Messenger by Lois Lowry, 169pp, RL 5
With Messenger, Lois Lowry completes her trilogy that tells the stories of three different communities and the individuals who make (and remake) them. Matt, the young explorer and rule-breaker from Gathering Blue is now Matty. In the village that he and Kira were born in, age was marked not by years and numbers, but with syllables added to one's name. A person who has lived to earn a four syllable name, such as Annabella, the woman who taught Kira how to make dyes for her threads, is a rarity in their village. Matty now lives with Kira's father Christopher, who, although he is blind, is known as Seer, in the Village, a community that is made up of those who have been rejected by their own people or have fled them for fear of persecution. Life in the Village is truly communal, villagers helping and sharing with each other generously. When their genuine nature, their true worth, is known, they are given a name that reflects their place in the Village, such as Gatherer, Mentor and Stocktender. The Leader of the Village is a young man who arrived almost eight years ago by sled, part of which is enshrined in the Museum, a place that holds many relics of arrival, reminding the Villagers where they came from and what they were leaving.
Communal life in the Village is being threatened as the novel opens. The dense, immense Forrest that surrounds the Village and separates it by several days from the place Matty came from, is becoming more menacing by the day. Scratches, cuts and scrapes that the foliage once inflicted have turned murderous. As a messenger who navigates the Forrest with skill, taking communications from the Village to other communities, Matty is well aware of the changes occurring around him. He is also a bit surprised that the Forrest has not acted against him - yet. Simultaneously, the gentle, generous nature of the inhabitants of the Village seems to be turing sour as well. They are becoming self-centered, even going so far as to suggest closing the borders of the Village so that their resources are not stretched thin. The Trade Mart, a gathering at which the Villagers swap wares and possessions, has become a solemn, foreboding even rather than the boisterous fair that it once was. And, strangely, the Villagers go to the Trade Mart empty handed and return the same way. Somehow, these three occurrences are linked. But, it takes Christopher, the Leader and ultimately Matty to unravel this mystery. The Trade Mart and what the Villagers eventually end up bartering for what they think will make them happy is an interesting commentary on consumerism and capitalism, how we lose a part of our true selves when we desire objects as a means to happiness. The gifts that appeared in The Giver, Jonas' ability to see color and The Giver's ability to hear music, and those from Gathering Blue, Kira's gift with threading and Thomas' with carving, take a mystical turn in Messenger. The Leader reveals that he can "see beyond," he can visualize in his mind what those far away from him are doing. Matty, early on in the novel, discovers his gift as well, one that he keeps secret from everyone except the Leader and one that ultimately affects the climax of the book. While Matty had hoped to be given the name Messenger, his true name is revealed at the end of the book, one that gives perspective to the novel and the character of Matty himself.
Messenger brings satisfying closure to the somewhat loosely linked stories of Jonas, Kira and Matty. All three are young people who face challenges, both physical, emotional and intellectual, that affect the lives of those around them profoundly. While Jonas chooses to flee his Community, believing he will bring about positive change nonetheless, Kira stays where she is, effecting change that is hinted at in Messenger. Matty, a bright and spirited boy in Gathering Blue, grows into a thoughtful, perceptive young man who is faced with the ultimate choice. Although there were so many real-world improbabilities in The Giver, I found the similarities to the world I live in added weight to the themes she explored. While the themes touched on in Gathering Blue and Messenger are equally important, the metaphors and fictional attributes of the characters and setting made the impact of the books seem a bit less jarring than that of The Giver.