34. Messenger by Lois Lowry
"It was a quick and fragrant touch to his lips that gave him courage."
-Messenger, Lowry, p. 113
Lois Lowry's prose is stark. As opposed to the pyrotechnical language of Catherynne Valente, Norton Juster, or even Suzanne Collins, Lowry's stories feel almost naked. And yet, it is their barrenness that highlights what is truly important.
When I read The Giver many, many moons ago, I long recalled the definition of "apprehension" that Jonas mentions in the first few pages. It is that particular word that captures Jonas' state of mind, and the reader's state of mind for most of the book. Likewise, in Messenger, the word "fragrant" is distinguished among its more simple compatriots. It is important that the lips are fragrant, because they stand in contrast to the growing corruption in Matty's town. (Matty, a character first seen in Gathering Blue, is the protagonist in Messenger).
Messenger is not as iconic a book as The Giver, perhaps because the secret has already been given away. We know there is "something rotten in the state of Denmark," even in the (more genuinely) utopian-like community Jonas has fled to. My "Hamlet" reference seemed appropriate there, but it's actually the far more disturbing (in my mind) "Macbeth" that is referenced in the book. "All my pretty ones? All?" will echo in your mind when it is done. Though not quite as captivating, this is the more realistically somber book that Lowry teased us with at the end of The Giver.
I read it in a day, and yet it's a book that lingers in subsequent weeks. It's not like the experience of savoring Shakespearean puns or Valentean tongue-twisters, but it's like a subtle perfume that remains even when other scents overpower it. A message. Quiet, but fragrant.