75 pages 2 hours read

Lois Lowry


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


Son is a young adult fiction novel written by award-winning author Lois Lowry. It is the conclusion to The Giver Quartet, which includes The Giver (1993), Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012). Son follows the journey of Claire, a young girl on a quest to regain her son who has been taken from her. The novel is divided into three sections: Book 1: "Before," Book 2: "Between," and Book 3: "Beyond." All three books have entirely separate settings and take place over a period of fifteen years.

Plot Summary

In Book 1, 14-year-old Claire gives birth in her insular community; her child is taken from her, as per community rules, to be redistributed to another paired couple at a later date. The community has many regulations that promote anonymity and remove individual agency, in theory to foster a more communal environment. Complications arise during Claire’s child’s birth, necessitating a C-section, and Claire is removed from being a Vessel and transferred into the general population, getting a job at a fish hatchery. However, Claire feels pulled to the Nurturing Center, where she finds and develops a secret relationship with her nameless son. Her son is taken by another boy, Jonas, and Claire boards a boat for Elsewhere, ostensibly to locate her son.

In Book 2, distant seafaring villagers find Claire shipwrecked in the sea and an old, childless midwife, Alys, takes Claire in and cares for her. The villagers are kind and even reverent towards Water Claire, as they refer to Claire, who remembers nothing of her previous life. Claire must relearn many things, and the memory of giving birth comes back to her when she helps Alys deliver a villager’s baby. The village is horrified to learn that Claire’s baby was taken away and many shun her for not having a husband. Claire decides she must leave the village by scaling a cliff to find her son, and spends years strength-training to complete this task, aided by a crippled man, Einar, who completed the climb successfully once before. Claire completes the climb and at the top trades her youth to the Trademaster in order to find her son. Claire turns into an old woman.

In Book 3, Jonas and Gabe have successfully made it to a community of outcasts and lived there for several years. Gabe is about 15 and has the power to veer, or put himself in other people’s minds. Gabe desperately wants to understand his past and unsuccessfully tries to build a boat to take him to his old community. Gabe knows that Claire, as an old woman, has been watching him for years, but he does not realize she is his mother. Feeling impending death, Claire tells Jonas the truth of her story and immediately falls ill. Jonas reiterates the story to Gabe, explaining that he must kill the Trademaster to save his mother. During their battle, Gabe veers into the Trademaster’s mind, realizing that the Trademaster feeds off of suffering. Gabe explains all of the Trademaster’s failures and the Trademaster rots into nothing. The book ends with Claire turning back into a young woman and Gabe successfully returning from vanquishing the Trademaster.

Although Book 1 starts out in the dystopian stylings of The Giver, in which a modern community is oppressed by its totalitarian leaders, Books 2 and 3 evince more fantastical settings and technological reversions. For example, in the first book, the totalitarian leaders use modern science and technology to oppress their community, whereas these problematic conveniences do not exist in either the seafaring village of Book 2 or the riverside village of outcasts in Book 3. Similarly, Books 2 and 3 also display magic: characters have special abilities, like Gabe and Jonas, and there are forces of evil with which these characters must contend—namely, the Trademaster. In this way, the settings are completely disparate from one another, although they are, in theory, located relatively close to one another geographically. The perspective also shifts throughout the novel. In the first two books, the narrative is told exclusively from Claire’s third-person-limited point of view, whereas the last book is told from the third-person-limited perspectives of Gabe, Jonas, and Claire.

This book deals with many important issues that may arise during a person’s lifetime, including the concept of sacrifice. Throughout the novel, characters must sacrifice various aspects of themselves or their happiness. Sometimes, these sacrifices come at the behest of totalitarian governments, such as when Gabe is taken away from Claire at the beginning of Book 1. In this instance, it becomes clear that individuals can sacrifice too much for the perceived safety of their community, leading Claire to question the authority of her community leaders and eventually flee. In Book 2, Claire sacrifices her personal safety and youth in order to be reunited with Gabe, and Gabe then makes a similar sacrifice in terms of personal safety when he battles the Trademaster in order to save both his community of outcasts and his mother. Similarly, loss propels the narrative forward, as every action Claire takes is in an attempt to mitigate the loss of her son. Loss is characterized as almost the most universal human experience, as every character loses something or someone important to them, although arguably, Claire loses the most: first her son, then her memory, and finally her youth. However, Lowry demonstrates that through the help of a supportive community, some of this loss might be counteracted or even reversed. It is only through working together and sacrificing for the good of other people that the novel is able to reach a happy conclusion.

Related Titles

By Lois Lowry