Book: Son by Lois Lowry (2012)
Age/Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Content Notes: Forced Pregnancy, Labor Complications, Parental/Child Separation, Sexism
Remember when I said that I’d love to see a book about the birthmothers from The Giver? Well, Lois Lowry reads our blog, thought it was a good idea, and time traveled back to 2012 to publish it.
Okay, so from now on, when I make literary wishes, I should do a quick check to see if what I want already exists.
The blurb on the back of my copy of Son is intense. It starts:
“When the young girl washed up on their shore, no one knew she had been a Vessel. That she had carried a Product. That it had been carved from her belly. Stolen.”
Woah, now! Is this all the harsh critique of society’s treatment of women as breeders that I’ve always wanted? Well, maybe not all of the critique (Could there even be enough?), but I will say, Son managed to surprise me several times, while still cohesively wrapping up The Giver Quartet.
Son is broken up into three parts. The first part takes us back to the community of The Giver, a couple of years before the events of The Giver. We meet Claire, who was assigned the role of Birthmother at the age of 12. She undergoes some basic schooling and preparation, and then is inseminated. She lives in a strictly monitored compound with other Birthmothers, all of whom are expected to carry out three pregnancies and then be assigned a general unskilled labor position within the Community.
Claire’s labor is oppressive and shudder-inducing. She is never informed of what is happening, just tied to a table and blindfolded. She ends up needing to have surgical intervention, which she was never told of, and doesn’t quite grasp as it’s happening. Afterward, Claire is told that she is being released from her Birthmother contract and will be assigned to work at the fish hatchery. Claire finds the work easy but unfulfilling, and spends her time pining after the child she gave birth to.
The first third of the book spans several years alongside the events of The Giver. We see several familiar scenes from a different angle. We are also given more context, through the eyes of Claire, about the mood suppression pills that people are required to take. Claire, because of a series of coincidences, has never taken the mood suppression pills and offers a different perspective from what we see in The Giver.
At the end of part one, Claire gets on a boat to leave the Community after she finds out her son has been taken away. In part two, she washes up on the shore of a remote community, where a wise old healing woman takes her in and teaches her herbalism. I think every reproductive dystopia I’ve read has this character, and I’m totally here for it. Claire finds out that she can leave the remote village by climbing a treacherous slope that separates it from the outside world. She physically trains for several years, aided by a village man who made it to the top, but was sent tumbling back down, resulting in a lifelong leg injury.
The third part of the book has Claire finding and living in the village, (referred to as Village in Messenger, but not in Son) where many characters from previous books in the series have landed, looking for her son. We also get some more explanation of the evil force in Messenger, as well as closure for several characters. This part was the least predictable, as pretty much every way I had imagined things concluding was thrown for some sort of loop. All the twists make sense, and the ending, though somewhat more definitive than the other novels in the series, still leaves a ton of room for speculation and examination of your own imagination and how you think things would go.
I tried really hard to avoid spoilers in that synopsis, because I truly recommend you read the entire series. I was able to find used copies online (shop independent if you can!) for only a couple dollars apiece.
I thought the structure of Son was both clean and interesting. The book spans about 20 years, and is split into three relatively equal parts. I enjoyed the pacing. The clear structure had me thinking I knew where certain plotlines were going, only for Lowry to swerve into less predictable, more potent conclusions. The reproductive dystopia part is mainly in the first third, when Claire still lives in the Community where the conditions of her labor are fostered, though we see how Claire’s experiences stay with her for the rest of her life.
Son is a strong conclusion to The Giver Quartet, bringing together many primary and secondary characters and locations, while also growing the world we’ve been introduced to. We see more about people’s “powers,” as well as details about the social life in the village where people seek refuge. There’s a bit more clear-cut “good” and “evil” stuff in the wrap-up than in the previous books, but like I said, it still manages to stay open-ended. Though there are lots of minor changes throughout the books, like Son not having the same use of proper titles for everything that Messenger did, the world is consistent.
As a YA series, I think this is a great introduction to dystopian fiction, showing how people of different backgrounds, abilities, and experiences are affected by systemic structures. In The Giver, Jonas’s Community is overly regulated. In Kira’s village in Gathering Blue, people are relatively free, but we see authorities abusing their power. In Messenger, we see how even communities built with good intentions can be infiltrated by evil intent. In Son, we revisit two previous communities and also see them contrasted with a remote, “live off the land” type of community. All of these different societies have their own prejudices and other flaws, as well as benefits. They also have parallels to societies in our own history, so a lot of connections can be drawn and beliefs can be examined.
While I’m done with this series, I still have several Lois Lowry books I have yet to read, so you’ll be seeing more reviews of her work in the future. But for now, I’m switching gears a bit. Next up, Bethany and I are reviewing a period romance!