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.