Lois Lowry is an unusual author.
Many authors with a successful series strive to churn out their books as quickly as possible, and have the habit of writing a cliffhanger at the end of each book, in the hopes of increasing anticipation (and pre-sales) for the next. Lois Lowry does not do that.
Lowry’s 1993 book The Giver received critical acclaim and won the Newbery Medal. Seven years later, she released Gathering Blue, which is not so much a sequel as a thematically-related book that takes place in the same world as The Giver. Four years after that, Lowry released The Messenger, which features some of the characters from Gathering Blue and The Giver. Last year, nineteen years after The Giver, she wrote Son, which completes the quartet of books. Each book stands alone as a superb story, though reading them together shows the richness of the world that Lowry has created, and of the ideas that she explores in her work. I am glad that Lowry took her time with these books. Her efforts and thoughtfulness show in the pacing of the story, and in the quality of her writing.
Son is the story of Claire, a young woman living in the same fictional community in which The Giver takes place. In this community, everyone is the same, and everyone follows the rules. The rules cover all aspects of life, including how to wear one’s hair, what job to do, whom to marry, and how to raise children. The rules are meant to remove choices and difficulties, to create a smoothness that eradicates crime and sorrow and passion. I loved reading from Claire’s point of view, remembering the details from The Giver while filling in new ones. Claire is assigned the role of birthmother, and her job puts her in a unique position. Birthmothers live in isolation from the community. They never marry, and they do not take the pill that the other community members use to dull their senses and emotions.
Then something goes wrong during Claire’s first birth. The baby lives, but Claire cannot give birth again, so she is transferred to a new position. Through an oversight, Claire is not given the dulling pills, and she awakens to her surroundings, her feelings, and her connections with other people. She begins to wonder about the baby she had, a son. Driven by her overwhelming desire to make a life with her child, she breaks the rules and makes extreme sacrifices in order to find out what has happened to him. During her journey, her path crosses with characters from the other books in the quartet; Jonas, Matty, and Kira all appear in this book, as does the Trademaster, a sinister presence who convinces people to make damaging trades.
In Son, Lowry answers many of our questions about how this world works, and what has happened to the people in it. But the story raises even more questions: What does it mean to be a parent? What does it mean to love someone? What sort of sacrifices might we make for those we care about? How do we learn to care? Who shows us how to be a family, and can we learn it even if we have not experienced it?
Both the answers and the questions are wonderful. The longings that these characters hold in their hearts belong to them alone, but family and love and sacrifice are part of our language, too. Lowry is one of those authors who proves that young people can engage with texts that contain complicated, universal issues. The ideas and questions in this book are fascinating for the young and adult reader.
Just like the Trademaster, we gather around close at the end, waiting to see what will happen with these characters who have come so far. We have come far with them, a journey almost twenty years in the making. Unlike the Trademaster, who waits for the seeds of his evil to bear fruit, we wait desperately for Claire and the rest to find home, to be loved, and to receive their hearts’ desires.
This is a story worth waiting for.
Shannon blogs about her bookish life at www.shannonrigney.com