Son by Lois Lowry, 393 pp RL 5
NOW IN PAPERBACK! The fourth book in Lowry's GIVER QUARTET!
Son by Lois Lowry completes the quartet of books that began in 1993 with The Giver, followed by Gathering Blue in 2000 and Messenger in 2004.
Son begins at almost the same point in time as The Giver, and I don't think I'm revealing any surprises when I tell you that the main character of this final book in what has become a series is the mother of Gabe, the infant slated for "release" that Jonas ran away with at the end of The Giver. Book 1 of Son is titled, "Before," and begins, "The young girl cringed when they buckled the eyeless leather mask around the upper half of her face and blinded her. It felt grotesque and unnecessary, but she didn't object. It was the procedure." With those two sentences Lowry hurtles the reader right back to the most inhuman, incomprehensible aspects of the community that she established in The Giver eighteen years ago. Claire, the Vessel is delivering the Product. She is fourteen. But, something goes wrong in the delivery and, after recovering Claire learns that she has been decertified as a Vessel and will not deliver the three Products that most Vessels do. Instead, she is being sent to work at the fish hatchery. Because she was chosen to be a birthmother at the Ceremony of Twelve, before she started taking the pill that dims the spark of individuality, creativity and passion that exists in all human beings, an oversight is made and she is not given the pill after delivering the Product. Claire spends much of her time wondering about the Product, who she learns is a boy and numbered 36, the thirty-sixth out of the fifty allotted children born into the community in a given year. He will go by this number until the naming ceremony held annually. She remembers that a classmate of hers was assigned to work at the Nurturing Center and in this way she sees her son and her path crosses with Jonas's father, who takes a special interest in the infant who cannot seem to get on a sleep routine. In the absence of the pill, Claire's love for her son grows and swells so much that she often jeopardizes her place in the Community by acting outside of the standards and rules. However, before she has the chance to step too far outside of her given role, Jonas escapes with Gabe and Claire makes a fateful decision.
In Book 2, "Between," Claire finds herself living in a community at the edge of the ocean and the foot of an impossible cliff. She has lost her memory but manages to piece together enough fragments to know that, on the day that Jonas disappeared with her son, she hurled herself on board a cargo ship from another community that had been making a delivery nearby the Fish Hatchery. The boat was then destroyed in a violent storm and Claire was the only survivor. She is welcomed into this new community, taken in by the elderly Alys, the midwife and herbalist of these people who live like it is the middle ages. In "Between," besides regaining her memory, Claire has to learn all the things that she unknowingly forfeited to live in the Community. Colors, music, seasons and animals are among the many things that are new to her. She also learned about love, marriage and parenting before she climbs out of the community with the help of Einar, a quiet young man who made the same attempt years earlier and returned, battered and crippled by a hideously cruel man who demands a terrible price for passing into the villages beyond the edge of the cliff. This man is the Trademaster from Messenger and, in return for taking Claire to her son, she gives him her youth. Book 3, "Beyond," finds Claire living in the same village as Gabe, Jonas and Kira, although she does not make herself known to them until it is almost too late.
I have mixed feelings about Son and I have read mixed reviews of this book. However, after reading and sitting with it for a while, I think it is a fitting end to this series of books, now referred to as The Quartet. One thing that I had to remind myself of was all the post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels that have come since The Giver eighteen years ago, and the walloping impact of the violence in these books, the intensity of the plot and she speed of the pace of these books that stands in opposition to the book that spawned them all. The power and the horror of The Giver is in the subtlety of the world Lowry creates. It feels familiar and yet so different. On the surface, it seems like the inhabitants have a good way of life. It doesn't take an arena filled with armed children about to fight to the death to shock the reader of The Giver, just the knowledge that being released really means being killed and that the elderly, one in a pair of twins and an infant who can't learn to sleep through the night are killed to maintain the stability and peace of the Community. As Dan Kois wrote in the New York Times when comparing Lowry's quartet to "the Hunger Games and other movie-adaptation-ready YA series, where those books feature violent death and armed rebellion, the battle that Gabriel fights in Son is one in which empathy and love are his only weapons. And where the Hunger Games features a romantic triangle among three fierce revolutionaries, Son highlights the undying love of a mother for her child and the child's for his mother." This may make for a slower, more sedate story, but it also ensures a more powerful message and meaningful ending to the quartet. If these books have meant anything to you and your kids, especially if you are part of the millions of people who have read the Hunger Games, I strongly suggest you read all of Kois's article, which I wish I could quote in its entirety here. He makes some fine points, with the help of Lowry, whom he interviewed for his article, about how she learned early on in her career that she could speak to children or adults, but not both, and how this shaped her thinking when writing and what makes The Quartet so different from the new dystopian novels flooding the shelves.
I'll be honest, Book 3 was not as satisfying, especially as a means of wrapping up the series, as I had hoped for when reading Son. But, it was hopeful and uplifting and overflowing with love, even if it did have a bit of a fairy-tale feel to what had been a chilling work of science fiction at so many points before. But, I am an adult, not the child that Lowry wrote this book for.
Source: Review copy and purchased audio book