Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Son

When I used to teach The Giver in my high school English classes, I used to ask the students to project what might have happened to Jonas and Gabe after the end of the story.  My students generated all kinds of creative and fascinating scenarios for the pair.  But none of them came close to the story that Lois Lowry weaves in her long-awaited sequel.

Nineteen years after the original publication of The Giver, Lowry finally brings us its direct sequel, Son.  In the interim, she published both Gathering Blue and The Messenger, which are companion novels to The Giver, but neither answered the burning question of what happened to Jonas and Gabe (though The Messenger did indicate that they turned out okay).  To be honest, when I originally read Gathering Blue and The Messenger, I was disappointed by them.  Not because they weren't good stories in their own right, but because they only raised more questions for me, without answering the ones I had originally.

All of that changes with Son.  Finally, I can see how these three other stories weave together, creating a gorgeous and mysterious epic.  While I did re-read The Giver before reading Son, I did not re-read the others--but now I wish I had (and now have them both sitting on my bedside table).  While Son can be read and understood without have read these others, it is definitely enriched by their stories, and only together do they tell the whole story.

Son tells the story of Claire, who was Gabe's Birthmother.  Of course, in the society of The Giver, Birthmothers are never allowed to view (or have any kind of contact with) their Products.  But something goes wrong during Claire's delivery, and she is reassigned to a new career following her recovery.  During her dismissal as Birthmother, Claire learns her Product's number.  And even as she begins her new career, she feels something completely alien to her world blooming inside her: love.  It's not until later that she realizes that she is only capable of this emotion because in her reassignment, someone made an error and did not give her a prescription for the pills that stunt all emotions.

Fueled by this love, Claire finds ways to meet and interact with her Product--who turns out to be Gabe, the Newchild who is Nurtured by Jonas's father in The Giver.  When Jonas escapes the society, taking Gabe with him, Claire tries to follow, determined to be united with her son.  She quickly meets with a seafaring accident, though, and ends up in a community vastly different than the one she fled.

Son is divided into three parts, and each is essentially its own story.  In the first part ("Before"), Claire births her Product and watches the first year of his life from afar.  In the second part ("Between"), Claire is rescued from the sea by the people of a rural village.  She has lost her memory, and she seems to have never had any knowledge of things like colors, animals, or weather.  She slowly remembers her past and again becomes singleminded in her quest to find her son.  The only way out of the village is to scale an immense cliff wall, and she spends years training for the task.  In the third part ("Beyond"), Claire is transformed by a deal she strikes with the force of evil known only as Trademaster.  She finds her son, but only at a great price, and her identity remains unknown to Gabe.  This section tells of the society where Jonas once served as Leader (in The Messenger) and of Gabe's own quest.  Each section is beautifully written, and the complete work is a wonderful work of love, determination, and hope.

In short, you need to read this book.  If I haven't convinced you yet, check out these links:
* a review from The New York Times
* a Goodreads interview with Lois Lowry
* an interview in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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