Before Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior, and dozens of other teenage characters began raging against dystopian machines, there was a 12-year-old kid named Jonas — protagonist of The Giver, a slim novel first published in 1993 that’s become a modern children’s classic. The Giver was Brave New World for the under-18 set before books about futuristic totalitarian societies became a dime a dozen — and most of today’s popular dystopian stories are in Lowry and The Giver‘s debt.
Middle schoolers and former middle schoolers across the world know that Lowry’s Newbery winner ends on an ambiguous note; it’s unclear whether Jonas and Gabriel, the baby he’s rescued from their colorless community, find the safe haven they’ve been seeking or freeze to death on a hillside. In 2000, Lowry decided to partially answer that question by inserting an oblique reference to Jonas into another futuristic novel, Gathering Blue. Jonas reappeared for the first time as a full-fledged character — albeit under a different name — in 2004′s Messenger, a sequel to Gathering Blue. And today, his saga (and Gabe’s) finally comes to an end with the release of Son, the first direct sequel to The Giver. The novel travels back to the community Jonas fled to tell the story of Claire — a 14-year-old girl drafted to be a Birthmother who finds that she, too, cannot live in a society devoid of love.
Before Son‘s release, I spent half an hour chatting with Lowry about everything from her childhood favorite reads — The Yearling and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, for the record — to the unfinished Anastasia Krupnik book sitting on her hard drive. Most of our conversation, though, focused on her now-finished Giver quartet. Read on to learn why she elected to continue Jonas’s story, what she thinks about the dystopian trend, and why she believes The Giver has been one of history’s most frequently challenged children’s books. (Want even more? Check our Inside Movies blog for Lowry’s comments about the long-gestating Giver movie.)
Scholastic’s reading guide for The Giver includes an interview in which you’re quoted saying that you would never want to write a sequel–
Uh huh. Oh, how I wish I had never said that publicly! [laughs] It comes back to haunt me. I didn’t have any intention of writing a sequel. I liked the ambiguity of the ending. Over the years, though, it became clear that younger readers in particular did not. The amount of mail I got passionately asking what had happened to Jonas — I suppose after a period of time, it made me wonder as well. So I guess it was in response to the kids who didn’t quit asking and wondering.