In Son, readers meet the heroine Claire in a delivery room, where the 14-year-old is shocked and overwhelmed by the body-splitting pain of childbirth.
The difficult delivery ends in a drug-induced fog and a Cesarean section, leaving the girl even more bewildered.
Claire is a "Birthmother" in the dystopian society in which she lives, and her failure to "produce" effortlessly leads to her reassignment as a hatchery worker. Regardless, the girl can't stop thinking about and longing for No. 36 the infant son sent away for nurturing after his birth.
Thus begins Claire's quest to know the boy in two-time Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry's newest book.
Lowry, who will read from and sign Son at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Provo City Library, acknowledges Claire's story is an unusual way to start a book for adolescents. Children in that stage of life are starting to emerge from their parents. Most literature written for them emphasizes their growing independence, and parents fade into the background.
"I'm not aware of many books for young people that, like this one, focus on the intimate bond between a parent and a child, so I'm not sure how kids will react," Lowry said in a telephone interview from her home in Cambridge, Mass. "It's too soon to know."
Here's the catch: Claire's infant son is Gabriel, the baby in Lowry's beloved 1993 book The Giver.
Son completes the loosely connected quartet of books that also includes Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004). Of the three, Son is most directly connected to The Giver, a book now widely read and discussed in schools.
Regarded as the first significant dystopian genre book for young readers, The Giver tells the story of Jonas, who lives in a society devoid of personal choice and emotional attachments.
At age 12, he learns his adult assignment will be that of a "Receiver," meaning he will learn from the "Giver," an elder whose role is to receive all the community's painful memories and emotions, as well as thoughts or ideas that might sacrifice the ideal of "Sameness."
Through the excruciating but enlightening process by which he receives all this, Jonas learns a community ceremony known as "Release" is actually murder. This leads him to plot an escape and to take with him 2-year-old Gabriel, who he has discovered is about to be killed.
Lowry said she never anticipated the profound impact The Giver would have.
"Readers became obsessed" with the book's ambiguous ending, she said, leading her to incorporate references to some characters in the subsequent two books.
She so often had been asked Gabriel's fate she created a form letter she sent out to ensure readers the boy was alive and well.
Son finally lets readers know where Gabriel ended up.
Lowry also chose to tell the previously untold story of his origin, which is how Claire was conceived and developed into a primary character.
Lowry, 75 and the mother of four, lost a son herself. An F-15 pilot, he died in a plane crash in Germany. "Claire's story is a personal one for me," she said. "I was consciously aware of my own son's death."
She knows parents will relate to the girl, and she's hopeful her young readers will, too.
"If kids feel a connection, like and sympathize with a character, they're always fine," Lowry said.
Son also offers plenty of intrigue and adventure as the girl searches for Gabriel.
What happens in the end brings the series to a satisfying conclusion.
Regardless, Lowry is finding her readers still want more. She's already fielded questions about the fate of a shepherd who helps Claire climb a cliff in a dramatic scene in Son. Does a romance develop between the two?
Readers will have to rely on their imaginations.
"This is the last one," Lowry said. "I will stick to that."
Lois Lowry reads in Provo
Lois Lowry, a two-time winner of the Newbery Award, will read from and sign copies of Son at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Provo City Library, 550 N. University Ave. Tickets are no longer available, but patrons may line up starting at 4 p.m. for a chance to attend on a standby basis.