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  • Jun 20, 2005
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Here's a great example of a book that tries too hard to accomplish too much. I've never read this author before, but I stumbled across MY SISTER'S KEEPER at the bookstore, and the description sounded interesting, so I made my purchase. I mean, what a compelling idea. One sister (Kate) is diagnosed at a very young age with a rare form of leukemia (it's always rare in books). In order to obtain some cells & marrow she needs to have a hope of recovery, her parents create a genetic match of a sister (test-tube baby) and Anna is born to be a living donor for her older sister. When Anna reaches the age of 13 or so, and a kidney of hers is needed, she files suit to have medical emancipation from her parents so that they can't force her to give up her kidney. She's tired of having no identity beyond that of donor...no one seems to care for her beyond what she can give her beloved sister.

This is a meaty moral, ethical and dramatic subject. Right there, you've got enough for a good book. The legal wranglings and the emotional turmoil struck me as having great potential. Couple this with the always heartbreaking subject of parents' dealing with the impending death of a child, and we should be well on our way to a good read.

Jodi Picoult is a writer with a talent for summoning up metaphors, similes and for picking up on little details of everyday life to explicate her bigger themes. There is some real pain in this book. It's told in the first person, but from various character's points of view. Anna, Kate, Sara (the mother) Brian (the firefighter father) and so forth. Some of the best moments are when Sara remembers the early days of Kate's illness. We also get some good insights from Kate and Brian.

But this 200 page book is turned into a 400 page paper-weight by the burden of too many more characters and plot threads. We meet Jesse, the older brother of Kate and Anna. Okay, you say, the point-of-view of another sibling, not bred as a donor, might be worthwhile. But Jesse, through being ignored by his parents because they're so focused on Kate, has become a disreputable, drug-addicted pyromaniac. It isn't good enough that he have some problems, he has to be an addict (a condition we only know about because it's mentioned...we never get a sense of what this means to Jesse internally) who sets fires (his dad is a firefighter...get it...pretty FRAUGHT, isn't it). We also meet Anna's attorney Campbell (that's okay in and of itself) and we are forced to meet Julia, the court appointed guardian ad litem (assigned to determine if Anna is qualified to decide her medical treatment for herself) who happens to be a former lover of the attorney. We see scenes of their past, and their rekindling present, and it's all cliché ridden and dreadful. We could have done ENTIRELY without the romantic subplot. And the attorney also has a "service dog" named Judge who goes with him everywhere, but Campbell won't tell anyone what "service" the dog provides. It's a little mystery, that when solved, is such a night-time soap opera revelation that I had to roll my eyes. Oh, and by the way, the parents decide not to hire a lawyer to defend their position, because Sara IS a lawyer (just a non-practicing one) and she decides to take on the case herself. Ick.

The book grapples effectively with grief. It handles the money issues that come with great illness well, and it conveys how TIRED everyone is of the battle. But it also is full of extraneous junk. And finally, my BIGGEST gripe is that the voice of Anna is that of a 30 year old. She's the most brilliant 13 year old ever, with the ability to write huge, sweeping passages of emotional depth that few adults could dream to obtain. We NEVER get the feeling that she's a child. We're TOLD she's a child, but she sure doesn't sound like one. Really, the voice of each of the characters sounds pretty much the same. Too much like the author is having each person represent a position on the issues...they aren't always flesh and blood like we need.

The book also takes some "surprise" twists at the end, with revelations and events happening very quickly and shockingly over the last three dozen pages or so. But to be honest, once again it all felt like a soap opera, and a particularly overwrought one at that.

There are elements to admire in the book. Picoult has skills. But this book missed its mark pretty widely, and I can't recommend it.

