discovering something new in “pop fiction”

Happy Friday, gentle reader.

I don’t often find myself reading recently released pop fiction. I’ve never read anything by Nicholas Sparks; I’ve never read Eat, Pray, Love (ok, that’s not fiction, but you get the drift); I haven’t tackled Stieg Larsson’s trilogy yet; and until this week I had not read any Jodi Picoult. (Side story: I so enjoyed Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin that I began to be interested in Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes which is on the same subject; but Shriver’s book came out ~4 years before and they looked so similar I worried that Picoult was not being perhaps entirely original!) However, after reading my friend Amy‘s blog post about Handle with Care, I became interested in My Sister’s Keeper, which is discussed in that post. (Sorry if this story is a little convoluted.) Because I trust and respect Amy even though she reads and writes sci fi :) I picked up My Sister’s Keeper and started it this week. So.

My usual reading routine is to keep (at least) one book going at work, which I read on lunch breaks, and almost always bring home to finish over the weekend (if I don’t, it’s not a very good book). I simultaneously have one (or more likely several) books going at home. My Sister’s Keeper has been doing so well, though, that I took it home with me last night – on a Thursday – to read at the park before a trail work session. That’s a good sign.

I spent a couple dozen pages being a little, mm, irritated I suppose, by the conversational and youthful style. The story is told from varying viewpoints, a chapter at a time in first person from a variety of characters; but we start pretty heavy on Anna, the thirteen-year-old protagonist. I think perhaps her voice was authentic for her age, and maybe that’s what bothered me a little. I pushed through my grumpiness, though, and I think I’ll take full credit for that grumpiness; I just needed an adjustment period. I like this book! The moral issues at stake are pretty interesting, and while I’m not extremely torn – I’m pretty clear on what I think “should” be – I definitely appreciate what Picoult is doing to illustrate the complexity of the question.

Quick plot synopsis: Anna was genetically engineered and conceived specifically to match older sister Kate’s needs for a tissue donor. Kate has a very complex and aggressive cancer. By the time we meet Anna (13), Kate (16) has lived a decade beyond expectations. Parents Sara and Brian (such prosaic names!) have always just drawn from Anna when Kate has needs; but now, in the face of kidney donation, Anna hires a lawyer and sues her parents for medical emancipation. If she wins, her sister dies. You can see the complexity there. No plot spoilers for now because I’m not done reading yet :) although I did read Amy’s spoilers! (It’s okay, I don’t care, a good book should stand up after spoilers.)

My reaction to the dilemma is entirely on Anna’s side. Kate will die with or without a kidney transplant; Anna has much more to gain or lose in this question, and it’s high time someone took her rights into account. Here’s a kicker: read all the synopses you like of this book, and tell me, how many mention the third (eldest) sibling, Jesse? He doesn’t count at all; and Anna only counts as a body-parts donor. Sara is heard to say “stop acting like a five-year-old” to a five-year-old; she guilt trips her other two children, even at very young ages, that at least they’re not in Kate’s shoes; she rejects many pleas for normalcy because everything has to be about Kate. She accuses Jesse of injecting drugs when in fact his track marks are from donating plasma to his little sister; Sara’s so busy martyring the world that she wasn’t aware of his donations. I don’t think there’s much question here of what’s right or wrong; but for a thirteen-year-old girl to make the decision for her sister to die is pretty heavy stuff. It’s heavy for the mother, too, but I can’t believe she doesn’t have a little more concern for her other daughter.

So even though I find myself a little disgusted with one character, I like what Picoult’s doing. All of the characters are very believable; to not like a character is certainly not to not like a book or a writer’s work.

Sorry I waited so long to give this one a try! I’ll have to be a bit more open-minded in the future.

Just to keep you up to date, I’m working on Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie at home (thanks to an RA classmate for the recommendation), and yes I will read Stieg Larsson’s trilogy one of these days, but what’s the rush? I’ll wait til there aren’t lines of people waiting for them and buy them off the used rack in a year or two. :)

Enjoy your weekend! I know I will, with so many good books in the world. Ahhh.

6 Responses

  1. Yes, your main concern, over the mother’s lack of concern about Anna, is extremely valid. I remember being outraged because the mother wouldn’t let Anna play hockey if it meant being away from home for even a few days in case Kate “needed” her just then.

    I can’t remember if I had more a sense of this from the book or the movie or the combination of both, but one can see that a parent of a terminally ill child can turn being that parent into their entire identity, which is one they will then defend. It’s possible that when being such a parent, it can’t be otherwise — it might be a necessary coping mechanism. Picoult does a good job showing how that affects the rest of the family. (I did think the arson metaphor was a little heavyhanded; the movie took out that element altogether.)

    • I would just like to say that even after reading your spoiler post I cried my eyes out. Also that the romance between J & C, and the one between K & T, were pleasant surprises. Really a very good book. Do you recommend I read any more of hers? Nicholas Sparks? :)

      • I’ve never read any Nicholas Sparks. Women’s fic/pop lit/whatever-it’s-called-these-days isn’t generally my cup of tea, which is part of what made Jodi Picoult such a revelation to me in My Sister’s Keeper.

        If it means anything, the only other book of hers I’ve bought and (more importantly) kept is Vanishing Acts. I have serious issues with Nineteen Minutes and Handle with Care, but Vanishing Acts had some magic for me.

  2. Okay, I guess we’re on the same page! I feel like it’s less important, too, for reader’s advisory purposes, that I read things like Larsson and Sparks – everybody wants to read them, period, so my opinion is less important.

  3. [...] Still Missing by Chevy Stevens Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger Look Again by Lisa Scottoline Love You More by Lisa Gardner These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult [...]

  4. [...] Strange and Mr Norrell    Susanna Clarke 65    The Color Purple    Alice Walker 66    My Sister’s Keeper    Jodi Picoult 67    The Stand    Stephen King 68    Cloud Atlas    David Mitchell [...]

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