Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Review: Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue is the second installment in Lois Lowry's Giver quartet. While not possessing any of the awkward coming of age moments found in the first book, Gathering Blue follows a similar formula. The young protagonist Kira, slowly understands how dystopian her society is and must choose to stay, fighting to change her world, or flee to a better life.

In a society that abhors the disabled or incapable, anyone who cannot contribute is killed or left to die. Amazingly, Kira is briefly spared but only because she possesses a supernatural gift of needlework. Kira finds herself secluded with others, who's creative talents are forced to bolster the propaganda of the Guardians.

While some readers will champion the message of accepting the down trodden and the belief that creativity and freedom of expression should be unfettered, I had trouble working past the blatant Marxist similarities. I found it disturbing that the only spiritual elements presented to stand apart from man's self determination were the gifts of creativity; as if artists alone possessed a power stronger than humanity's natural inclinations.

Lowry paints a classic bourgeoisie controlling the population through ignorance (lack of education, prohibiting girls from learning to read) and fear (claiming beasts in the woods when none exist). The people simply accept these false explanations for the culling of those who oppose the ruling party's agenda. The leadership goes so far as to use the vestiges of the catholic faith as a means of controlling the people. These actions reminded me of censorship of art in the former Soviet Union and civilian executions in despotic governments.

The entire Giver series seems to take place in a post apocalyptic world full of isolated communities. How this occurred is never explained, instead it provides a mechanism to explore various sociological models. Written for the young adult market, the book was an easy, quick read. It took me only a couple days to go through the 215 pages. I doubt that early teens will understand the foundations of the book's message.

Overall, I feel that Lowry is stuck in a 60's hippie mentality, promoting a philosophy where love and creativity can conquer all wrongs, especially when led by children. There are no moral absolutes presented, no greater authority than man's desires. In a similar way that My Fair Lady sullied Shaw's ambiguous ending, Blue's heroine tragically returns to those who only see her as personal profit, as if her new understanding will empower her to change the hearts of men.

I could see Gathering Blue being a springboard for conversation on social theories, but found little literary merit in the telling; the plot was neither compelling or the characters very deeply developed. Clearly the book was written to make a point, which is laid bare in the final pages (spoiler):
"The Guardians with their stern faces had no creative power. But they had cunning and strength, and they found a way to steal and harness other people's power for their own needs. They were forcing the children to describe the future they wanted, not the one that could be."