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Blackwood: Gwenda Bond

Son: Lois Lowry

Book: Son
Author: Lois Lowry
Pages: 400
Age Range: 12 and up 

Son is the fourth and final book in Lois Lowry's Giver Quartet. With Son, Lowry ties back in to the prior three books in the loosely connected series, and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion. It's impossible to review Son without discussing the other books. So, if you have somehow missed reading The Giver, please go and read it now. This review will be here when you come back.

I consider The Giver to be essential reading for teens and adults. I won't say that The Giver, winner of the 1994 Newbery medal, launched today's dystopia craze, but it certainly contributed to my early interest in the genre. And it remains one of the most fascinating, well-written portrayals of bleak dystopia one could imagine. 

The next two books in the series, Gathering Blue and Messenger, are both good, but not as groundbreaking as The Giver. They aren't sequels, exactly (particularly not Gathering Blue), but rather books that are set in the same world (though not the same community) as The Giver, with two key intersecting characters. Messenger shows readers what happened next to Jonas and Gabriel, resolving the ambiguous ending of The Giver (for good or ill - many people liked that ending to be ambiguous).

With Son, Lowry goes back to Jonas and Gabe's original community from The Giver, introducing a new character, Claire. Claire is a "Birthmother", a low-status position dedicated to birthing "Product", as the babies are called (prior to being distributed to carefully screened adoptive parents). Something goes wrong during the birth of 14-year-old Claire's first baby, a son, and she is removed from her position, sent to work at the fish hatchery. Through an oversight, however, Claire is not put back on the pills that keep everyone in her community compliant and unfeeling. And Claire discovers within herself a powerful love for her son. Son is about Claire's quest to know (and eventually to find) her son. 

As a mother, I found Claire's situation deeply moving. She loves her child, and doesn't understand why this isn't allowed, and why no one else in the community feels the same way. I doubt that the average teen reader will relate in quite the same way, but honestly, that's ok. It was almost too painful for me. (Has anyone watched Tangled? Spouse and I spent the entire movie going "but her poor parents!?) But unquestionably, Son is a powerful book, as unforgettable in its own way as The Giver. Here's an example:

"She would not let them take that from her, that feeling. If someone in authority noticed the error, if they delivered a supply of pills to her, she thought defiantly, she would pretend. She would cheat. But she would never, under any circumstances, stifle the feelings she had discovered. She would die, Claire realized, before she would give up the love she felt for her son." (Page 116)

I ended up pausing mid-Son to re-read the ending of The Giver, and all of Messenger, and I'm glad that I did. The stories overlap in time, and I found it fascinating to see, in some cases, the same event perceived by different people. Son gives a different view of the community from The Giver. Jonas was set aside by his position as the Receiver. Claire is more ordinary. They experience different things. Here are a couple of glimpses of the community:

"Birthmothers did not leave their quarters during their years of production. Claire had never seen a Vessel until she became one. She had not known, until she had both experienced and observed it, that human females swelled and grew and reproduced. No one had told her what "birth" meant." (Page 28)

""Well, we don't have mammals anymore, because a healthy diet didn't include mammal, and they detracted from the efficiency of the community. But in other areas there are wild creatures of all sorts. And even here, people once had things they called pets."" (Page 55)

A new community, and new characters, are also introduced in Son. Although Lowry wraps up the stories of a number of characters from the series with Son, she still leaves some questions unanswered. How did Jonas and Claire's original community end up so different from the others in their world? (Fascinating to watch Claire go to live elsewhere, and experience animals, and colors, for the first time.) Is their world some sort of post-apocalypse version of ours, or some other planet? How are the people who have "gifts", like Jonas, connected? The book doesn't feel unfinished with these questions left unanswered. They just leave the reader with things on which to ruminate further. And that's a plus. 

Son is the must-read conclusion to Lois Lowry's Giver quartet. I found it to be a stronger book than Gathering Blue or Messenger, a fitting companion to The Giver itself. Claire is a deeply sympathetic character, one who suffers mightily for the love of her child. Despite this adult-relatable theme, there is still plenty of suspense in Son for teens, including a shipwreck, a dangerous journey up a cliff face, and a confrontation with evil itself. I suppose technically one could read Son on its own - enough backstory is provided for it to make sense - but that would be a mistake. Instead, I recommend sitting back down with the prior books in this series first, and then taking your time to savor Son. While I was pleased with the resolution of the story, I'm a bit sad to be closing the book on Jonas and Claire's world. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).