I wrote this around 1:00am after finishing the YA novel Son by Lois Lowry. Yet another case of “writing to think” getting a little out of hand… let’s call it a tribute to a story that has stuck with me for quite a long time.
Warning: I tried not to say anything too spoilery, but something you didn’t want to know might have slipped in somewhere!
I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about Son. It’s an excellent novel. There are things I love about it and things I don’t. But it’s hard to be sure what I think because it’s tied up in how I feel about The Giver, and those feelings have had 15 years to develop.
Few books have impacted me like The Giver. I don’t think I’d ever read science fiction before that year, so there were plenty of things that amazed me and creeped me out, and I’ve been obsessed with dystopian literature ever since. I’m pretty sure Jonas was my first book character crush. I love Jonas and Gabe, and I’ve had 15 years to wonder what happened to them. You’d be surprised how often I’ve wondered.
In her Newbery Award acceptance speech for The Giver, Lois Lowry told her audience, “Those of you who hoped that I would stand here tonight and reveal the ‘true’ ending, the ‘right’ interpretation of the ending, will be disappointed. There isn’t one. There’s a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, our own hopes.” She went on to share a few different interpretations from kids who wrote to her, and commented on how real each version was to each reader. Even as a kid, I thought that was fascinating – we all come away with our own stories.
In seventh grade we read The Giver again and did an assignment where we wrote the next chapter (an assignment I later stole when I did The Giver during student teaching – the only whole-class-novel unit I’ve ever taught). I think it was the only fiction I wrote between elementary school and NaNo 2010, and I distinctly remember being both embarrassed and pleased by my dramatic chapter.
I remember loving Gathering Blue because in a sense it was more of the same – Lowry’s amazing writing, teen with a gift, dystopian society – but it was also its own unique world. There’s a brief mention of someone who might be Jonas, which was fun but didn’t necessarily change my reality of The Giver.
But Messenger derailed all that. Worlds collided and we were told, definitively, what happened to Jonas. To me, it felt cheap. Maybe because I read the other two as a kid and read Messenger as an adult, or maybe because I was genuinely disappointed – Lowry made this big deal of not revealing her truth about Jonas and Gabe, then turned around and revealed it anyway. I think Messenger, overall, is the weakest of the series, and I haven’t bothered to re-read it like I did the first two books. There were other things I hated about it, but that’s not really important at the moment.
And now I’ve read Son. I was nervous, because it’s about the girl who “produced” Gabe, and I knew it might further challenge my 15-years-in-the-making assumptions about what happened after The Giver ended. The book is split into three parts, and the parts actually mirror the rest of the series rather well. Book I takes place in the community from The Giver, paralleling those events from a different perspective, and it is awesome. I loved seeing things from another point of view, especially the insights it gave into Jonas’ father – I found him much more sympathetic in this book and much less creepily detached. Wonderfully, though, it made his detachment in The Giver even more interesting, rather than taking away from its impact.
Book II introduces an entirely new community. I was a bit disappointed not to see all the ramifications of Jonas leaving in the first book, but the new society was engaging enough and unique enough that I didn’t mind. It struck me as more rustic, just as the society in Gathering Blue did, and it was enjoyable to read about even if it didn’t fascinate me the way the first community did.
Book III brings us full circle, to the community from Messenger, and of course as someone disappointed in Messenger I couldn’t help being disappointed again. I don’t like the “outside forces” they have to deal with – dystopian literature is great because it’s usually based on the choices humans make, and feels real. I don’t like the neatly-tied-together lives and relationships of characters from past books, even though yeah, I guess I shipped it.
Writing this, I realize that yes, overall I loved Son. How could I not? (Well, I guess I could have hated it – look at poor Messenger). What I didn’t love was having my own reality – the 15 years of life Jonas and Gabe have been living in my mind – stripped away from me with the canon version of events. I love Jonas and Gabe, and I loved the vast, unknown possibilities of their lives after The Giver. It’s more real to think of them out in the world, but out of reach, than it is to see “what really happened.” I don’t want neat coincidences that tie the books together. I want them to be out there living their lives, whether I get to see how they turned out or not, just like anyone else I knew when I was younger.