Last week, I reviewed the first three books in Lois Lowry’s Giver quartet. Today, I’m turning to book four, the recently-released Son. Lowry does a wonderful job bringing together threads from all three of the previous books, and giving us a final conclusion.
This last book takes us back to the beginning of The Giver, and we see familiar events play out from a new point of view. Jonas’ story in The Giver also involves Gabe, a baby boy whose future is in grave danger due to his “failure to thrive.” In Jonas’ restrictive community, there’s no place for anyone who doesn’t perfectly fit the standards.
Son shifts the point of view to Claire, a girl who has been selected to be a Birthmother. This is an assigned job like any other, and not an honored one. Girls who are selected as Birthmothers spend a few years in the role, giving birth to three Products, and then going on to low-level labor for the rest of their lives. Something goes wrong with Claire’s delivery, and she is shunted into a new role at the fish hatchery. But she can’t stop thinking about her Product–her son. Claire finds her way to the Nurturing center, and there she meets Jonas’ father, who is caring for her son, Gabe.
I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers, but I don’t think I can at this point–at the end of The Giver, Jonas escapes the community and takes Gabe with him. In Son, Claire is devastated by this, and sets out on a desperate search to find her son. She ends up in a shipwreck, washing ashore in a small, isolated village with no memories. When her memories return, she resumes her quest, sacrificing everything to find Gabe.
It’s fascinating to go back to Jonas’ community, and to see it through Claire’s eyes. I did spot a few inconsistencies, but considering the books were written 18 years apart, I’m impressed by how well Lowry did with the return. The Giver showed us the community through the eyes of a twelve-year-old, while Son is from the perspective of independent young adults. We learn more about life in the community, and there are extra details that add to what was already a brilliantly-painted picture. There were comforting notes–I was relieved to see Jonas’ father expressing more concern over Gabe. There were horrifying notes–we find out even more just how little bond there is between family members.
In some ways, Claire seemed a little too aware. Part of the brilliance of Jonas’ character was that he simply didn’t know anything different, down to the level of not having the vocabulary to explain things he’s feeling. Claire at times thinks about things that I don’t feel like she should even be aware of. There’s some explanation for why Claire is different from the others around her, so mostly I believe it…but it was just a tiny bit off at times.
Son gives us a fourth community when Claire washes ashore. This one felt like a medieval fishing village, maybe in Scotland or Ireland. The community is close-knit and kind, for the most part. They do turn judgmental when it becomes known that unmarried-Claire had given birth to a son. Which is rather ironic, considering. It didn’t occur to me reading The Giver, but the community has basically made an institution out of virgin birth–all the Birthmothers are impregnated using science.
One of my favorite characters in the book is in the fishing village–and it’s annoying me to no end that I can’t remember his name! I already sent the book back to the library, and Google is not helping me here. I’m bad at character names, so anyone out there want to help me out? He has his own horrible past, and his attempt to climb out of the cliffs surrounding the village has left him crippled–but given him the knowledge to become Claire’s mentor as she continues her own quest. I’m a big fan of gruff, antisocial characters who turn out to have unexpected depth and hearts of gold. That part of the story is ultimately very bittersweet.
I don’t want to give too much away, but the story does take us eventually to the village from Messenger, where we get to see Jonas, Kira and Gabe, as well as the return of an old villain. The one thing in this book that makes me happiest may be a relatively small plot thread that confirms happy endings for Jonas and Kira. Messenger gives us some hints, and it’s so nice to have a definite conclusion! I usually hate ambiguous endings in books.
I won’t tell you the end of Claire’s story, of course, but I just want to comment that she does undergo incredible struggles. As heartbreaking as it often is, it feels right somehow too–the world is so thoroughly messed up, I wouldn’t have believed that it could be easily solved.
The first three books have a definite theme around the things that can dehumanize us. I think Son is about keeping your humanity in the face of those threats. Claire loves her son despite living in a society that barely understands the word; the people in the fishing village care for one another despite their relative poverty; and certain characters manage to resist greed in favor of things that are more important.
Thematically and plotwise, Son is an immensely satisfying conclusion. Before I read it, I wondered if it would really be the end–after all, Messenger was supposed to be the end too. But Son feels much more like The End. The one plot thread that didn’t feel resolved relates back to Jonas’ community. There are hints that things changed drastically after Jonas (and Claire) left, but we don’t find out details. I could imagine a fifth book relating to those event, but it would be much more removed from the others in the series.
Barring that, I think we can pretty safely put the end onto the story. So if I find a nice set of four, I’m buying it!
Author’s Site: http://loislowry.com/
Buy it here: Son by Lois Lowry