Book Review

 

Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Walter Lorraine Books, 2004
Page Count: 169

By Rev. Dee Dee Azhikakath

(UMCom) - With the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics approaching, I began reading Messenger. I had envisioned a story of adventure along the lines of Pheidippides and his run from Marathon to Athens. Anyone who could run 24.85 miles in 490 BC should be a messenger, right? So, what greater lark could this novel bring? I now realize an introspective one. This book is not predictably about a runner or messenger, but it is refreshingly about an insightful and spiritual message.

Messenger is the latest book from two-time Newbery Medal recipient Lois Lowry. The engaging novel is a continuation of her award-winning The Giver and Gathering Blue. While Messenger is not dependant on readers knowing of her two prior works, it shares with those works Lowry’s thematic fascination with humanity’s struggles. The quick, effortless and symbolic writing style of Messenger makes for a perfect read for an entire family or even a small group of any age, allowing for discussions at many levels.

The quick, effortless and symbolic writing style of Messenger makes for a perfect read for an entire family or even a small group of any age, allowing for discussions at many levels.
Lowry uses Dickens-esque descriptions not only for characters, but for the settings as well. Village and Forest are more than inanimate places. They also embody human characteristics by rendering traits such as needing, judging and even choice. Essentially, they are as much a character as any individual Lowry describes.

The storyline follows a boy named Matty who escapes a brutal boyhood by coming to Village six years earlier. While a blind man named Seer took him in, in this utopian society, many people helped reform and teach Matty. Simply put, Village was no stranger to taking in the oppressed and desperate. In fact, almost everyone had a story like Matty’s, and Village welcomed each one. The hungry, fleeing and ill all arrived regularly to Village by way of the temperamental Forest, and upon arrival they were all greeted and tended to by nearly the entire town. That is until recently.

Unlike most novels where a community grows from chaos to an idyllic scenario by the conclusion, the town of Messenger starts with utopia and then slowly falls from grace. Bigotry and inwardness begin to grow as many trade their "deepest self" for material goods at the Trade Mart. The latter half of Messenger struggles with the question, "How can you stop a downward spiral of struggles, deceit and vanity?"

Matty, the only one able to travel back and forth through Forest, prides himself on being the messenger, a title or "true name" he hopes will be bestowed on him when the time comes. However, in this growing time of crisis, it is eventually Matty’s message to everyone that becomes greater than the path he will have to take to deliver it.

Throughout this novel, the theological theme of God’s calling seeps off the pages. With everyone blessed with a descriptive name, God’s calling to each person is apparent.
Throughout this novel, the theological theme of God’s calling seeps off the pages. With everyone blessed with a descriptive name, God’s calling to each person is apparent. Moreover, what is striking is the process to which each name is chosen. It is not self-picked, but given. Often, when people are describing their self-worth or gifts, they cannot see all that they have to offer. People sell themselves short, just like Matty. In the end, it is revealed that his true name is more than just "Messenger." It is only through others that we are able to see all of his gifts, and he is able to use all of them. As Leader, Kira and Seer encourage and advise Matty, and Matty’s gifts and calling are discovered.

Conversely, as Matty comes to know himself and his calling, the townspeople’s own ignorance and intolerance continue. Their unawareness to their growing self-indulgence, materialism and apathy toward new people can easily put your own attitude in check. In fact, the similarities between Village and any church could be greatly alike. Any church fashioned after following Christ should be striving to create a utopia here on earth, just as Christ has taught us. Yet in reality, like any town, community group or even country, it is hard to continue to welcome newcomers when comfort and habits come into play. Furthermore, it is hard to look past our own insecurities and focus on our gifts, just as it is to look past another’s weaknesses and celebrate their strengths. Village is a wonderful reminder of what could happen if we concentrate on our gifts from God and just look beyond.

As you are reading this book the phrase "it takes a village" will come to mind. Nevertheless, as a Christian in community with one another, I have been reminded how it also takes a messenger.

The Rev. Dee Dee Azhikakath is a young adult and the associate minister for St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Tucson, Ariz.



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