The novel is set in an isolated and backwards village led by the Council of Guardians. Its inhabitants are mean and only come together at the annual Gathering, in which the village's Singer sings a song telling the history of human civilization. Protagonist Kira was born with a deformed leg and was kept alive despite her Social Darwinist society due to the intervention of her influential mother. Upon her mother's death, her neighbors attempt to have her killed, but she is saved by the Guardians, who single her out for her exceptional embroidery skills. Kira is to become the next Threader — the person who will embroider the Singer's robe with the past, present, and future. Things get more complicated when Kira realizes that the Guardian's motives might not be as pure as they appear, and Matt discovers a utopian village previously alluded to in The Giver.
Unlike The Giver, which takes place in a futuristic society, Gathering Blue takes place in a more obviously After the End technologically regressed society.
This book provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: It's implied that abusive parents aren't the norm (most notably, Kira expresses skepticism at the idea that a father would commit suicide and leave his young daughter alone), but we never seem to see the ones who aren't (except at the very end, with Kira's father). Very few parents are shown as positive. Neglect, physical and emotional abuse are all used against "tykes" and there is little sympathy for them. Kira's mother is the lone aversion, and she's dead.
- After the End: The Ruin, which is explained to be a series of wars, and natural disasters. The book implies that it is not a single event, but a recurring event throughout history.
- All Hail the Great God Mickey!: A group of survivors worship a cross recovered from a Christian church. They don't know what Christianity actually was composed of before the apocalypse, but they do know that the cross had some importance.
- Body Horror: The description of the chains around the Singer's feet, and their disgusting effects on him, are rather grotesque and intended to horrify.
- Book-Ends: The book begins with Kira sitting with her mother's body, saying goodbye to her and looking at an uncertain future. It ends with her saying goodbye to her father whom she thought was dead and looking forward to helping to create a new future for her village.
- The Chosen One: Kira, as well as Thomas and Jo, were chosen for special roles in their society due to their talents.
- Continuity Nod: A boy looking like Jonas in another community is mentioned to Kira.
- Crapsack World: Unlike in The Giver, where the crap sack is more subtle, Gathering Blue's community is at a medieval tech level and inhumane to their fellow citizens.
- Eternal Recurrence: The Gathering is the time when everyone is told how the world ends, rebuilds, ends, rebuilds, and ends over and over again, and will continue to do so in the future.
- Free-Range Children: Due to the Abusive Parents, many children go around doing whatever they want. Matt in particular actually left his village and was gone for days to get something for Kira. Of course, he never went back home.
- Future Imperfect: The Christian Cross is simply known as "The Worship Object." Information about it has been lost, but the citizens know that it was special to their ancestors, so they bow to it out of sheer respect.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Vandara has a scar that goes down her face and uses it to boast how she fought off a beast. Subverted with Christopher, Kira's father, who still has scars from the supposed "beast attack" years later.
- It Will Never Catch On: Kira, while in the Council of Edifice's building, is exposed to indoor plumbing for the first time. She finds it interesting, but thinks how it is simply just easier to go down to the river to do bathroom activities.
- Kid Hero: Kira is around fifteen when the story starts. Matt is even younger, around eight.
- Meaningful Rename: Citizens, when born, have only one syllable in their name, but as they grow older and more established, they gain additional syllables. (eg. Ann —> Anna —> Annabell —> Annabella). They actually refer to their ages in terms of syllables in their names.
- Offing the Offspring: It is briefly mentioned that Vandara was accused of having killed one of her children by forcing him to eat oleander. Many in the village still believe that she did it, although she was let off because there was no evidence.
- Parental Abandonment:
- Kira, whose mother dies in the opening. Also Thomas and Jo, who are similarly orphaned.
- We eventually learn that the Council deliberately creates these situations, often by killing the parents, in order to gain control of children with extraordinary talents.
- Plucky Girl: Kira manages to keep going, despite her mother's death and the mistreatment she gets from the villagers.
- Ragnarök Proofing: Unless the elders knew far more than they let on, it would be impossible to have workable indoor plumbing complete with hot water without electricity and a source of pressurized water.
- Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Level 3. Women can't learn how to read or write. Kira is even afraid to watch as Thomas writes the names of plants she is narrating to him for fear she will be accused of learning how to read.
- Stealth Sequel: Subtle, but a boy Kira's age with bright blue eyes is described by Matt in the utopian village, hinting that Jonas finally reached Elsewhere. The two novels connect in Messenger.
- Tagalong Kid: Matt for Kira. He follows her around a lot.
- Textile Work Is Feminine: Extremely prevalent. Kira, who is tasked with embroidery, is female (while Thomas is tasked with woodcarving). She learned the art of embroidery from her mother and the art of dyeing from an old woman, Annabella. On a societal level, it's explicitly the women who weave cloth for everyone.
- Treacherous Advisor: Jamison turns out to be one.
- Two Guys and a Girl: Kira, Matt, and Thomas form a group of sorts later on. Gender-reversed with Kira, Thomas, and Jo.