Friday, November 02, 2012

Book Review - Son

When I first read The Giver, I had no idea it was part of a series. I finally read Gathering Blue which was called a "companion book" rather than a sequel and I thought perhaps this "series" was only going to be loosely tied together. In the third book (Messenger), the series comes together more strongly by overlapping some characters and traits between the three books. The connect was still pretty loose but they were growing more related. With the fourth book, Lowry brings everything together to remove any doubt that all of these stories are happening at the same time in the same world.

Son begins in the same city as The Giver and follows the story of a young girl named Claire. She lived in the town at the same time as Jonas (the boy from Giver) but never really meets him. The book starts with a rather traumatic experience as we learn that Claire is a "birth mother" for the community. In this 'utopian' world, they have perfectly balanced science, interactions and behaviors to ensure optimal peace and tranquility for the inhabitants. As part of this, family units are prescribed through a very specific method. A young man and a young woman at some point in their life can apply for a spouse. Through arduous research, a Committee matches a pair of people together and they are now married. They can then later apply for a child. Each couple is allowed two children, one boy and one girl. Rather than having each couple deal with the uncertainty and potential trials of pregnancy, there are young girls selected to be birth mothers. These girls are artificially inseminated and then kept secluded and monitored until the baby is born at which point the baby is nurtured by another group until it is old enough to be given to one of the couples who applied for a child that year.

For Claire, childbirth is a difficult experience both because of the methods used to keep her from knowing her baby and from the actual labor she goes through. She ends up having an emergency C-section and is deemed unfit to be a birth mother any longer. She is sent back out into society and given a new job. But she is not content. She does not forget her experience and her son. She overheard a conversation during the delivery and knows his ID number. From there, she decides to seek him out. She doesn't have a plan for what to do once she finds him, but she is determined to find him, certain that knowing him will help fill the empty spot in her life.

As you should expect, Claire's quest to find her son isn't an easy one and doesn't go as planned. She does find him and interacts with him but she's not sure what to do next. Then one night, she is thrust into action and finds herself on a whole new adventure.

This book is divided into three separate sections, each labeled a "book." Each "book" takes place in a different city or community but Claire is present in each and there is a certain trial to be overcome in each. I'll end any synopsis here to avoid spoilers other than to say that Claire will be interacting with elements from each of the other books in the series.

I really enjoyed the vibrancy and structure of the storytelling in this book. I also loved the way the book was broken up into three smaller "books" each of which was nearly as stand-alone as the previous three books in the series (although if they were read individually, they would likely have been a little less fulfilling as they end even more abruptly than the other books and leave you needing more).

I loved revisiting the community from Giver and learning and experiencing more now that Lowry has had almost 2 decades to ponder the original. There were a lot of very unique elements and thoughts. I loved the way Claire turns things over in her mind to try and analyze them and by doing this she presents the reader with a lot of questions about how a society should work and what might make a society better or worse and in what ways.

The second "book" in Son was the one most separated from the overall series as it happens in a new town and with new characters not present elsewhere. These characters and this setting seem to be the happiest and most well balanced of the communities we encounter although they certainly aren't as technologically, socially or educationally advanced as the other communities. This felt somewhat like a commentary on what makes for a happy and "good" society. It's not necessarily the best technology or the best education. Those things can help, but they can also corrupt.

The third "book" in Son takes us to a stunning climax that dives into the heart of the world introduced in Gathering Blue and fleshed out in Messenger. It appears that Claire may get what she wants but has to sacrifice nearly everything to do so and really doesn't even get to enjoy her reward.

What I found was very interesting about this final "book" is that it turned away from a commentary on the community per se and presented a somewhat supernatural antagonist. This felt a little strange to me. The first two books in the series were quite clearly in the "man versus society" genre where it was evident that the corrupt antagonist was society or the community and not one specific person or force. In the third book of the series this was still somewhat true but became a little more nebulous. Rather than being "versus society", it was more "versus behavior" in that the problem was that people were becoming greedy and prideful and antagonistic. There was a single force on the periphery but he wasn't explored to much and we were still left with a somewhat allegorical or higher level conflict.

In Son, we start by refreshing our distaste for a community trying to do good but doing so by repressing emotion and free will. We see the contrast of a happy society with true freedom even though they have some petty arguments at time. But then we end in a place of supernatural intervention. I admit that the supernatural "being" is actually just a "human form" of another nebulous/high level concept so it can still be argued that the same methods and form hold true. But by personifying the antagonistic force in this way, it felt like Lowry made her overall statement a little less forceful.

At the same time, having a physical "human" form to battle against made for a more dramatic climax as well as ensuring that there was a way to truly "end" this story by overcoming a person rather than a thought.

I really enjoyed the way this series wrapped up. I loved the curious communities and people that were developed throughout this series. I especially loved the character development that happened in Son, both of Claire and of her child (who we get to know more closely later in the book). If you haven't read this series, I definitely recommend it. I must warn you that it isn't a "happy" story per se. Even the "happy endings" in the books come with a twinge of sorrow and loss. Still, they are insightful and wonderfully thought provoking. They are written for a younger audience but the themes are a little heavier so they're probably best for Middle Graders or thereabouts.

Have you read the Giver series? What did you think?

4.5 out of 5 stars

View all my reviews

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

oh man...ok you have sold me on continuing the series...will be looking for these...and rereading the giver...