Review: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

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I’ll admit that my mind was made up on this one before I even picked it up: this is not my type of book and Jodi Picoult is not my type of author. Not to mention that the recommendations on the back cover are sourced from Heat, Woman’s Weekly and Good Housekeeping.

After I got over that first wave of cynicism or bookish snobbery, call it what you will, I started to read. Initially, the prose felt flat and I couldn’t quite get to grips with the fact that the narrator, Anna, is a 13-year old girl who seemed unconvincing, unreliable (by her own admission) and childish:

I fluff my pillows up under my bed. Kate as usual, has swapped so that she has all the funchy ones that don’t feel like rocks under your neck. She’s supposed to deserve this, because she’s three years older than me or because she’s sick or because the moon is in Aquarius – there’s always a reason.

However, this struggle between maturity and immaturity, responsibility and irresponsibility becomes integral to the story. Moreover, when I arrived at the next chapter, I found that the book is narrated not just by Anna, but by several characters (I breathe a sigh of relief). The multi-character narration adds a much-needed  three-dimensionality to the story, and is a complete success. I began to think that I may have been entirely wrong in my judgement about this book.

Though I was not yet entirely convinced. I resented Picoult’s consistently obvious and deliberate attempts to coerce the reader into feeling emotional. The words, “cry!! cry!!” seemed to seep out of the white space between the words. But cry is exactly what I did. On page 34 to be precise. And despite feeling a tad cheated and ashamed, I read on.

My Sister’s Keeper tells the story of designer-baby, Anna, who was conceived by Sara and Brian solely to save the life of their other daughter Kate, who is suffering from acute promyelocytic leukemia. The original intention was to harvest blood from Anna’s umbilical cord, however after Kate suffers several relapses, Anna is used as a donor time and time again. At the age of thirteen, and at the end of the first chapter, Anna hires a lawyer to sue her parents for the rights to her own body.

The book doesn’t mess about and gets straight to the heart of the story on page 18. I could not put it down. There are many anecdotal reflections dispersed liberally throughout the book and at times I questioned their relevance, but they became an increasingly vital story-telling technique as the plot progressed.

The romantic sub-plot that blossomed between Anna’s lawyer, Campbell ,and her guardian ad litem, Julia, at times became more intriguing than the court case itself, a typical old “will-they-wont-they”, which to my disgust worked an absolute treat (not to mention what Campbell’s bloody dog was for!).

Jesse, the brother of Anna and Kate, also narrated parts of the book  and is a less than convincing character, in my opinion. In saying that, I did not feel as though any of the characters stood out as particularly convincing, although I hasten to add that this did not retract from the plot.

The controversy regarding ‘designer babies’ is presented beautifully. Picoult may have force-fed emotion in large quantities, but she gives the reader the freedom to forge their own opinion on this subject. The fact that this book sits in the ALAs top-ten list of frequently challenged books amazes me: surely we should praise brave fiction that opens up sensitive issues for debate, without biased. On the subject of designer babies in My Sister’s Keeper, Picoult said:

it’s a slippery slope… and sometimes researchers and political candidates get so bogged down in the ethics behind it and the details of the science that they forget completely we’re talking about humans with feelings and emotions and hopes and fears… like Anna and her family.

And My Sister’s Keeper demonstrates exactly that: humans with feelings and emotions and hopes and fears. It is cleverly written and loaded with impressive imagery, which surprised me. The ending is fabulous. It is brave, emotional, and in one word: affecting.

Will I read more of Picoult? I’m not completely sold. But as the cynicism and bookish-snobbery slowly evaporated from my mind, this book reminded me why I love reading. And for that I truly recommend it.

Any other great Picoult books out there? Do you think My Sister’s Keeper deserves the controversy that surrounds it?


10 thoughts on “Review: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

  1. sounds like my opinion of picoult is similar to yours (or what yours was)…i’ve never read anything by her, and i’ve also never felt the urge. but your review is pretty convincing, and this is one of those books i know is at the peace corps library here (ie, my only source of english books apart from my kindle…and my growing collection of kid lit) so i’m betting i’ll be picking it up next time i’m there. kind of excited now to see how my thoughts on the book match up to yours!

    • hey :)

      I definitely felt the same, I would have swerved Picoult at all costs had I not promised to read this for banned books week. But I was pleasantly surprised, and by the time I got to the end my opinion of Picoult had changed.

      Get to the peace corps library :) would love to see what you think!

  2. Pingback: How We Read as Children, How We Read as Adults « Fat Books & Thin Women

  3. Very well-written review. I admire how you overcame your initial bias and allowed yourself to enter the world of the book and discover more in it than you imagined. That’s the mark of a good reader.

  4. Her other books are excellent as well – this is what she’s known for, humanizing controversial topics. My favorites of hers are Nineteen Minutes (about a school shooting similar to Columbine) and the one she wrote about the Amish – I can’t recall the name but it’s worth a Google.

    • I have heard thy she has quite a rep for tackling controversy, which now makes me want to read some more of her stuff. Googled the Amish one, Plain Truth it’s called, murder in an Amish community, sounds pretty interesting! Thanks!

  5. I’ve never read the books, but my wife has. All of them. Several times each… She tells me that they all are amazingly written and that I should try reading one or two of them. Unfortunately, at this time I have no insight to them myself as I’m trying to finish writing my first novel, but I know my lady doesn’t take to just any book.

    • You’re wife is definitely not alone… I can see Picoult becoming one of my guilty pleasures. I already have a few of her books lined up ready to read, but they’ll have to wait for now!

      If you get the time, listen to your wife read one, they are surprisingly intelligent (…and good luck with the novel)

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