Lois Lowry is my comfort blanket. When you pick up a Lois Lowry book (and it really doesn't matter if it was "Anastasia Krupnik" or the book I will discuss with you now) you are blessed with the knowledge that this book will fufill the following requirements: It will be good. It will be interesting. It will be wholly original. Lowry has never tapped into our subconscious oddities quite like other authors (like Diana Wynne Jones) have. She doesn't need to. Her books are perfectly thought out little worlds. If you are lucky, they may have some fantastical elements to them, but rather than stand out from the text these elements are as natural as can be. Lowry makes you believe in a kind of real-world magic. And no book better illustrates that idea than the remarkable little, "Gossamer". A comfortable amalgamation of the fantastical and the all-too real, it's one of those rare stories that can claim to have both grit and charm.
An old woman lives with her dog, all by herself, in a two-story house. Unbeknownst to her, she is visited nightly (as are we all) by creatures that make us their business. In this particular case, two such creatures have visited the old woman. One is an old hand at the work they are going to do. The other is known simply as Littlest One. She is sprightly and curious and filled to brimming with questions. By night, these creatures gather the memories they find attached to objects around the home and create dreams out of them. These they bestow to the residents of the home. Only now, the old woman is taking in a foster child for a time. An angry eight-year-old boy with an abusive past and who's dark thoughts prove irresistible to the Sinisteeds. Sinisteeds are creatures that provoke dark nightmares in their dreamers, causing damage to their psyche and a whole lotta pain. Now Littlest must find a way to strengthen the boy who has attracted these creatures so that he can be strong enough to face up to his own ugly memories.
Of course, for all the fantastical dream-creature-like storylines, the real heart of this tale is in the story of the old woman, the boy, and the boy's mother. It's a very real tale too. The boy's mother has gotten out of an abusive relationship and is trying to piece her life together enough to take custody of her son again. And leave it Lowry to get me to tear up when the woman finally gets a good job in an elementary school. I don't tear up over children's books unless the writing is particularly phenomenal.
Good fantasy speaks beyond the magic and fantastical elements of any given tale. Because she has tied in a story of abuse to one of the healing power of dreams, Lowry's story plays out rather beautifully. No mention is made of the fact that, medically speaking, if a person does not dream they go insane. The proof is before your eyes instead. Lowry also takes a rather nice poke at those adults that live in homes that look like they've come out of a magazine (all chrome and glass) but haven't a single homey or personal object in the joint. Pity the poor dream creatures that have to deal with THOSE people.
Even when Lowry is off her game (some might make that argument with "Messenger"), she still has her finger firmly on the pulse of her plot, characters, and setting. There's a straightforward intelligence to her books that children and adults everywhere have come to trust. I don't suppose I could call, "Gossamer" her finest work, but it's a lovely example of the patient storytelling and excellent plotting that we've come to expect of her. It is undoubtedly one of the best books for children in 2006. A wonderful metaphorical tale.