Lois Lowry recently gave fans some insight into her latest novel, Son (2012)—it came about because the ending of her Newbery-winning, The Giver (1993, both Houghton), left too many unanswered questions.
Speaking at New York’s 92YTribeca on October 3, Lowry said her readers often asked whether Jonas, the 12-year-old protagonist in The Giver, ever saved Gabriel, the baby he attempts to rescue as he flees his community. The novel is about Jonas’s disillusionment with his utopian world and his struggles with its hypocrisy.
Although Lowry briefly alludes to Gabriel still being alive in her third book, Messenger (Houghton, 2004), the idea for Son was born when she decided to describe what became of him as he grew up. Then, during the writing process, she “became diverted by [her] own imagination and created a whole new character who became the center of the fourth book.”
Speaking with interviewers Anna Holmes, founder of the popular website Jezebel.com, and Lizzie Skurnick, author of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, and a columnist for Jezebel.com’s Fine Lines, Lowry explored the stories behind some of her best known titles, her fans’ reactions to The Giver, as well as book banning and censorship.
Lowry, who will talk about Son at a free SLJ webcast November 7, discussed some of the personal connections and the stories behind her well-known works. The image on the cover of The Giver, for example, is a photograph she took in 1977 of the painter Carl Nelson while she was writing a magazine article about him. Lowry later discovered that Nelson was blind during the last five years of his life, but used his memory of vibrant flowers and colors to continue enjoying to paint. Lowry compared Nelson to the title character of The Giver, an old man who holds the memories of the true pain and pleasures of life despite living in a rigid, circumscribed world.
Lowry also told the backstory of her Newbery-award winning novel Number the Stars (Houghton, 1989). Set in 1943 during the German Occupation of Denmark, the book centers around a young girl whose family is involved with the rescue of Danish Jews. After discovering that a close friend lived in Denmark during World War II and learning about how Danes involved with the Resistance were able to save almost all Danish Jews from concentration camps, Lowry was inspired to write the novel to share this courageous story with others.
In light of Banned Books Week, Lowry addressed censorship. Lowry is familiar with the issue because The Giver has often been challenged due to themes of euthanasia and suicide. She believes that calls for book removals are often rooted in good intentions. Much like the inhabitants of the safe, controlled society in The Giver, concerned parents just want to protect their children, she explains. However, according to Lowry, books are the best way to expose children to new and potentially frightening ideas.