Like Lowry’s hugely popular Newbery winner, The Giver (1993), this story dramatizes ideas of utopia gone wrong and focuses on a young person who must save his world. Teenage Matty lives with his caregiver in the Village, a place of refuge, where those fleeing poverty and persecution are welcomed with kindness and find a home.
But now he knew that there were communities everywhere, sprinkled across the vast landscape of the known world, in which people suffered. Not always from beatings and hunger, the way he had. But from ignorance. From not knowing. From being kept from knowledge.
But the Village people are changing, and many have voted to build a wall to keep the newcomers out. The metaphor of the wall and the rage against immigrants (“They can’t even speak right”) will certainly reach out to today’s news images for many readers.
“Some of those who had been among the most industrious, the kindest, and the most stalwart citizens of Village now went to the platform and shouted their wish that the border be closed so that ‘we’ (Matty shuddered at the use of ‘we’) would not have to share the resources anymore.
‘We need all the fish for ourselves.
Our school is not big enough to teach their children, too; only our own.
They can’t even speak right.
We can’t understand them.
They have too many needs.
We don’t want to tale care of them.’
And finally: ‘We’ve done it long enough.”
― Lois Lowry,
Under the gentle guidance of Leader, who arrived in Village on a red sled as a young boy and who has the power of Seeing Beyond, the citizens have always welcomed newcomers, especially those who are disabled.
But a sinister force is at work, which has prompted them to close admission to outsiders.
Also, it seems that Matty’s beloved Mentor has been trading away parts of his inner self in order to become more attractive to Stocktender’s widow. When the date for the close of the border is decided, Matty must make one more trip through the increasingly sinister Forest to bring back Seer’s daughter, the gifted weaver Kira (Gathering Blue). On the return journey, Matty must decide if he should use his healing but self-destructive power to reverse the inexorable decline of Forest, Village, and its people.
The physical immediacy of his quest through a dark forest turned hostile brings the myth very close and builds suspense to the last heart-wrenching page. Hazel Rochman