Lowry began “Son” with a mind toward writing about teenage Gabriel, who is curious about his origins and itching to leave the peaceful refuge where he and Jonas ended up. But soon she was looking backward to the mother Gabriel left behind — Claire, never mentioned in “The Giver,” set as it was in a community where pregnancy is left to “birthmothers” whose children are given away unseen to stable, state-selected families. So Lowry set aside the Gabriel chapters (they later became the last third of the book) and concentrated on Claire’s story, the story of a young woman who has lost a son. “I wasn’t aware of it at the time,” she said in her sitting room, pointing to her own heart, “but when I was writing of her yearning to find her boy, that was coming out of my own yearning to have my own son back.”
If you’ve never had the privilege of hearing Lois Lowry talk, then take ten minutes to watch her appearance at the 2012 Book Expo America Children’s Book and Author Breakfast, where she discusses a letter with a question (“Why do people do such terrible things to each other? And how do we put an end to it?”) that her own son had written to her two decades ago when she was writing The Giver and how everything came full circle with the writing of Son.
Reading Son and meeting new characters, and familiar characters from the world of The Giver, is one unique experience. But it’s another experience entirely to read the book knowing about the author’s own loss that fueled the story.