My Sister’s Keeper (by Jodi Picoult)

2 12 2010

First, I don’t go looking for these multiple POV stories, but somehow they all just ended up on my plate these past few weeks. Second, before anyone asks, I didn’t see the movie, nor did I know there even was a movie made of Jodi Picoult’s novel about a 13-year-old girl looking for medical emancipation from her parents. It’s not like I would consciously watch a Cameron Diaz movie!

At age 2, Kate Fitzgerald is diagnosed with a severe form of leukemia. Failing to find a suitable bone marrow donor, her parents Sara and Brian decide to have another child, Anna, conceived through IVF and genetically the perfect donor child. When Anna is 13, she no longer wants to undergo all the medical procedures (that have saved Kate’s life over and over again), and she decides to sue her parents to obtain the right to her own body. The rest of the book is the lead-in to the court trial and Kate’s dying process (due to kidney failure – the reason why she needs Anna’s kidney this time around).

I’m sure that Jodi Picoult didn’t set out to write an easy novel here: when you’re forced to ‘harm’ one child to ‘save’ another, the moral dilemmas alone could kill you. And it’s not an easy novel for sure and yes, it’s truly thought-provoking. Picoult tries to explore the difference between what is morally right, what is ethically right, and what is just ‘right’. So I can totally see the reason why this one ended on that list I talked about a while back. There are no easy choices here, and that is something Picoult achieves to put across to the reader.

On the other hand, truth be told, the multiple POVs we get were not all necessary to bring that message across. Some of the storylines are downright cliché (the soppy Campbell-Julia storyline was definitely one I could have done without) and some of the characters are incredibly 2-dimensional ( Jesse as the troublesome teen turning sociopathic pyromaniac is a bit iffy; Sara the mother-in-doubt is not exactly the best worked out character either…). I think the discussion about morals and ethics and the consequences of making certain choices could have and should have stood on its own without some of this weekend film fodder, to be honest.

That’s exactly what I felt like reading at times: a book that is at times a real tearjerker (with enough of the sobbing in the right places, but equally as much in the wrong places); at other times an almost philosophical treatise about ethics and morals; then your typical courtroom drama… I’m not entirely sure what to make of everything combined, though. OK, there’s a weird twist at the end of the book, but I can get over that. It really isn’t the ending that spoils the book for me (in a universe where making hard choices as a prerequisite to stay alive, it’s obvious that sometimes fate, destiny or coincidence can rear its ugly head). To me, it’s definitely some of the subplots and the two-dimensionality of the characters that spoil the strength of what could have been.

However, I’m fairly confident that what will most rock the readers here has nothing to do with my dislike of some weekend movie subplot, but with the ethical and moral minefield that Picoult writes about. I can see how some might consider this novel to be moral blackmail. I can also see why people say they can do without the bouts of pop-psychology. On occasion, it really is often overly sentimental and fairly exploitative (not just to Anna, but the reader too).  And yes, the ending, it’s there, it’s weird, it’s deus ex machina, and for a lot of people, it’ll feel like a betrayal: why does Jodi Picoult not answer the questions she raised in the novel?

I give Picoult props for getting herself into this ethical minefield (she must have known what she was getting herself into, though), but the execution could have been a lot better. Attention to character and sticking to your authorial choices could have lifted this book up beyond mere sentiment. It’s a page turner, yes, but not always for the right reasons…

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