April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Lois Lowry Speaks: How Readers’ Concern for Characters in “The Giver” Turned One Book into a Series of Four

Lois Lowry’s dystopian 1993 classic, The Giver (Houghton Mifflin), ended with an excruciating cliffhanger: the novel’s protagonist, Jonas, is fleeing from his repressive community with a baby he has saved from being euthanized. Did they live? Did they die? Readers wanted to know.

In a live School Library Journal webcast, Lowry, a two-time Newbery-Medal winner and author of nearly 40 novels, recalled how her young readers were hungering for more closure. “From the letters I got, I realized kids didn’t like that open ending,” Lowry said during the November 7 event, Lois Lowry LIVE!, hosted by the Maurice J. Tobin K–8 School in Massachusetts. Horn Book editor in chief Roger Sutton moderated the talk and described The Giver as having “the most famous open ending in children’s book history.”

Lowry recalled, “I would write back and say, ‘You have to use your imagination,’ and they didn’t like that.”

Six years later, while writing Gathering Blue (Houghton Mifflin, 2000), it occurred to Lowry that she “could answer the questions students had been asking” about Jonas and Gabriel. She hadn’t intended Gathering Blue as a sequel to The Giver, though the books took place in the same dystopian world. Lowry left a hint in Gathering Blue to reassure readers of The Giver that the boys were all right.

After she completed Gathering Blue, Lowry couldn’t get one of the characters, Matt, out of her head. She decided to write another novel focusing on him.

That book, Messenger (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) also featured Jonas, with brief references to Gabriel. Readers continued writing to Lowry, expressing their concern for the baby. “I had a little form reply that said, ‘Go back and read page 17 of Messenger,’ but that was not enough for those readers,” Lowry said.

Lowry began writing Son (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) with the intent of focusing on Gabriel. However, the character-driven author realized that she was also interested in Gabriel’s mother, Claire, an adolescent character given the job of “birth mother” in The Giver.

In addition to bringing together the fates of the characters in the previous three novels, Son was an opportunity for Lowry to reflect on her own experience of childbirth, motherhood and career. “I had four children one after another, and I liked having those babies, but I had other things to do, too,” she told the audience.

Lowry also said that she doesn’t try to write books with moral messages. “When you finish the book or the story, if you’ve learned something, then that comes from you. It doesn’t come from me.”

However, Lowry believes that “The Giver Quartet” conveys that political power “can be misused,” and that “we must be very careful about who we choose to be our leaders.”

Lowry’s talk was sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and School Library Journal and will be archived for on-demand viewing.

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  1. No. Way. I had always wondered what happened after The Giver. I had no idea she wrote sequels! Very cool. I find there are some books where you can be content imagining what happens next, and some where that is completely unsatisfying.