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Among Picoult's Best

  • Feb 20, 2010
When it comes to Jodi Picoult, her readers, by now, should know what to expect.  A book in which a family has to deal with a pretty bad problem head on while facing family trauma.  It's usually something big that deals with medical issues or stringent law issues.  They're often good reads, but if you're one who constantly reads Picoult, you'll need a breather between books.  Many of them are the same.  They do the same thing over and over and over again.  Jodi Picoult definitely has a formula at work.  My Sister's Keeper focuses a lot on a medical issue of sort.  Obviously, being Jodi Picoult, it's just not going to be a hell of an easy read.

We are introduced to the Fitzgerald family.  In particular the one we instantly learn about is Anna Fitzgerald.  All her life she has been the donor for her sister, Kate, who suffers from Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia.  Before, Anna didn't question it.  As she blossoms into a young lady, however, she begins to question more and more about her purpose in life.  We learn that she was conceived for the sake of being a donor to her sister, and she believes that she should have a choice in the matter and so after saving up some money, she takes her case to Campbell Alexander and decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation.  Her family, of course, is shocked.  Especially her mother Sara, who spends some time trying to convince Anna to drop the lawsuit. 

The family has more problems than just that.  It turns out Kate needs a kidney, and while the lawsuit is pending they can't get Anna to do it.  Not only that but her husband Brian is busy tracking someone who has been committing a lot of arson and they both have to deal with their delinquent son, Jesse who only got worse in his actions as Kate got older.  The family is dysfunctional as all hell, but what would a Jodi Picoult novel be with normal people in the roles?

The book does a fine job of balancing out these characters, but there are more subplots in tow.  The Guardian Ad Litem to Anna is a woman named Julia who has a past with Campbell.  One that she isn't sure what happened because Campbell keeps a secret from her.  Thus, there's a subplot in which Campbell and Julia are made to reconcile their romantic past.  For a narrative that has quite a bit to it, it's actually pretty simple, and we learn a lot about the characters.  In some cases more than we really wanted to know.  Of course, being a Jodi Picoult book, you expect that there is going to be a lot of drama, and tugging at the heart strings.  There is because what you're reading is a book that, for the most part, is dealing with a difficult subject to take in.  And as we learn about the characters in the Fitzgerald family it only becomes more interesting.

Despite the story centering on Anna primarily, the most prominent character is mainly Sara Fitzgerald.  She's also the character you're apt to hate.  As the story moves on, we begin to actually root for Anna to win her lawsuit because Sara seems so hell bent on ensuring Kate's survival that she is willing to throw her own children under the bus to do so.  And in some cases we can understand Sara's pain, but you're more likely to dislike her.  A lot of people see this as a problem, but I disagree.  If Picoult wanted to make Sara a likeable character, she'd could've done so.  There was nothing stopping that from happening.  We have this strange idea that every character we're introduced to is supposed to be a likeable character... except for villains.  We're supposed to totally hate them.  This seems to be a misguided conception of fiction.  Let's be honest, some characters are created for the sake of being disliked.  You certainly don't like every human being you meet in real life, do you?  A good character in fiction isn't always likeable.  The characters that garner strong emotions toward them, rather positive or negative, are the characters that you want to create in fiction.  You don't have to like Sara for her to be a well developed character in fiction.  All you have to do is understand her.  Jodi Picoult is working with good guys and bad guys here.  There are no heroes and villains in My Sister's Keeper.  Just a bunch of characters dealing with a particular situation. Sara stands out as being a good character in part because you want to hate her so much.

That's not to say other charaters don't shine.  Only to say they're not nearly as interesting.  If any other character stood out as being interesting it would definitely be Jesse, but he plays a very minor role in the story as a whole, while Campbell is interesting if only because we want to know why he keeps a dog around him for medical support.  So there is a fairly good cast of characters at large here.  Those you'll love (Anna, Campbell, Brian, Kate) and those you're apt to dislike (Sara and at times Campbell).  It's a pretty good mix here.

