OPLIN, Mo. — About a month ago, I wrote a review on “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. In the review, I mentioned the book was the first installment in a tetrology, although now I have learned the series is being referred to as a quartet. The fourth book, “Son,” was released just after my review.
Since that time, I have read “Son.” While I am not sorry I read it, I am still a bit ambivalent about whether I liked it.
“Son” begins in the same time period and same place as the first book in the series. It is narrated through the eyes of Claire. While Jonas, the main character in “The Giver,” was given the job of Receiver, Claire has been named a Birthmother.
Birthmother, or Vessel once a girl is pregnant, is not a prestigious occupation. It is reserved for girls who have not done well at school. They merely serve as breeding stock.
Claire becomes a Vessel, and at age 14 is ready to give birth. She has not been prepared for the labor and delivery process. After all, she is only a Vessel, ready to bring forth a Product.
As her labor progresses, an eyeless leather mask is buckled around the upper half of her face. It would not do to have her see the Product.
Claire’s labor and delivery do not progress as planned, and she ends up having a C-section, with no explanations or preparation. Here’s an excerpt from the book: “The Product was what they had carved out of her. And she missed it. She was suffused with a desperate feeling of loss.”
After a Product is delivered, he or she is not given a name — only a number indicating the order in which they were born in their birth year. Names are not given until the Product is placed in a family unit for training.
Somehow, Claire learns her baby’s number. She manages to visit her baby at the nurturing center, but the facility’s workers do not know that Claire knows one of the infants is hers, or that she knows his number. She manages to bond and care deeply for him.
This is where, to me, the book loses some of its continuity and appeal: Baby 36 is eventually slated for release (i.e. death) because he is a difficult child. In a parallel story line, “The Giver” tells of how Jonas steals the baby away and leaves the community, although that is not the primary impetus for him leaving the community. Part two of “Son” tells how Claire leaves the community to find her baby.
I don’t like how Lowry accomplishes this. Somehow Claire runs from the community and is involved in a shipwreck, from which she is rescued. Amnesia all too conveniently takes care of the transition.
Part three deals with whether Claire succeeds in her task or not. The book becomes a story of good versus evil and wraps up other unanswered questions from the first three books. Readers will discover what has happened with characters in the first three books.
While Lowry allows us to see into the lives of those we have come to care about throughout this quartet of books, she leaves the ending open enough for us to imagine, dream and create our own ending to the story. Of course, me being a happily-ever-after sort of reader, I created the perfect ending.
I highly recommend the first three books in the “Giver” series. If you read those, you will want to read “Son” as well. I didn’t care for it as much as the others. Joplin Public Library has “Son” in both print and audio versions.