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More My Sister's Keeper: A Novel reviews
review by . July 19, 2010
My First Picoult Read - Probably Not the Last
This was the first Jodi Picoult book I've read, for no better reason than that I perceived her more as a Doubleday author (read: pot-boilers) rather than a Quality Paperback Book Club author (read: critical acclaim).  And I'm pretty sure I've been missing out.      This was a great book, one I read after a friend recommended it and I became intrigued by the moral quandary presented by the plot: to save one child, is it fair for a parent to authorize the taking …
review by . June 15, 2010
   My Sister's Keeper is truly a well written novel with a very surprise ending.  It is another case where the movie simply does not do the book justice.  The complexity of the human psyche and the lengths that a person will go to to preserve their own sense of self is very evident in this page turning novel.  Picoult perfectly describes with great detail the variety of emotions that a person goes through when they do not feel in control of their own lives.  This …
review by . June 10, 2010
What was your emotional reaction as you read? Why?      My heart went out to both the family and the little girl. I could see things from both their perspectives. I was touched by the courage of the little girl and her sister and I felt very sorry for the family having to deal with losing their child to cancer. Who would you recommend this reading to and why?      I would recommend this book to anyone with a warm heart and losts of empathy. It was a very …
review by . June 27, 2010
Jodi Picoult has been the best seller of 16 novels including My Sisters Keeper. The fact that this book is another one of her best sellers doesn’t come to any surprise to me after having read it. It was a fantastic book that tugs at every one of your heart strings as it moves from character to character. Maybe I’m a sucker for love, but the parts that I looked forward to most in the book were the ones that dealt with Campbell and Julia. I absolutely loved how Jodi Picoult had the main …
review by . January 23, 2010
Kate Fitzgerald is barely beyond infancy when she is diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a rare and particularly robust and aggressive form of leukemia. The prognosis is bleak indeed and recovery is rarer than the cancer itself. When Kate's parents are faced with the urgent necessity to find a blood donor that is not just a match, but a perfect match, they set out to create a genetically matched sibling who will provide a perfectly matched, life-saving, blood-filled umbilicus upon …
review by . June 18, 2010
Very complex story of a family that is fighting for their oldest daughter.  On one hand, you have the moral question of what should you do to save a loved one, how far would you go?  On another hand, there is an ethical question.  How far can you go with certain procedures? Deep within the story, you find many twists and heartbreaking moments.  It makes you cherish life even more after reading this book. 
Quick Tip by . August 09, 2010
Interesting speculative fiction! This 50 character minimum is a bad idea.
Quick Tip by . July 28, 2010
"My Sister's Keeper" addresses issues in a non-judgmental fashion from a wide variety of perspectives without attempting to take sides or present pat answers that simply don't exist. It touches on genetic engineering; the insane demands made upon a parent's time and energy in dealing with children's illnesses; the extent to which children may act out for better or for worse in a demand for a parent's love and attention; the difficulty of determining whether a 13 year old minor is capable of making …
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
What a touching and real family story. Good insight as to what really happens.
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
Ending was much more poignant than Hollywood left it!
About the reviewer

Ranked #146
I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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The difficult choices a family must make when a child is diagnosed with a serious disease are explored with pathos and understanding in this 11th novel by Picoult (Second Glance, etc.). The author, who has taken on such controversial subjects as euthanasia (Mercy), teen suicide (The Pact) and sterilization laws (Second Glance), turns her gaze on genetic planning, the prospect of creating babies for health purposes and the ethical and moral fallout that results. Kate Fitzgerald has a rare form of leukemia. Her sister, Anna, was conceived to provide a donor match for procedures that become increasingly invasive. At 13, Anna hires a lawyer so that she can sue her parents for the right to make her own decisions about how her body is used when a kidney transplant is planned. Meanwhile, Jesse, the neglected oldest child of the family, is out setting fires, which his firefighter father, Brian, inevitably puts out. Picoult uses multiple viewpoints to reveal each character's intentions and observations, but she doesn't manage her transitions as gracefully as usual; a series of flashbacks are abrupt. Nor is Sara, the children's mother, as well developed and three-dimensional as previous Picoult protagonists. Her devotion to Kate is understandable, but her complete lack of sympathy for Anna's predicament until the trial does not ring true, nor can we buy that Sara would dust off her law degree and represent herself in such a complicated case. Nevertheless, Picoult ably ...
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ISBN-10: 0743454529
ISBN-13: 978-0743454520
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria

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