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This is the first book I’ve read with a plot that revolves around embroidery. Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue is a companion to The Giver. The parallel stories are set in societies with ambiguities used to herd and control people a la Here be dragons. 

Every time I read a dystopian book, I promise this is the last one, like bribing myself out of bed by vowing to take a nap I know I’ll never take. They are a chore. Forget birds singing in the background. The only sound I hear is my own internal groan. Why am I reading this when there are so many other books?

Because Lois Lowry is a treasure.

gatheringblue

After the last of her mother’s spirit passes, Kira returns from the field to her village. She’s a newly orphaned young woman with a twisted leg and things get ugly fast when local women gang up on her. They want her land and believe that bum leg makes her ripe for the field beast. Survival of the fittest reigns. In The Giver, Jonas exists in a sterile, highly organized technological community. On the surface, Kira’s village is the dirty opposite.

Guardians disagree with the ruthless women. Rather than banish her, they hire her and give her living quarters with running water. There’s value in her magical skill with needle and thread. Her life is saved so she can first repair and then embroider the future of their people in the singer’s robe. To do this she has to learn how to replicate dyes to create the vivid threads. The only person who can teach her is Annabella, a wise older woman living far out in the woods. A fun trip on foot for a girl who needs a staff to walk.

To complete the robe, and keep her place and life, Kira must figure out how to produce the color blue. Along the way, she discovers the other young people singled out for their talents. There’s Thomas, a wood carver, and a sad young girl we can figure is the singer. The meat of the story is Kira’s growing suspicion of the Guardians and discovering hidden truth of a world she thought she understood.

For the characters, completing these craft projects comes with the highest of stakes. The absurdity of a people that would send someone to their death for being born with a bad leg sets a dark tone and fully grounds the reader in Kira’s shoes. This is a good story – the kind you’d stay up to hear around a fire – told by a great storyteller.

As with The Giver and Number of the Stars, Gathering Blue offers young readers a vehicle for questioning the ways of a world, a critical skill for young minds to cultivate.

I liked this one, but the genre still makes me groan. Society’s fault. Everything is society’s fault. Society is the big bad vague villain. When the rules of the world are the antagonist, “society” is a hammer to the head. Maybe that’s the point, but I don’t want my head hammered.

Messenger is next in this quartet. Then Son. And then I’m done with dystopian forever and ever.

 

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