cover image Looking Back: A Book of Memories

Looking Back: A Book of Memories

Lois Lowry. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $17 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-395-89543-6

Lowry (The Giver; Number the Stars) deftly dances between humorous and heartbreaking with this ingenious memoir. Unlike most autobiographies, this one forgoes a linear chronology in favor of a more inventive thematic organization. Lowry introduces each section with an excerpt from one of her novels, followed by one or more anecdotes--each inspired by a photograph of herself or her family. ""Reaching Across,"" for example, features a photo of Lowry and her older sister, Helen, and offers insight into their closely knit relationship; the pair are the models for the exuberant younger and practical elder sisters who appear again and again in Lowry's fiction. Three chapters (""Dogs,"" ""More Dogs"" plus ""And Dogs One More Time"") explain why canines repeatedly show up in her books. In addition to recurring themes, Lowry cites examples of a single, powerful image that becomes a central idea in a novel. In ""Bonds,"" for instance, a quote from The Giver introduces an idyllic picture of Lowry's daughter lying on the back of a horse in the Maine summer sun reading a book. Lowry, the daughter of an itinerant army major, then describes her wish to give her children the things she never had, ""a house that was always ours, books that were always there to be read again and again, and pets that followed you home and were allowed to stay."" Lowry tenderly relates the recent death of her eldest son Grey in ""Sadness,"" alongside photographs of him with his wife and little girl, and demonstrates how families in fiction and in fact keep their loved ones alive by telling their stories. The unorthodox structure allows Lowry to take creative license to great effect: at critical junctures, she pairs pictures of her mother and herself at the same age and imagines what they might have said to each other at that stage of life. In one such vignette, Lowry recalls that she lost Grey within two years of the age at which her mother lost her daughter Helen (Lowry was 58, her mother was 56) and imagines a conversation between them, and how they might have comforted each other. Lowry unfolds her history in a glorious arc, invisibly threading its parts into a unified whole. Her connection of the everyday details of her life to the larger scope of her work adds a new dimension to her novels and may well encourage readers to speak and write honestly about their own experiences. A compelling and inspirational portrait of the author emerges from these vivid snapshots of life's joyful, sad and surprising moments. All ages. (Oct.)