Looking Back: A Book of Memories
Author: Lois Lowry
Published: HMH books | September 2016 (updated and expanded edition)
Length: 272 pages
I’ve always thought the famous question “If you could have lunch with anyone in the world who would it be?” was dreadful. Put me across the table from a complete stranger and expect me to have interesting things to say? No, thank you! But what if we re-phrased the question: “If you could look through the personal photographs of anyone in the world, who would you choose?” I have a lot of ideas in answer to that one, and one extraordinary author has opened her life like an album in this very way.
Lois Lowry is an author many, including myself, grew up with through her Newberry winning novels such as Number the Stars and The Giver. She has continued to write many more enduring, award-winning youth fiction through the years, and has always been one to write stories that not only capture the imagination but challenge her readers to question, and to hang tight to all the goodness they can find. Her newly updated and expanded autobiographical work retains this legacy. Looking Back: A Book of Memories reads like an album. The reader flips through page after page of a photograph on one side paired with a page long explanation on the other. Each glimpse of Lowrian history is paired with a quote from one of her books, so we can trace her inspiration for characters and passages. Lowry laces the lines where her personhood is inextricably linked to the stories she has crafted.
When we first look through photographs of faces we don’t recognize, we usually don’t feel much connection to them. We need context to read the story behind the moment, and affection to respond to the soul behind the one dimensional image. Lowry lets us into her own family as she draws us past these disconnects. She points out details and gives backstory, shares personal responses and humorous reminisces, much like one might pass down stories to a grandchild. She conveys not only her own life, but includes photographs of her parents, children, grandchildren, and even some friends, showing the web through which we form our identity.
Far from being merely a means to assuage curiosity, Lowry uses these fragile moments from the past as a launching board for philosophical inquiry. Looking Back is not entitled a “Book of Memories” for nothing; Lowry gently asks many questions about the nature of memory throughout these pages, a theme readily seen in The Giver as well. When we see a face but cannot remember a name, what does that do to a person’s identity? Does time’s inevitable morphing of names and details mean that our memories become false? How is our memory influenced by the fleeting moments captured by the camera, even when these moments would be seen differently in the bigger picture? One thing becomes clear: memory is a gift.
This book aims at middle schoolers, and prompts young readers to question what they see rather than taking it at face value. It charms them to look for details beyond what first meets the eye, and use their gift of wonder to get into another’s shoes and imagine what the other is thinking—skills essential to robust living at any age. Thus Looking Back might be described as a philosophical, photographed journey through the life of a writer who has greatly influenced several generations. Lowry has stationed herself as a voice of goodness and truth in a confused world. A keepsake memorial from a keepsake author. (And P.S.–I must add that this volume is beautifully crafted. It’s a hardback with a dust cover, and 272 heavy, glossed pages with silver-tinted end pages.)
Review copy courtesy of HMH books