Messenger is the third book in the The Giver Series and the first one that actually had sequel-like relationship to its predecessors. It picks up a few years after the point where Gathering Blue left off and centers around the main character of Matty (yep, the same one from Gathering Blue). Matty is living in Village with the Seer/Father figure from Gathering Blue and at the beginning of the book, Matty is trying to figure out a special talent that he has discovered within himself but doesn't understand. We also get reintroduced to a character from the The Giver novel.
For those who were a little put off by the abrupt ending of The Giver and the somewhat less abrupt ending of Gathering Blue, you may be pleased to find this book taking some of the loose threads from each and bringing them to light in interesting ways. Like The Giver and Gathering Blue, Messenger is set in a claustrophobic world where not everything is as it seems. It also focuses on a unique mystical talent/ability of a young character. Unlike the previous two books, the talents and abilities of the characters, and even some of the events elsewhere in the book, are given a magical quality. In the prior novels it seemed as if the special abilities were special more because they were talents and knowledge that had been repressed or forgotten by society. In Messenger we are given to believe that the repression of society of part of what makes the talents special but that there is also a real form of magic going on here.
While I found the magical elements fun and interesting I felt like they were a departure from the semi-realism of the dystopias presented in the previous books. There was still the sense that it was the corruption of humanity and society that was to blame for the problems and repressions that were happening. And while the nature of the things lost in The Giver and Gathering Blue were a bit outrageous to think that a society might lose them, the magical elements of Messenger just pulled the novel a bit out of the realistic dystopia that I was reading.
Even though I felt like some of the realism of the world was gone, I still found this to be a compelling and interesting story. I just had to shift my mindset a little bit. In fact in many ways, I found this story to be even more compelling than the previous ones and it left me more interested and wanting more.
As the story progresses there are three main plot elements that become pivotal.
First is Matty's talent. We get some insight into this and more as time goes on. By about midway through the book, I felt sure of what Matty would be called upon to do, but even when it did happen it was still emotionally stirring.
Second is the Trade Mart. In Village there is a normal "Market Day" where people sell their wares to each other. In addition, there is a "Trade Mart" which happens at special times and is conducted by a strange citizen. The Trade Mart gives a sort of "be careful what you wish for" moral as well as presenting some strange and intriguing magic.
Third is the Forest. The Forest is made into a living character, alive with magic. For some reason, Forest is tightening its grip around Village and is actually striking out violently at those who venture into its paths. This ominous magic acts as a sort of gathering storm preparing us for bad things to come.
All of the individual concepts were very compelling. The storytelling was interesting and fun. I did find myself sometimes getting annoyed at some of the character interaction but most of the time it was well done (I know Matty is just a kid, but I sometimes felt like he was whining just a little too much). I enjoyed the combining of the magical elements with the behaviors and attitudes of the people in the book. As we learned more about Matty's talent and about the things threatening Village, I guessed the way the book would resolve the conflict. I felt like the general climax of Matty's aide was well done. However, I felt like the overall ending was a bit too clean cut. I can see Matty's talent helping with one of the primary threats to Village (and thus helping the characters that were present when he used his talent), but I don't buy into the effect his talent had at resolving the other issues present in the citizens of Village. I don't want to put spoilers here, but once you read the book, you should have an idea of what I'm talking about. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
Overall this was a fun and compelling read. Lowry does a good job of presenting ideals and behaviors in such a way that makes us want to question our motivations and interactions. In a lot of ways I liked this book more than the previous two. In other ways, it felt a little harder to swallow. Still, I found it enjoyable and worth reading. I am hopeful that the 4th book (Son) in The Giver series continues the story and perhaps expounds on the somewhat jagged ending here.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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