The book is also written in such a way that each and every chapter takes place from the viewpoint of a different character.  One moment you're in Anna shoes and the next you're in Campbell's or Jesse's or Brian's or Sara's.  The book works like this and it helps develop the characters because Picoult does a very good job of having a distinct and unique voice for every character. 

It can be a challenging read, but mostly because what you're dealing with is a subject matter that, the deeper you get into it and the more you learn, the more you become divided on the issue itself.  Picoult is no stranger to taking on tough topics.  Whether it's teen suicide (The Pact) or a school shooting (Nineteen Minutes) or a man wrongfully accused of rape (Salem Falls) it becomes quite apparent that Jodi Picoult is all about challening her readers.  My Sister's Keeper doesn't provide the biggest challenge of all her books (that's actually really hard to say which one does) but it provides a look at an issue that's been slowly growing in discussion lately.  Is it right to manipulate the genes of a child you conceive just for the sake of supporting another?  And if so, is it right for that child to want control of her own body, even though she's only thirteen?  There are many questions you could ask while reading My Sister's Keeper.

Of course, the book from some of Picoult's more pronounced follies.  From time to time Picoult has a tendency to get a little too flowery in her prose by creating these extended metaphors just for the sake of being colorful.  Sometimes they're beautiful, but for the most part there are times when doing so really slows a story down.  My Sister's Keeper suffers surprisingly little from this, but it's still there.  It can also get a little too dramatic and soap operaish at times.  You have to wonder if any character in a Picoult novel is capable of happiness in any sense of the word.  At least Picoult keeps the narrative going.  

The biggest knock to My Sister's Keeper is probably the ending.  Jodi Picoult has NEVER been good with endings and My Sister's Keeper is no exception.  It doesn't exactly come out of left field, and it works thematically for the book, at least.  Picoult has a tendency to do things in such a way that they come as amusing coincidences and Deus Ex Machina (such as in Perfect Match) more so than actually coming off as something that could potentially be plausible.  My Sister's Keeper keeps from being a Deus Ex Machina, but plenty of readers are going to see it as some sort of cop out.  Then again, when the film version came out and changed the ending the same readers who hated it suddenly hated the movie for changing it.  So take a note.  Readers of the book care more about keeping to book... rather than plausibility when it comes to the movie.  

Speaking of the film, My Sister's Keeper was a movie in 2009.  While it didn't exactly do well at the Box Office, it did garner an audience.  For those who are so insistent that a movie be close to the book it's safe to say you won't find it.  While the ending is more plausible and believable in the movie that seems to be where people were most disappointed.  Which is why I don't understand the readers.  They hated the ending of the book and when it was changed to what would make more sense they suddenly cried about it being changed. 

Personally, I didn't find the ending so bad.  It DOES seem like a cop out, but with the book it actually made a lot of sense considering what Picoult does after the shocking twist.  It also seems a bit more likely to happen than say... a judge pulling some law out of his ass that no one knew about (Perfect Match) or showing us a shocking revelation about what really happened a school shooting (Nineteen Minutes).  In short, it's not Picoult's best ending ever, but since it's the only one that isn't terrible I'll give her a pass.  And because the ending doesn't ruin the narrative which led up to it.  In fact, it actually is surprising Hollywood didn't change it... it's a very HOLLYWOOD like ending when you think about it.  Nevertheless, the film in and of itself actually isn't bad in spite of its detractions.

On the other hand, the book is actually really good.  If you're on the fence about whether or not to read Jodi Picoult, start with My Sister's Keeper and see how you like it.  It's among her best work and one which is likely to make you think and draw out a lot of strong feelings.  Especially concerning it's overall situation and characters.

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February 21, 2010
While I am not exactly an avid book reader, you giving this one a 5 is almost enough to pick it up. I will keep it in mind. Thank you for the review!
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
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … 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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