Sunday, 25 September 2016

Review: Messenger

Messenger Messenger by Lois Lowry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A nice thing about the first three books in The Giver Quartet is that they are quite fast to read. A connected sad thing about the second and third book is that it seems the short reading time is caused simply by a lack of story (which wasn't so bad with The Giver).

Nevertheless, I upped the number of stars from two for Gathering Blue to three for Messenger again - because this time the ending was gripping and tragic enough to hold my mind captive after I finished the book. Sadly, I didn't really understand the connection between most of the story and this ending, but from other reviews I'm hoping that the fourth book in the quartet - Son, which is also a lot longer - will resolve some questions.

In general, it was nice to see how Matty evolved from the last book to this, and that Jonas from the first book is indeed healthy and well. Most of the story takes place in the Village where the "broken people" live happily together, accepting and helping one another. It would have been nice - knowing other parts of this world, other communities - to see simply nice life like that. But, to fit in with the other utopia/dystopia novels, things are turned around, people become selfish and tired of helping others, and (fitting also for politics these days) some want to close the borders to newcomers, who are most likely weak and poor and talking in other languages.
Matty sets out to post messages about the coming closure in the Forest, because apparently people travel to Village on purpose by now (I thought it was more a kind of coincidence thing), and to bring Kira to her father. In parallel to the people, the Forest is growing more hostile as well, though, causing them trouble on the trip back. THAT was the interesting part of the story, and could have been much longer to build and release tension.

As you can probably imagine, things have moved from scientific advancements more into the fantasy and magic realm, which I have now come to accept. The community where Jonas came from seems to have been the only place where technological knowledge survived after the Ruin (I assume, since world history is not part of that story line), while all the others stick to simpler ways of life (I wonder how difficult it was for Jonas to get used to that). They also seem to have partly let go of the use of articles, which I found a bit annoying - even if you write Forest with a capital "F", it would still be nice to have people walk through "the Forest" and not simply through "Forest". That was just weird.

I hope the last volume in the quartet will now give an overview of the changes in Jonas' community as well as Kira's original village. At least for the latter we've heard in this book that it changed because of Kira (and probably Thomas?), but we don't really know how or how much. I find that very sad, since Kira did not accompany her father, and instead chose to change the ugly place she was born into, and that must have been quite an effort. Without a description of what she did and what she achieved, that effort seems kind of wasted, though.

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Friday, 23 September 2016

Review: Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So this was the first "companion to The Giver"...

The world here, while apparently the same as in the first book, is absolutely different. I've been wondering if, maybe, after the Ruin, the ancestors of Jonas' Community settled with their technological advances and dreams of a better world - and kicked out all the a**holes and sociopaths in the process. Those outcasts, then, must have founded the village where Kira lives. Here, people are noisy, dirty, and very egoistic. Anybody who is of no use is condemned to death, children are treated like the greatest nuisance in the world, and everybody is very aggressive on principle.
While this was made very clear by the author, the village itself wasn't well described. There's the Council Edifice, which must have been a church before the Ruin, although the description of the inside doesn't sound like a church, except for the Worship Object (a cross). Other than that, there's not much to go on, and apparently even Kira, who grew up there, doesn't know many of the other villagers, or anything about the politics.

It was difficult to find a way into this world as the reader, thanks to spiritless writing (is my guess). And some things were just weird, e.g. Kira meeting Jamison after her trial inside the Council Edifice and being taken to her new quarters - as far as I know by walking down a long corridor, or at least by staying inside the building. Nevertheless, she later has to ask if it is possible to get from the big hall to her quarters. How come she didn't know about that? And, can someone draw me a picture of chairs in front of the stage, facing the audience, from which you can watch the proceedings on the stage? I assumed that maybe the moment when they were turned, or when the children were re-seated was missing, but at some point in the performance, it's again mentioned that they are facing the audience while watching the stage. I don't get it.

Kira seemed a nice enough girl, but the characters lacked so much depth it was impossible to actually related to them or care for them. Jonas, in The Giver, now he had enough time to learn and grow, and it was well enough described for the reader to learn with him. Kira, in Gathering Blue, on the other hand, was at least in the same place, getting to know everything, for a few months, but... what did actually happen there? It feels like there wasn't really a story, no development, just words that I quickly read in two days, with maybe an interesting idea what the human future could look like, after the Ruin, but without any connection, any suspense, anything to spike my interest. It was nice to hear that probably Jonas is still alive somewhere, but other than that I was disappointed.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Review: The Giver

The Giver The Giver by Lois Lowry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read the German version of The Giver (Hüter der Erinnerung) many years ago, and apparently liked it enough to take the book with me when I moved out. More recently, I happened to watch the movie that was made out of it, and then also read my copy of the book again. I still enjoyed it, but remembered that I never really understood the ending. So I went online to learn more about that, and found that there's three more books from the same universe. Obviously, I went right ahead and bought the whole The Giver Quartet in English. Now, about The Giver...

This novel takes place in a utopian/dystopian community that has converted to Sameness. Sameness means that there are no different skin tones (though they still have different hair and eye colours, apparently), no changes in climate/weather, and no hills. The people in communities with Sameness have also lost their ability to see colours, and can only have shallow feelings. Age is only important until you are 12, and all children become a year older at the December Ceremony, regardless of their actual date of birth (which is always 50 children per year, by the way). Sameness! Different genders and character traits are still allowed, though, and adults applying for a spouse will be matched meticulously, just like the Twelves are matched with their future assignments.
An Eleven boy called Jonas is the main character of the book. He is chosen to become the next Receiver of Memory - a very high honour, but most people don't actually know what the Receiver does. That's because he (or she, but he in this case) is the only one who carries the memories of the past, of the days before Sameness. And there is no way to describe to the Community what colours or death or real feelings are. Therefore, the Receiver is honoured, but also lonely and suffering from the knowledge the rest of the Community doesn't want to suffer from.

The ideas of The Giver are certainly interesting, and it's fascinating to get to know the way of life in Sameness. I can imagine that genetic engineering for this could be possible some day. Things get a bit weird at some point, though, when you're looking at the book scientifically. Jonas being able to see colours? Hmm, fine, could be a mutation or something. Transmission of memories from the past by the touch of hands on backs? Huh. And the ending? I still don't get that at all.

In the end, I'll just have to accept that this is not only scifi, but also a bit magic - a strange mix, and unexpected when you first start reading the book. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to reading Gathering Blue next.

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