This week I read Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. Many years ago I read Lowry's book The Giver which I enjoyed. Gathering Blue is equally as intriguing and thought-provoking.
Gathering Blue is a social-science fiction book. (According to Wikipedia, "This is a sub-genre of science fiction concerned less with technology and space; and more with sociological speculation about human society. In other words, it 'absorbs and discusses anthropology,' and speculates about human behavior and interactions".)
This book also is a dystopian novel. (Dystopia is defined as a society characterized by a focus on mass squalor, suffering, poverty, or oppression, that society has often times brought upon itself.)
The story centers around Kira, an orphan with a twisted leg, who lives in a world where the weak, injured, and physically-handicapped are cast aside.
After her father is killed "by beasts" in the forest when he went hunting and her mother died, Kira fears for her future after a fellow villager and her group of women followers have burned the home that once belonged to Kira and her mother.
She is spared by the Council of Guardians; and is provided a room in a large building along with two other children who are artists who have special gifts. In Kira's case, she is a gifted weaver and is given a task that no other community member can do. Thomas, another youth who lives on the same floor as she does, is a talented carver. A third child, no older than a toddler, lives on the floor below them; and is a gifted singer.
The children are content in some respects - they have better places to live, better tools than they did before, and good food. These are all things that people in the community struggle to secure (adequate jobs, food, and shelter).
Yet, despite these positive improvements to their lives, there is a sense of discontent among all the children. What troubles each one is that they are told what to create rather than allowing them to creatively express themselves in the way they feel comfortable. This is highly frustrating for these youth who all have creative talents that are not allowed to be fully expressed.
In addition, there are quite a few secrets and lack of forthright communication between the adults and these artist-children. Mysteriously, all of the parents of the children who have been brought to the large building have passed away.
With answered questions, Thomas, Kira, and Kira's friend Matt soon find themselves in a world filled with mysteries and secrets. All that they have come to believe is challenged the more they ask questions and find answers from unexpected people who come into their lives.
Late in the book, Matt discovers a parallel community where "broken people live." The people in this community help each others. Those who can see, guide those who cannot. Those who can't walk are carried. Those who have no hands are helped by those who have hands.
The "broken people" marry one another and have healthy children who grow up and choose to stay because they want to share in that way of life. There are gardens, homes, and families. There is no arguing, and people share what they have and help one another. Babies rarely cry, and children are cherished. This community is in stark contrast to the one in which Kira and her friends live.
This 215-page book was one that I finished reading in two days. Once I started, I didn't want to put the book down. Lowry's writing is suspenseful and engaging. She also has another book, Messenger that I would like to read this year.