REVIEW: MESSENGER (THE GIVER #3)
Our gifts are our weaponry...
The third book in THE GIVER QUARTET matched my expectations a little more closely in that it follows Matt (now Matty) after the events of the GATHERING BLUE, but also managed to surprise me in ways that were both delightful and devastating.
HOW I RATED IT
5/5 MESSENGER acts as much more of a direct sequel not only to GATHERING BLUE, but also THE GIVER. It made me smile, it kept me on the edge of my seat, and it even broke my heart. This story builds brilliantly on the ones that came before it and left me eager to get into the series' conclusion.
Matt is now Matty, indicating a shift in his age range as is custom with the settlement that he came from. Instead of remaining in the same village as Kira and Thomas though, he has instead taken up residence with Kira's father, who is known as Seer in the home that he and Matty refer to only as Village. We see not only an older version of Matty, but also one that is a bit more refined. He's on the cusp of manhood now and starting to think about girls as well as his place within his community. While he is still immature and mischievous in some ways, I really enjoyed getting to see how he'd grown since the end of GATHERING BLUE. As the title implies, Matty acts as a sort of messenger for Village which involves him making frequent ventures through Forest, sometimes to his old home, and sometimes to other settlements. I enjoyed his dynamics with Seer, other members of his town and even a character from THE GIVER who I won't spoil. Kira also comes in during the final act of the story and it was just a treat to reconnect with these characters from previous books. All in all, the characters are what continue to make this series so endearing and engrossing and they've never been better than in this shorter entry into the quartet.
The plot, this time around, doesn't quite fit the narrative pattern established in the first two books. We do see Matty struggle to understand his place and share in his eagerness to get his "True Name" which will solidify his role in the community, but it all plays out quite differently from personal the journeys that Jonas and Kira went on. In spite of these differences, I very much appreciated all the direct callbacks to previous books. While there are still many open threads that I felt were left unaddressed, this seems to be the start of connecting everything together and that made this feel like a much more cohesive entry overall. These connections also helped establish clear timelines for the disconnected events of the first two books which was something that bothered me slightly about GATHERING BLUE. I definitely would have liked to have gotten more from Matty's trip to his old hometown and caught up with both Thomas and the young singer who both played such integral parts of the previous story. That said, I realize that these characters might come into play in the fourth and final book, so I will reserve any judgment about this for when I get to SON. For such a short book, MESSENGER covers a lot of ground in terms of character development, world building, and exploring the more mystical elements of this universe. One thing I found especially surprising was how graphic things got toward the end. I won't spoil things with specifics, but the story definitely took quite a dark turn which made it feel much more adult than previous books in the series. I also have to say that the ending absolutely wrecked me in ways that I was not at all expecting.
The society Matty is a part of is a bit different from the others we've explored in that it was a genuine utopia of sorts where everyone helped each other, welcomed newcomers, and looked past physical deformities or injuries. Whereas we slowly discovered the dark secrets of the communities of the first two stories, this time we see a wholesome village get twisted into something darker. This made for a really interesting and much more subtle sort of mystery as I tried to guess at where everything was going. I liked how the story didn't just focus on Village, with other settlements playing a key role as well as Forest which seems to have something of a life of its own.
The gifts that certain characters have and general mysticism of the world were also explored more, though there are still many things about this aspect of the story that remain unclear. Lowry has delved deep enough into these elements where I hope that they are given a satisfying conclusion in the next book.
THE HARDCOVER (AND BOX SET)
Just about all of my statements about the first book remain true here so I will repeat what I said in that review:
"The Hardcover Box set for this series is nicely constructed and have beautiful, matching dust jackets. While these copies are definitely on the more premium side, not all of the material choices are amazing. The jackets aren't made of particularly great material even though the titles do have some nice embossing. Because of this, I read these with the jackets off and found that there is nothing special about the naked hardbacks. The fonts and formatting make for a pretty and easy reading experience. One last note on this is that the slip case for this collection has warped slightly over time and I may discard it at some point."
MESSENGER accomplishes so much with such a short page count. I don't know if I have ever read anything that was so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, but I think this really speaks to the characters and world that Lowry has created. There's a lot riding on the fourth and final book in the quartet and I am definitely excited to see how everything all wraps up.
(+) Beautiful Hardcover Edition
(+) This more grown up version of Matty made for a brilliant hero
(+) Amazing use of previously established characters as well as a couple of memorable newcomers
(+) Awesome connection points to both THE GIVER and GATHERING BLUE
(+) A shocking and heart-wrenching final act
(-) The writing does skew younger (not a huge con, but might turn off some adult readers)