This week marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, the “annual celebration of the freedom to read.” It also marks the publication of “Son,” the final book in Lois Lowry’s controversial quartet that began with modern classic, “The Giver.”
In 1993, Lowry’s “The Giver” first hit bookshelves across the country, both delighting readers and igniting debates. Set in a dystopian society where a boy named Jonah chooses to challenge and ultimately abandon his society after being given knowledge of past worlds, “The Giver” has appeared on the American Library Association’s Most Frequently Challenged Books list. But why try and censor this particular book? The opposition has found plenty of reasons: depictions of euthanasia and children dying, descriptions of puberty and early sexuality and, of course, a minor challenging his elders. But the response to the book was polarizing, and despite the criticism, Lowry won numerous awards for “The Giver,” among them her second Newbery Medal.
Now, in “Son,” Lowry revisits Jonah’s story as it intertwines with that of the mother of the boy that Jonah took with him when he left his fraught former world behind. We recently spoke with Lowry about why, after all this time, it was time to tell the story of the “Son,” and why censorship concerns her more than challenging themes.
Bookish: What made you decide to return to the world of “The Giver”?
Lois Lowry: I never saw it as a series, so each book took me by surprise and this one was not an exception to that. It was a response to the number of kids who asked me what happened to the baby who was in the very first book. For a long time, I referred them to the third book ["Messenger"] and would say, “Go back and re-read page 17.” There’s a brief mention of the child, Gabriel, but that wasn’t satisfying for them, and it made me begin to wonder about him. I sat down to write a book about Gabe in adolescence and I found myself wondering about the same things he was wondering about: his own origin. And that’s when I created the young girl who gave birth to him.
Bookish: It’s interesting that your fans inspired you to write an addition to the existing trilogy.
LL: They’ve written in for each of the books, but it was really “The Giver” that brought the most attention.
Bookish: “The Giver” is a book that is praised by so many but yet, it enrages so many others. What would you say to those who don’t want children or young adults to read the series?
LL: I’m not usually the one called upon to respond to those, it’s usually the librarians and the teachers [who recommend the book]. I think keeping information from kids, and writing books that are only drab for kids and won’t startle them, is a dangerous thing. Books, clearly, are a way for kids to learn about the world they are going to enter, the adult world, which is filled with terrible things. Reading is a safe way to approach a dangerous world alone. I think to try and prevent kids from doing that is actually more dangerous than having them read books that might be troubling.
Hear more from Lois Lowry in her keynote speech at this year’s BookExpo America.