Fall is pretty officially here in the mid-Atlantic region, perhaps damper than I’m used to, but fall nevertheless. This means I’m spending a good portion of my time curled up in my Poang chair with a pot of hot tea, a (hopefully) good book, and more often than not a cat in my lap. For inquiring minds, my current tea of choice is a cream Earl Gray lavender from a local tea shop. After long walks with T, this is one of my favorite ways to spend weekend day in the fall. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a ton of luck with my book selections lately.

A while back a friend alerted me to the existence of two sequel/companion books to The Giver by Lois Lowry, a favorite of my youth, though I was always vaguely discontented with the ending. Two things drive me crazy in novels – unreliable narrators and unclear endings. For the former, I often end up feeling cheated or tricked out of a “real” reading experience, a frustration that dates back to reading The Things They Carried in high school, weeping over the water buffalo story, and then finding out it was fiction later. It’s totally silly, but I can’t seem to help it much. I also find vague endings unsatisfactory, especially since I can be pessimistic about fiction and imagine the Worst Possible Scenario as the ending.

These two “sequels” to The Giver, Gathering Blue and The Messenger, are set in the same universe, though the second book doesn’t feature characters from the first, instead detailing a society where the powers that be often intentionally orphan-ing children who have skills that might be useful, and attempting to keep the population fearful and submissive by spreading stories about “beasts” in the forests. During the course of the story of Gathering Blue, Kira, the main character, begins to see cracks in the facade of these screens. Without giving the plot away, the story is well-paced, with the right amount of tension to keep readers engaged. As with The Giver, the world is carefully drawn, with the sort of thoughtful details (age is indicated by number of syllables in a name, for example) that make the universe seem vibrant and real. The reader discovers many of the chilling details of the society along with Kira and the other main characters, and the foreshadowing and subtext are handled very well for the intended middle-school audience.

The final book, The Messenger, was a pretty frustrating reading experience. It felt slightly like a tacked-on epilogue intended to wrap up the story rather than add to it, and though there were as many carefully drawn world-building details as the first two books, the plot is much less satisfactory. It’s hard to describe the plot without totally ruining the first two books, but suffice it to say that many of the main characters were previously featured in The Giver and Gathering Blue. While the Village in The Messenger is experiencing social problems, including a sudden aversion to those deemed outsiders, characters discuss the improvements to the towns featured in the first two books, but fail to discuss how these changes happened. Although books aimed at this age group might not be a good forum for discussing political processes, I think readers of this age are sophisticated enough to endure discussions of how and why social structures change, rather than being presented with improvements with a flair of ‘fait accompli’. The ending to The Messenger reflects this disinclination to engage with the issues the characters are facing by solving all the problems faced by the book’s characters with a magical sacrifice on the part of a single individual. It feels abrupt, and to me a bit like cheating – can’t deal with a challenge? Fix your problems by sacrificing a community member, and you won’t have to change a thing! Ta-da!

I enjoyed Gathering Blue, but not so much The Messenger. If you read and loved The Giver, I’d suggest thinking twice before grabbing these.