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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

Review: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

This book is somewhat difficult to rate. I picked it up because I needed something light & easy, a little break from the historical fiction that I usually read. A quick read, yes, but not quite as fluffy as I thought it would be. Anna is the main character in this novel, though each chapter is told from a different person's point of view. She was chosen as an embryo to be placed in her mother's womb because her genetic characteristics matched her sister who was dying of leukemia. From the moment she is born, Anna is required to give to her sister, Kate, in order to keep her alive. It is the only reason Anna exists. When Anna is 13 years old and told she must donate a kidney to her sister, who is most likely going to die anyway, she decides to fight back and sue her parents for medical emancipation.

From here, I will break down this novel into it's various qualities that caused me to come up with my rating because it was not a simple 3-star across the board book.

4 Star Qualities
I cared about Anna. I wasn't sure if she would win her case or if she would end up giving the kidney to Kate anyway, but I felt for this poor girl who was nothing but a vessel holding spare parts to her mother.

It was difficult to put down. Despite some of the poor writing, melodrama, and other less loveable aspects of this book, I would have stayed up all night reading it if I didn't have my own family to worry about.

3 Star Qualities
Obviously, this is where I place most of the book. The style of writing each chapter from a different character's point of view is one that is rarely pleasing. It got particularly confusing when the author would change perspectives in the middle of a scene - sometimes between two characters, such as two male adults, that made it difficult to remember who was 'speaking'.

Melodrama - this novel has just a little bit too much. Rather than feeling connected to the characters and like this could happen to me. I had to roll my eyes at times that something else was falling apart. By the end, I wasn't shocked or crying (which I had kind of expected), I just felt like it was an over the top cop-out.

Lack of faith. No, this is not a Christian novel, but, since it centers around a child who has been in the process of dying for 14 years, one would think that faith would be a side-note. A few references are made to life after death speculation, but the most profound statement on faith that is made is when Kate says her father (a firefighter) couldn't go to Hell because he would put all the fires out.

2 Star Qualities
The mom. I guess Sarah Fitzgerald is supposed to be the author's version of a typical mom who ends up dealing with very atypical circumstances. She discovers when Kate is 2 years old that she has a rare form of leukemia. Since Kate's best chance at a greater life expectancy is a related donor for blood, bone marrow, and organs, Sarah decides to have a child to provide for Kate. An embryo is carefully chosen that will be an ideal donor for Kate. No mention is made of the discarded embryos that were not good enough to be given life since they could not be back-up parts for Kate. When Anna is born, Sarah is not joyful over the birth of her daughter; she wonders how long it will take them to get the cord blood to Kate. Her attitude toward poor Anna remains the same throughout the novel. She tries to defend herself saying that, of course, she loves both her daughters and Anna would choose to help Kate, but as soon as Anna does not want to undergo unnecessary surgery to sacrifice more of her body to her dying sister, the mother is angry, appalled, and horrid to everyone around her.

The writing style. Besides the point of view switches that include seven different people, this book was riddled with disjointed flashbacks and random thoughts that broke up the scene they interrupted. I also wondered, do that many 13 year olds use this level of profanity? Maybe I'm being a prude, but I thought this novel would be an interesting read for my 11 & 14 year old except for the sprinkling of f-bombs . . . . oh, and the couple unnecessary sex scenes. I could have done with way less lame service dog jokes as well.

The ending. Through this entire novel, we wait to see if Anna will win her case for medical emancipation. Of course, the reader also wonders if she will choose on her own to donate to Kate even if she wins. (view spoiler)

Anna wins her case, which is not altogether shocking, but then, rather than address the question of what she will do on her own . . . . she dies. That's right. We go through over 400 pages of arguing, drama, flashbacks, and moral dilemma only to have Anna be put on life support after a car accident leaving the courthouse. At this point, Anna's mother can do what she has wanted to do all along and harvest everything from Anna that Kate could possibly need to extend her life a few years more. I think it was supposed to be shocking, but I thought it was a lazy, unsatisfying finish.

(show spoiler)

I do think that this book would make a good book club choice because it includes lots of aspects for discussion, but it could have been so much better.