April 2004

A beloved author returns

By Lois Lowry
Review by
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In this companion volume to her novels The Giver and Gathering Blue, beloved author Lois Lowry brings the threads of the previous books together in an unforgettable way. Her third society, a utopia called Village, is made up mostly of people who have escaped from other, more oppressive places.

The inhabitants of Village welcome the downtrodden and the weary, giving them food, shelter, clothing and education. The newcomers are eventually made citizens. A man called Leader eventually gives each his or her true name, whether it is Stocktender, Seer or Messenger. But something is amiss in Village. In frightening and subtle ways, people are changing, especially Mentor, the beloved schoolteacher. He once loved all children, especially the new arrivals who needed him most. But now he is leading the charge to close the utopia's borders, saying that he wants to keep new arrivals out to preserve Village for the villagers. But will closing the borders save Village? Is there danger ahead for the inhabitants of Lowry's utopia?

As the book unfolds, Lowry asks the reader to consider what it means to be human. Is it the love of knowledge or the love of things? Should we welcome the weak or protect what we have? What is the balance between the needs of citizens and the needs of oppressed people from outside a nation's border? These questions are as ancient as human history and as current as the front page of today's newspaper. Lowry skillfully tackles them through the story of Matty, the book's young hero and one of the first people to notice the changes in Village. With his beloved dog, Matty embarks on a quest to find a missing Villager before it is too late.

His journey makes Messenger more of a fairy tale than a contemporary narrative, though the book's underlying ideas are modern. We have a boy who is just beginning to discover his true gifts, a Forest which actually attacks travelers, a Leader who risks his life for his citizens, and a devastating conclusion that will certainly leave readers breathless, shocked and forever changed. This reviewer can't stop thinking about it.

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By Lois Lowry
Houghton Mifflin
ISBN 9780618404414

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