Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: October 2012
Audience: Ages 10 and up
Summary: Son begins in the same controlled community and at the same time as The Giver. Twelve-year old Claire has been assigned to the role of birthmother. This means that at about age fourteen she will be artificially inseminated and officially designated a Vessel. Her baby will be called a Product and she will never see it, know its sex or its name. Claire has discussed this with the other birthmothers in her dormitory so she has some idea of what to expect. But the delivery does not go as planned; a C-section is required; Claire cannot have another child. She is soon sent to work in the fish hatchery but not before she learns that she had a male child and his number is 36. Working at the fish hatchery gives her the opportunity to visit her son, to play with him, to love him without ever being identified as his mother. She learns that he is scheduled for release and then, that he has been kidnapped by Jonas and taken from the community. Claire makes her escape simultaneously by a river barge. With a gap of time and memory, Claire is washed up on the shore of a village, bounded by the treacherous sea and an insurmountable cliff.. Here she remains for seven years, regaining her strength and her memory, and determining still to find her son. Lame Einar, one person who reached the top of the cliff, helps her prepare for the grueling climb out and warns her that at the top awaits Trademaster, who cut off Einar’s feet because he refused to make a trade. An arduous, dangerous climb brings Claire to the top of the cliff where Trademaster awaits her. To find her son, she must trade him her youth, and she does so with no hesitation. Then as an old woman she watches her son, Gabriel, grow. No one knows who she is until she is near death and tells her story to Jonas, the community leader who brought Gabriel there over 14 years ago. Jonas knows the nature of Trademaster and sends Gabriel to confront him for Claire is near death. Gabriel goes without weapons, with only his gift, the ability to enter another person’s mind and emotion and understand how the other feels.
Literary elements at work in the story: While the novel begins in a dystopian community, it enters a wider world and becomes a struggle between good and evil, a timeless battle that transcends the genre. Claire’s physical preparation for the trip and the climb up the cliff match the ordeals of any dystopian heroine.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? In the original community, giving birth is a low status role. There is a consciousness of which jobs are prestigious. The village where Claire is washed ashore makes some distinction in gender roles. It is a poor village, somewhat primitive, with no social classes.. Though the quartet is futuristic, beyond the first section of the novel, this could well be Europe in the dark ages. . In the village where Claire finds her son, outsiders are welcomed, handicaps are accepted.
Theological Conversation Partners: At least four themes run through this novel: the first is the power of love and empathy; the second is the power and nature of evil; the third is individual gifts and their use in the community; and the fourth, the power of story and memory. There is a tendency to idealize Mother Love; Jesus has words to say about familial love that conflicts with the demands of his Kingdom. This story, however, is about parental love that will not let go. Evil is considered a force rather than a person. Gabe’s realization that Evil will starve without the misery of its victims is reminiscent of Screwtape waiting to devour Wormwood. The weapons used to fight evil are a firm resolve not to kill, the ability to identify with and experience Evil. Gifts are given for the benefit of the community and they disappear when no longer needed.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Would this story work as well if a father were searching for his son? Why or why not?
- How does Claire’s community guarantee that mother’s will not bond with their infants? Why is this desirable?
- Claire is consumed by the desire to find her son; no sacrifice is too great. Can the love of a parent for a child be selfish or unhealthy?
- How many aspects of unselfish love are exhibited in the story?
- Gabe has the gift of “veering.” How does this enable him to know that he had a mother?
- Why did Claire wait so long to tell her story to Jonas? What happens when she does?
- What is Gabe’s first weapon in going to meet Trademaster?
- How does Gabe’s gift of veering enable him to defeat Trademaster? What is the cost of this identification with Evil?
- Trademaster is considered to be a force rather than a person. Does this square with the biblical view of evil?
- In the Apostle’s Creed we say, “He descended into Hell.” Think about Gabe’s experience of identifying with Trademaster. What light does it shed on this phrase?
This review was written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.
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