contemporary society could stimulative thought-provoking discussions among readers of all ages.

Kira is an engaging heroine, and the reader experiences her slow awakening with her, putting the pieces into place as she does. All of the characters are well-rounded and complex, often surprising the reader, although their behaviors are consistent with their characterizations.

Cautionary and compelling, Gathering Blue is a book that speaks to readers on many levels and could well earn Lois Lowry another Newbery honor.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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