Lois Lowry

The Silent Boy

  • 39-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 20 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree in English Literature
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The Silent Boy Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 39-page guide for “The Silent Boy” by Lois Lowry includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 20 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Animals, Innocence, and Human Violence and Traditional Versus Nontraditional Methods of Communication.

The Silent Boy (2003) is a young adult historical fiction novel written by Lois Lowry. Lowry is most famous for writing The Giver, which won the Newberry Medal in 1994. A series of photos inspired Lowry to write The Silent Boy, and these grainy, somber images appear throughout the book at the beginning of each chapter, firmly rooting the novel in the early 1900s. The photos help frame the novel as a series of recollections by Katy “Docky” Thatcher, who reflects on her childhood, particularly her friendship with a boy named Jacob Stoltz. Lowry is one of America’s most celebrated young adult fiction authors, and her approach to Katy’s coming of age is both entertaining and heartbreaking. The novel was adapted for the stage in 2008 by the ArtsPower National Touring Theatre.

Plot Summary 

The novel opens in America in June 1987 with Docky, a great-grandmother who loves to tell stories. She is retired from a successful career as a doctor and reflects on her life. Each chapter begins with an antiquated photo that depicts the characters she describes.

Katy “Docky” Thatcher grows up in affluence. Her father is the town doctor, and he allows her to come with him on most of his patient visits. She is passionate about becoming a doctor as well. On one of their visits in October 1910, when Katy is eight years old, she meets a boy named Jacob Stoltz. He is very shy and cannot speak, but he can imitate the sounds of animals and machinery. Jacob is very skilled with animals, so he works with farm animals rather than attending school. We might recognize Jacob as severely autistic, but this diagnosis did not exist in the early 1900s. Katy recognizes that although Jacob doesn’t speak, he does not lack intelligence.

Katy lives next door the Bishops, who have two sons: Paul and Austin. Austin is Katy’s friend and eventually becomes her husband. Paul is older and gives his parents a hard time about wanting him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. The Bishops employ Jacob Stoltz’s older sister Nell as their “hired girl.” Katy’s family also hires one of the Stoltz girls. Katy witnesses Paul and Nell being intimate with each other in the barn, and eventually Paul impregnates Nell. This creates a scandal and a very difficult situation for Nell.

Simultaneously, Katy’s own mother becomes pregnant. She gives birth to a happy and healthy baby girl named Mary. While her mother takes care of the baby, Katy spends more time with her father and grows close with their hired girl, Peggy. Peggy brings Katy to her farm to meet her family. Katy learns to get along with Jacob and finds her own way of communicating with him. To show his affection, he gives her a kitten whom she names Goldy. Peggy tells Katy that sometimes the barn cats have too many kittens, and Jacob must drown the extras in the river. She also tells Katy that sometimes the sheep mamas will reject a lamb, and Jacob tries to get another healthy mama to care for the rejected lamb. Katy does not understand farm life and doesn’t anticipate how significant this information will become.

After Nell becomes pregnant, she goes back to live on the Stoltz farm. No one talks about her condition. Paul is sent away to boarding school. After Nell gives birth, she rejects her newborn, not wanting to raise the baby she didn’t mean to have. Jacob thinks that the best way to save the baby is to bring it to a competent mother who will care for it. He carries the newborn in a sack through a terrible storm, and the baby dies of exposure. He sneaks into Katy’s home and places the baby in her sister Mary’s nursery. When Mrs. Thatcher discovers the body, she calls her husband and the police. The authorities and townspeople believe Jacob is a monster. Only Katy can communicate with him enough to understand that he was trying to help, like he did with the lamb. He is taken away and committed to an asylum for the rest of his life. Katy never sees or hears from Jacob again. The novel ends with her expressing that despite her happy and successful life, she has never stopped feeling regret for the terrible turn Jacob’s life took.

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