Gathering Blue is one of four sci-fi / utopian stories by Lois Lowry, known informally as The Giver Quartet. The Giver, I’d say, is the most well-known of these books, and for me, it was a mixture of disturbing, fascinating, and thought-provoking content. The way it handled human emotions, even the beginnings of puberty, was delicate and unoffensive. Whether you’re reading Number the Stars or The Giver Quartet, I feel like the most important message that Ms. Lowry conveys here is that progress and modernity do not necessarily equal the extinguishing of evil from the world.
The world of Gathering Blue is far more rural and (dare I say) backwards than the world of The Giver, but many of the social problems are the same. The village people practice euthanasia, albeit a more “natural” type, where disabled or sickly people are usually cast out into the Field for “the Beasts” to devour, or to simply die of neglect and starvation. Speaking of disabled people, ableism (discrimination in favor of “able-bodied” people) is a very big theme in this book.
Kira has a malformed leg, and walks with a stick. When she was born, her mother Katrina was pressured to cast the infant into the Field, but Katrina held onto the child, knowing that Kira is strong in other ways and deserves to live. Kira grew up knowing father was taken by the Beasts before she was born, which adds to the stigma from her village. When her mother dies from a sudden plague, Kira is all but dragged out to the fields before the Council intervenes.
Kira’s mother was a talented embroiderer before she died – her unfinished project was a special ceremonial robe, which was decorated with images of the past – those with the gifts of foresight will embroider images of the future in the blank areas. The Council allows for Kira to live in their protection, if she’ll continue her mother’s embroidery work, to which she agrees.
Kira is apprenticed to a dyer named Annabella, who teaches her to dye threads in different colors. The most difficult one is blue, which relates to the title. To find blue dye, Kira must journey into the surrounding woods, where the Beasts who killed her father are said to roam. But Annabella assures her, there are no Beasts. Not long after revealing this, Annabella is deemed too old and is dragged out to the Field to die. Kira starts to suspect something fishy is going on, and all roads that don’t lead to the mysterious woods point in a direction she does not expect.
Another recurring issue in both The Giver and Gathering Blue is government powers who will mislead their people if only to maintain control. What people don’t know won’t hurt them, except that both Jonas and Kira (especially Kira) get hurt in the process.
The underlying menace of this story, people with power finding insidious ways to control people with actual talent, struck a chord with me; I had a very difficult experience working with someone who saw me only for my creativity and thought they could pressure me (albeit childishly) into using it exclusively for them. I don’t know what it is with people who think that if they see talent, they can take it for themselves and control it exclusively. Suffice to say, it was a trying, toxic relationship, and I’m glad I was strong enough to call it quits.
I remember that The Giver had a very vague ending. Just as Jonas was about to start a new chapter in his life, the book ended. Similarly, with Gathering Blue, a new chapter is about to begin for Kira, and then the pages run out.
I think Ms. Lowry originally wanted readers to question and to imagine the next chapter for themselves. Does Kira get her revenge on her abusers? Does she expose them for what they are, or does she keep on living her own life in relative safety while the world slowly crashes and burns? I mean, she owes her village no favors – they’re a cruel, messed up bunch, but we’re talking the fate of civilization here. But because this book reminded me so much of a personal, trying experience, I wanted some kind of justice to be served to those who hurt Kira.
I’ve speculated often about whether The Giver and Gathering Blue take place in the same world, but different parts of it, kind of like The City of Ember series, where different communities experienced different things following an apocalyptic tragedy of some sort. My research tells me that, while the ties are vague initially, the third and fourth books in this quartet start to tie all the loose ends together. But do I really want a resolution to Jonas and Kira’s stories handed to me by the author herself, or would I rather continue imagining the infinite possibilities on my own?
With regards to sensitive content in this story, the only points of caution are how disturbing the story is at times – just like its predecessor, The Giver. If the first book wasn’t too painful for your child or for you, you’ll likely handle this one just fine.
Kira notes that at night, people “couple” and create new life for the world. That’s about it in terms of stuff. Y’know, that stuff. And it should likely fly over most young readers’ heads. Common Sense Media’s review of this book vaguely flagged the mention of “coupling” without offering the context in which the word was used, so I put off reading this book for a long time because of that. When, having forgotten, I read the book more recently, the context in which the word was used, as noted, was so tame, that I wouldn’t have made a big deal about it.