Warning– this review contains spoilers, not just for Son, but also for The Giver. If you have not read The Giver, get thee to a bookstore or library NOW!
The Giver lives in my permanent top ten. It is a little slice of literary perfection. The ending, which may be too ambigious or open-ended for some, is an excellent example of how the end of a book should blow the world open for the characters, not tie everything together neatly. So I wasn’t craving a sequel (or ‘conclusion’ according to the book copy*). That being said, I think Lois Lowry is a master at her craft and will read anything she writes.
Son opens with a captivating scene of a girl, referred to by her watchers as a Vessel, being blindfolded before ‘the process’ begins. The process is birth and the girl is Claire, a first-time Birthmother. She has been told little about ‘the process,’ but becomes even more confused as things get complicated and ‘the product’ (the baby) has to be surgically removed. After the process Claire is reassigned, but she can’t stop thinking about her baby. She finds a way into the Nurturing Centre, where all the babies are kept until ready to be assigned to family units. Claire finds her child and from that moment forward her live changes.
Her child, of course, is Gabe, the baby who comes to live with Jonas’ family in The Giver.
The book is divided into three distinct parts. Part one happens simultaneously as The Giver, only we are experiencing the story through the very limited and unaware perspective of Gabe’s mother, Claire. Part two takes place in another community, where Claire struggles to regain both memory and strength before she is able to continue to search for her son. Part three takes place some years later in a third community that has achieved relative peace, with the exception of a dark force known as The Tradesman who stands between Claire and her son.
Each section felt like a complete novella. The middle section reminded me of classic historical fiction that takes place in fishing villages or small hunter-gather communities. It is here we meet my favourite character, Einar. He is the strong, silent type, crippled from a meeting with The Tradesman (a truly horrific and frightening creature). Einar is a gentle soul who trains Claire for her dangerous climb out of the village. Their love story is unusual and unrequited and beautifully rendered.
Like many other final books in series, Son dips into philosophical waters and Lowry makes eloquent statements about desire versus love, service versus sacrifice, and destiny. This often divides readers. Some people get caught up in the concept, story, and world-building of the first book in a series and are unsettled when the final book rocks the boat in terms of spirituality or social commentary. (Think of The Amber Spyglass, Mockingjay, and to some extent, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows). Fortunately, Lowry’s great strength is her subtlety. The book is simultaneously sophisticated and accessible. Like a well-written fable, it appeals to all readers, regardless of age, though I do think some of the themes will resonate more deeply with readers who have read the previous books in the series and are in that 11+ range. The whole book is a great display of craftsmanship, but some paragraphs (the final one in particular) moved me to tears. Her language is full-bodied: rounded, sharp, salty. I would love to have this book read aloud to me.
Son will be available in hard cover from Thomas Allen publishers in Canada on October 2nd 2012.
*Though it is not necessary to read these books in order (The Giver, Gathering Blue, The Messenger, Son), I do strongly recommend it. When characters like Kira and Matty pop up, knowing their histories add so much more depth to the novel. Those moments are little gifts to the reader, something you don’t want to miss out on.