We are so humbled to host Newbery-winning novelist, Lois Lowry as our October Featured Author. Lowry began her career as a photographer and a freelance journalist during the early 1970s. Her work as a journalist drew the attention of Houghton Mifflin and they encouraged her to write her first children’s book, A Summer to Die, which was published in 1977 (when Lowry was 40 years old). She has since written more than 30 books for children and published an autobiography. Two of her works have been awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal: Number the Stars in 1990, and The Giver in 1993.
As an author, Lowry is known for writing about difficult subject matters within her works for children. She has explored such complex issues as racism, terminal illness, murder, and the Holocaust among other challenging topics. She has also explored very controversial issues of questioning authority such as in The Giver trilogy. Her writing on such matters has brought her both praise and criticism. In particular, her work The Giver has been met with a diversity of reactions from schools in America, some of which have adopted her book as a part of the mandatory curriculum, while others have prohibited the book’s inclusion in classroom studies.
We begin our October Featured Author segment with Lowry’s newest release, Son. Be sure to stay tuned this month as we review several of Lowry’s exceptional books and chat with her at the end of the month.
Two-time Newbery-winning author Lois Lowry releases her latest novel Son today, her fourth in The Giver quartet. Because she published these books over the course of nearly two decades, allow me to refresh your memory. The Giver hit bookshelves in 1993 and rocked the young adult fiction world, earning Lowry her second Newbery Award (Number the Stars was her first). With The Giver, literary circles credit Lowry with writing the first YA dystopian novel, back before the publishing industry recognized dystopian as a common word, let alone a genre. In her story, she creates a peaceful community, but at a cost. Citizens have no freedom to do what they desire. Leaders tell the citizens at age twelve what job they will perform to serve the community. Later, if they desire to marry, a spouse is chosen for them. Meals are delivered to their door — no choices. Babies are born by designated birthmothers and given to couples who request children, though no more than two per couple. And they all take a pill each day to curb emotions, feelings, and attachments. The story paints a passionless black and white existence. Conformity is the law of the land. Citizens who do not adapt are eliminated from the community. What happens when a young boy, Jonas, rebels and escapes with a toddler named Gabriel who doesn’t meet the community’s standards?
Lowry initially intended The Giver to be a stand-alone novel. But the world she had created was too compelling to stop there. The author purposely wrote The Giver with an ambiguous ending and readers wanted more. She published companion novels Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004).
Now we have Son. This brilliant novel weaves together elements from the three earlier stories, intertwining characters and story lines, tying up loose ends, and answering questions that Lowry’s fans have been asking for years. It begins by introducing Claire, Gabriel’s birthmother. She delivers her son at age fourteen. It is her job. Birthmothers never see their “products.” The “newchildren” are immediately whisked away to the nurturing center. During Gabriel’s birth, something goes awry and Claire requires a c-section. Consequently, the leaders deem her unfit to be a birthmother and she is reassigned to the fish hatchery. Because birthmothers are not permitted to take the emotion-blocking pills while they are “vessels,” after Claire is assigned her new job, no one realizes that she has not been given the pills and, though it is strange and confusing to her, she experiences a natural longing and attachment to her son. In order to see him, she volunteers at the nurturing center in her free time. During these visits, she forms a bond with Gabriel. But Gabriel has issues. He fusses and doesn’t eat well. He doesn’t sleep well at night and isn’t growing as he should be. Jonas’s father cares for Gabe at the center and often takes him home at night. This is how Jonas comes to know Gabe. When the leaders determine that Gabe is not fit for placement and plan to kill him, Jonas escapes to the land “beyond.”
When Claire realizes her son has been taken, she is distraught and also escapes from the community on a delivery ship. The ship encounters a storm and sinks. Claire survives and washes ashore near an isolated village, hemmed in on the front by the dangerous sea and on the back by a formidable seemingly-impassable cliff. An elderly childless healer named Alys takes Claire in and nurses her back to health. Initially, as a result of the trauma from the shipwreck, Claire has amnesia. Over the course of years, she slowly regains her memory and recalls she has a son out there somewhere. Even though she enjoys life in this small village and she falls in love with Einar, Claire knows she must leave in search of Gabe. Einar understands this and helps her train for the arduous trek over the cliff.
After the perilous climb, Claire encounters the evil Trademaster, a character first introduced in Messenger. He can give her what she wants, but she’ll have to pay a price. She feels she no choice but to agree to the trade. He takes her to Gabriel, but robs her of her youth. Claire, now an old woman, lives in Gabe’s village and watches him from afar for years. She never reveals her identity to him, fearing he will reject her. Meanwhile, Gabe desperately needs to learn about his past and find the mother who is a mystery to him. Will Claire and Gabriel unite before she loses her battle with old age? It’s a classic tale of good versus evil. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy young adult dystopian fiction.