A frightening and familiar world
Almost 20 years have passed since the publication of Lois Lowry’s Newbery-winning novel The Giver. While dystopian stories are widespread today, Lowry’s 1993 book was a pioneer in the genre for young readers, and it remains a searing and unforgettable reading experience.
It’s therefore chilling to be transported back to this colorless, controlled community where sameness is the norm, and where a boy named Jonas is designated as the “Receiver” of the society’s past memories. But that’s exactly what readers have in store with Son, Lowry’s latest book and the final volume in The Giver Quartet. Son introduces a new character, Claire, a 14-year-old girl who is somewhat embarrassed to be assigned the role of birthmother.
Things don’t go as planned for Claire. She becomes a “Vessel,” but has such difficulty with the birth of her first “Product” that she is sent instead to work at the fish hatchery.
Claire is filled with a sense of loss and an urgency to be with her baby. She finds a way to visit the Nurturing Center, all the while hiding her true intentions: to be with her son, no matter what it takes.
Claire’s story is riveting. And for readers of The Giver, reading Son is like visiting a place you lived long ago: Memories flood back; the landscape is eerily familiar; you start to recall people and events.
The events in Claire’s life connect so effortlessly with The Giver it seems as if Lowry must have planned it this way. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“I thought The Giver would be a single book,” laughs the author, speaking from her home in Maine. She was inspired to continue Jonas’ story in part because of young readers’ reactions to The Giver’s ambiguous ending.
“Kids like things tied up a little more,” she explains. “It was clear from letters and emails that kids didn’t like the ambiguity of the ending.” This led to the next books in the series, Gathering Blue and Messenger.
Similarly, readers’ curiosity about another character in The Giver prompted Lowry to write Son and return to the world that Jonas fled. (In preparation, Lowry herself sat down to reread the first book!)
Just as Lowry never planned to write a quartet, she also doesn’t do much planning for individual books. “I never have a plot carefully thought out,” Lowry explains. “As an author you want to create a journey.”
Critical to Claire’s journey is that somehow, after she is sent to the fish hatchery, no one remembers to give her the “pills,” which are used to stop stirrings—of love, dreams, longing and emotions. While she didn’t know what would happen to Claire, Lowry understood her character’s passionate need to connect with her son. For readers who know that Lowry herself lost a son (an Air Force pilot who was killed in the crash of his F-15), the story has added resonance.
Claire’s journey takes her to a place far from the world of The Giver, to an isolated village at the foot of a high, terrifying cliff. In Claire’s new home, the technology that permeates the community of The Giver is absent. Lowry’s juxtaposition of primitive conditions and advanced technology draws inspiration from her life and the connections she makes to others.
For some time, she has been part of Women for Women International, a program that helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives. Through a monthly sponsorship, Lowry is helping a mother of five in Afghanistan support and educate her children; her photo is posted by Lowry’s computer, a reminder that many people in our world still struggle with poverty and difficult living conditions.
Lowry is a mentor and role model, as well as a mother, grandmother and a writer with an immense dedication to her readers. So it’s probably no accident that Claire finds help in her own quest to be reunited with her son.
“I realize in looking back that Jonas, Kira, Matty, Gabe and Claire each find a mentor, or someone who gives them wisdom,” the renowned author notes, reflecting on the main characters in The Giver Quartet. “It seems to be a recurring theme.”
While Lowry only works on one project at a time, she feels fortunate that inspiration still strikes. “Within the past week, the beginning of a new book appeared in my imagination,” she reveals. She started to write down what had come to her.
“I suddenly realized I had written five pages,” Lowry says. She closed the file on her computer: She has another deadline to fulfill.
But the book will be waiting for her—and hopefully someday for us—when she is ready.