REVIEW: SON (THE GIVER QUARTET #4)
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The final book in THE GIVER QUARTET wasn't quite what I expected, but I am very glad to have found out how this treasure of a series comes to a close. I was also lucky enough to go through it as a buddy read with T from An Erudite Adventure and quite enjoyed reflecting on the events of this book as well as the series overall with him.
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 SON did not live up to all of my admittedly lofty expectations, but it still delivered an enjoyable adventure with another endearing character that tied up some of the remaining threads that the previous books left open.
This story introduces Claire. While she is a newcomer to the series, she is actually from the same community as Jonas. We meet her at a point in her life that roughly coincides with when Jonas goes through his Ceremony of the Twelve and it was cool to basically see the events of THE GIVER play out from a different character's perspective. She also ends up having some fantastic connections to minor characters in that book which changed my perspective on them in some interesting ways. During "Book 2," we actually meet a whole set of brand new characters and this initially annoyed me slightly since I didn't have a prior connection with them and wanted to get to characters I already knew. About halfway through this part of the book though, I started to really like a lot of them and felt sad that Claire would inevitably have to leave them. The third and final Book/Act is where Claire's story intersects with that of Jonas, Kira, and Gabe. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of a character from MESSENGER that I was not expecting to return. While I would have liked to spend more time with some of the pre-established characters, I also appreciated what Lowry did in terms of making this Claire's story and bringing us through her journey while the events we'd already read through played out. It also made a lot of sense that Claire would need to be on her own for a long stretch of time since there are years that pass between THE GIVER and MESSENGER where she wasn't present.
As I've mentioned, Claire's story is both one that runs in parallel to the previous books as well as a continuation and conclusion to the series as a whole. My buddy read partner also had pointed out to me that each "Book" (section) in SON is sort of a reflection of each of the three prior novels/novellas. Book 1 brings us back to the community from THE GIVER and allows us to explore some different aspects of that society. Book 2 felt more hostile and primitive in a way that felt reminiscent to how Kira's home did at the start of GATHERING BLUE. Book three then brings us back to the village where MESSENGER takes place and follows up on some of the open threads that we were left on during that story's tumultuous conclusion.
Whereas a lot of this series has focused on "found family," I thought it was interesting that this final tale is much more grounded in biological family. There is also an interesting blend between the dystopian science fiction themes and the more fantastical elements. I wouldn't say that these two different aspects are reconciled perfectly or even really explained, but I think I was able to get a clearer sense of what messages Lowry intended to work into this series through all the different powers or "gifts" that many of the characters have.
I will say that there were a few moments where this got surprisingly dark and gruesome, even when considering some of the more sinister elements of previous entries in the series. This wasn't really a negative for me as an adult reader since I've definitely read much worse, it just caught me off guard in what I think is meant to be a middle grade series. One thing I did find to be a big disappointment is that the consequences of THE GIVER's ending aren't really explored at all. I wanted to know what it would be like for all of the things Jonas had received to suddenly rush into the members of his community, but instead Claire is whisked away before that can happen and then has amnesia for a time. It seems like Lowry is most interested in telling more personal and intimate stories, but I couldn't help the feeling of being cheated out of a really interesting story beat.
One thing that really stood out to me about SON is that it doesn't stay in just one place for the majority of the story. Claire's travels give her narrative a much more adventurous sort of feel. Each "Book" does tend to stay in one place at a time, but across the entirety of the novel, we get a bit more of a world-trotting vibe that reminded me a little of classic adventures like THE ODYSSEY. Although we get this heightened sense of exploration, I actually did not get to know the world any better than I did before. I had a lot of worldbuilding questions around the different communities, what cataclysmic event led to the world entering it's current state, learning more about what became of Kira's village, and finally getting answers to what the deal is with all the magical powers that exist. Although I was deeply interested in all these open questions, it is clear that Lowry was not. She does give little hints here and there to most things throughout the series, but I had hoped for more clarity around it all instead of having to rely on vague assumptions.
THE HARDCOVER (AND BOX SET)
Just about all of my statements about the first book remain true here so I will repeat what I said in that review:
"The Hardcover Box set for this series is nicely constructed and have beautiful, matching dust jackets. While these copies are definitely on the more premium side, not all of the material choices are amazing. The jackets aren't made of particularly great material even though the titles do have some nice embossing. Because of this, I read these with the jackets off and found that there is nothing special about the naked hardbacks. The fonts and formatting make for a pretty and easy reading experience. One last note on this is that the slip case for this collection has warped slightly over time and I may discard it at some point."
SON did not live up to all of my hopes and expectations, but it did deliver a satisfying conclusion to this series all the same. I appreciated how closely it parallels and compliments the other three books in the series and am just glad that I have finally read through this series.
(+) Beautiful Hardcover Edition
(+) A brilliant opening section
(+) Claire is a compelling new character though I wish she had more interaction with previous protagonists
(+) Some interesting connection points to both THE GIVER and MESSENGER
(+) A compelling final act
(+) The earnestness of Lowry's writing was a pleasure to read throughout all four books in the quartet
(-) The ending felt a little rushed
(-) The consequences of The Giver's ending as well as connections to the other books didn't meet all of my hopes and expectations
(-) A lot of world building elements are left unexplained