Humiliation, sibling rivalry, crushes, religion, death, moving, making new friends, boredom, independence, money, peer pressure, career decisions, identity: these are the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. In her more than thirty novels, Lois Lowry lays it all on the table with humor and honesty. Growing up is not easy.
Capturing these realities without condescension or gloss, Lowry writes as an adult with an honest understanding of adolescent feeling. She maintains a position of humor and empathy in everything from losing loved ones to finding one’s sense of self and becoming part of a community. There is no heavy-handed messaging, no I-told-you-so attitude. Sometimes, the parent characters even admit to being, well, wrong.
Ten of Lowry’s novels focus on Anastasia Krupnik and her family. Set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the young Anastasia’s adventures are bold and sometimes defiant. In other books, Lowry takes on heavier themes: Number the Stars, set in Copenhagen during the 1943 Nazi Reign of Terror, charts the friendship of two girls, one Jewish, one Christian, and the courageous Danish Christians who risked their lives to save nearly all of Denmark’s 7,000 Jews. In The Giver, 12-year-old Jonas lives in a perfect, frightening dystopia, faces a moral dilemma, and must make an important choice. Her latest book, The Willoughbys, is a deliciously wicked homage to children’s literature—a tale replete with hilarious stock characters: abandoned baby, ruthless parents, long-lost heir, kindly benefactor and no-nonsense nanny.
The middle of three children, Lowry gained much of her understanding of sibling rivalry, friendship, and loss from her own life. Her father, an Army dentist, moved the family frequently, from Hawaii to New York, Pennsylvania, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. all in Lowry’s growing-up years. Her sister, Helen, died when she was 28, a loss that informed the novel A Summer to Die and the sister’s death in Number the Stars. Lowry dropped out of Brown University to marry a Naval officer at the age of 19 and moved between six states for the next twenty years, having four children and eventually finishing college and graduate school at the University of Southern Maine. At the age of 40, she divorced her husband and moved back to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she pursued her writing career in full. Since then, she has received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the California Young Reader’s Medal, and the Mark Twain Award, two Newbery Medals for Number the Stars and The Giver, and the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award for A Summer to Die.
Excerpt from The Willoughbys (2008)
Let us turn our attention, now, to a mansion some distance away from the Willoughbys’ tall, thin house. This is the Melanoff mansion, on the porch of which the Willoughby children had not long ago left a baby in a basket.
Mr. Melanoff—called Commander Melanoff for no particular reason except that he liked the sound of it—lived in squalor. Squalor is a situation in which there is moldy food in the refrigerator, mouse droppings are everywhere, the wastebaskets are overflowing because they have not been emptied in weeks, and the washing machine stopped working months before—wet clothes within becoming moldy—but a repairman has never been summoned. There is a very bad smell to squalor.
Squalor has nothing to do with money. Squalor happens when people are sad. And Commander Melanoff was very sad.
He had made a vast fortune by manufacturing candy bars. His factory still existed, and the money kept coming in because people bought his hugely successful confections by the millions. But Commander Melanoff never went to his office anymore. He stayed in his squalorous mansion, where he moped and sulked…
He was sad because he had lost his wife. He had not actually been very fond of her. But it was sad, nonetheless, to be wifeless. She had been a dull but tidy and meticulous lady who had kept the house in perfect—almost too perfect—order. The commander’s true, deep, unending sadness was because he had lost his only child, a small boy, while mother and son had been enjoying, without him, what had promised to be a lovely holiday.
A Summer to Die (1977)
Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye (1978)
Anastasia Krupnik (1979)
Autumn Street (1980)
Anastasia Again! (1981)
Anastasia At Your Service (1982)
The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline (1983)
Taking Care of Terrific (1983)
Us and Uncle Fraud (1984)
Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst (1984)
Anastasia On Her Own (1985)
Anastasia Has the Answers (1986)
Rabble Starkey (1987)
Anastasia’s Chosen Career (1987)
All About Sam (1988)
Number the Stars (1989)
Your Move, J.P.! (1990)
Anastasia At This Address (1991)
Attaboy Sam! (1992)
The Giver (1993)
Anastasia Absolutely (1995)
See You Around, Sam! (1996)
Stay! Keeper’s Story (1997)
Looking Back (Autobiography) (1998)
Zooman Sam (1999)
Gathering Blue (2000)
Gooney Bird Greene (2002)
The Silent Boy (2003)
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother (2006)
Gooney the Fabulous (2007)
The Willoughbys (2008)