Nineteen years after she introduced the world to the uniform, pill-controlled society of “The Giver,” children’s author Lois Lowry has returned to a land devoid of color and emotion to explain the story behind the infant saved in the original book.
In “Son,” released Tuesday, Lowry tells the story of the 14-year-old girl drafted to become the birth mother of the rescued infant. The book finally addresses questions raised by the ambiguous ending of “The Giver,” which earned Lowry her second Newberry Medal for distinguished children’s literature.
“I discovered most readers were frustrated by the ambiguity of that ending. I would have loved it as a kid myself, to inflict my own imagination on to the story, but that’s not how most people felt,” she told TODAY.com.
Although Lowry felt no pressure from herself or her publisher to write a sequel, she got the same recurring questions from readers wondering, “what happened to the baby?”
“Son” answers that question by telling the story of a new character, Claire, and her journey to find her lost child.
“The Giver” has become a right of passage for most middle school children. The book is commonly required reading at many schools, despite its placement on banned booklists tracked by the American Library Association.
The novel, which has sold 10 million copies worldwide, yielded a huge fan base for Lowry, who was already a well-established author of children’s books when it was first published in 1993.
Molly Davis, 22, remembers reading the “The Giver” as a child after finding the book at her grade school library.
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“It was so different. I had never read any writing style like it. … It was futuristic, and I normally don’t like books like that,” said Davis, now a nursing student at the University of Memphis.
She said she remembers how the book’s ending surprised her.
“It really caught me off guard, but I thought it suited the book. The whole thing was based on your interpretations, just like the rest of the book.”
The novel’s futuristic totalitarian society is credited for starting a genre that eventually set off blockbuster franchises including “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” books.
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Lowry said the book is set in the future but only because of necessity. “I was focusing on human memory and how it serves us and how it could be controlled,” she said. “And because of those factors, it had had to be set in a future time.”
But Lowry didn’t set out to create a new genre.
“I certainly didn’t expect that my book would be held up as the first YA (young adult) dystopian book, as it has been called,” she said.
Lowry sees a stark difference between her “Giver” books and the recent string of post-apocalyptic tales that boast a faster pace and are filled with violence.
“Perhaps that’s why ‘The Giver’ has hung around for so long and has been popular with teachers, because it’s introspective and it encourages thought on the part of the readers,” she said. “Some of those others, I don’t think they lend themselves to the same discussion and thought.”
They do lend themselves to entertainment, however, which is why they already have been made into big-screen films, a point that's not lost on Lowry. “[That's] why my book has rattled around for years and years, because they can’t figure out how to turn it into a movie,” she said with a laugh.
Although Lowry wrote two additional books considered follow-ups to “The Giver,” those stories mainly served as companion pieces to the novel, telling instead the tales of side characters who lived in the same dystopian world where everything down to the weather is controlled. Pills are used to suppress feelings, marriages are arranged, and family units can apply for children born to “birth mothers.”
Those two books – “Gathering Blue” released in 2000 and “Messenger” in 2004 – formed a loose trilogy with “The Giver.” “Son,” however, is the first direct sequel, addressing what happened to baby Gabriel after his 12-year-old caretaker, Jonas, escaped with him from their seemingly utopian society.
Lowry makes it clear this will be the final book in the series, and compares her characters to her four grown children.
“When they become adults and lead their adult lives, you miss having them around,” she said. “It’s the same with book characters. You know they’re fictional but you feel as they’re real. You’ve lived with them for a long time, but you do miss them and think about them like people you know.”
But in the end, you know when it’s time for them to leave the nest.
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