The Silent Boy

by Lois Lowry

Katy, who is now a grandmother, recalls her childhood in the early 1900s, when she... read more

Katy, who is now a grandmother, recalls her childhood in the early 1900s, when she dreamed of being a doctor like her father. As Katy’s story unfolds, so does Jacob’s. Jacob is mute, considered “touched” by most in their community (in today’s terminology, he appears to be autistic, although this is never stated). Katy notices his gentle way with living things, appreciating and understanding him in a way most others don’t. Katy has clearly been influenced by her progressive, open-minded father, who treats everyone in their community, regardless of class or other differences, with respect. In Lowry’s deft and moving narrative, Katy relates a series of events over several years in her childhood and early adolescence that involve not only Jacob, but his two older sisters, and that culminate in two tragedies. Jacob’s sister Peggy works as live-in help for Katy’s family. His oldest sister, Nellie, works for the Bishops, a much wealthier family down the road. One of the astonishing things in this narrative is how Lowry stays so true to Katy’s perspective and yet reveals a darker story beneath the surface of what Katy innocently observes. When Katy comes upon teenage Paul Bishop and Nellie together in the barn, for example, she thinks that they’re playing. But more mature readers will understand something else is going on. Everything unfolds through Katy’s eyes and Katy’s level of understanding, making the story’s disturbing climax, the aftermath of which sees Jacob institutionalized, all the more unsettling. Period photographs open each chapter, and enhance the sense of time and place established in the narrative of this fine novel. (Ages 11–15)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2004

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