Matty discovers his gift to heal at a time when his friends and neighbors of his Village have been losing themselves to vicious exchanges with a mysterious trader, and when he goes in search of his guardian's daughter before the Village is shut off to strangers, he discovers his gift can save them all. Matty lives in the same Village where Jonas (from Lowry's The Giver, though he is simply called Leader in this book) arrived some 6 years earlier on his red sled; little Gabe has grown to be eight years old, and Jonas is very their young but upright and inspiring leader. Matty lives with an old blind man known as the Seer – somewhat of an adopted father to him. He helps at home, and goes to school with the other children under the tutelege of Mentor, their wonderful, undertanding schoolteacher. He also begins to admire Mentor's beautiful young daughter, Jean, and becomes closer to her throughout his adventures.
Yet a change is taking place in their village since the so-called Trade Marts began, led by a mysterious trader. People begin to acquire curious but fascinating items, such as his friend Ramon's family's Game Machine, which spits out candy when the player wins a gamble. Matty slowly discovers as time passes that Ramon and his sister are becoming sick as a result. Others, as Matty finds out when he visits a Trade Mart out of curiosity, trade for less tangible items. Mentor, whose wife has died, desires a local widow for his own, and he has begun to trade parts of his beautiful, generous, learned soul for youth and beauty to win her over.
Those like Seer and Leader stay away from the Trade Marts once they sense the negative atmosphere it is bringing to the Village. But the changes in the villagers prove dangerous enough, especially the changes in Mentor. He seeks to close the Village to outsiders, completely contrary to his previous character and to the Village's founding principals – and with the Trade Marts' ability to slowly twist people's values, he finds supporters. Against Leader's conscience but in accord with the people's votes, an edict is passed to close the Village to outsiders, effective in three weeks. No longer will they welcome all strangers in need.
As all this is happening, Matty has been discovering his gift to heal. First, he unintentionally heals a frog. Then, it is a puppy and its mother, which belong to Jean; Jean gives him the puppy, who is later named Frolic. He gradually finds time to discuss both his gift and the changes he sees in the other villagers, especially Mentor, with Leader, and both begin to understand the situation better.
When the edict is passed, Matty's job is to deliver the messages to surrounding villages – with one especially important additional mission: bring the Seer's daughter, Kira, back. She had always intended to join her father, but had things to finish in her own hometown as they reformed their formerly corrupt government system. (Read Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue for her story.) Matty is a good choice for this mission, as he is from Kira's home village and knows the Forest very well. He also has experience delivering messages and enjoys this task; he hopes his name in adulthood will be Messenger. His knowledge of the Forest is especially vital; it has become increasingly dangerous of late, warning and then attacking and killing those who offend it, and acquiring an ominous darkness rather similar to that of the mysterious trader's exchanges at the Trade Marts. But it has never attacked Matty.
Matty successfully reaches Kira's houseplace and convinces her to return. The forest has already “thickened” considerably. As they return, it begins to attack them, blocking their way, shredding Kira's feet, and nearly destroying Matty's arms with blisters. It becomes worse as they approach the center. Leader, who has the gift of seeing beyond, watches out for them at Seer's request, providing only optimistic updates at first, but later telling him the truth. Finally, Leader comes after them. Leader and Kira (who has a gift with sewing) use their gifts to help Leader find them – and then it is Matty's turn. Matty uses his healing power to heal himself, Kira, and Leader. He then goes beyond that, healing all the Villagers who had effectuated evil trades. Mason becomes well, and Mentor regains both his age and his kind-hearted, generous nature. The Forest also loses its menace. But it takes so much out of Matty that he dies. In death, however, he has earned a name more valuable than that of simply Messenger, for as Leader says, “there have been other messengers and there will be more to come.” Matty's name is Healer.
Best part of story, including ending:
The ending is both happy and sad at the same time. Matty willingly sacrifices himself by healing everything until his has no more strength even to live, and can sense much of what is going on as he is healing everything. The story is also metaphorical and attempts to inspire the reader to see how a positive, generous outlook can create a harmonious environment. It is through greed and selfishness that people like Mentor start to bring down the Village and the people in it.
Best scene in story:
I most liked one of the last scenes, when Matty is healing everything. Though it takes a lot out of his physical body, he is able to sense everything around him much more acutely than any pain in his body. It's a bit like he is having an out-of-body experience, and his soul - along with his ability - is encompassing everything that he is healing. He is able to see Mason and Mentor well again, and is able to see Jean, happy, outside her garden, seeing her father once again himself. In a sense, it is like he is saying goodbye to everyone and giving them one last gift at the same time. At the same time, I wonder what would have happened to Jean after Matty is gone, as she is starting to like him, also.
Opinion about the main character:
Matty is still young and doesn't understand everything right away, but he loves his village, his friends, and his mentors, and wants to help them and to be valuable. He has a troubled past, which included stealing and lying, but has reformed himself and found joy in being a good person.