"In another pile are her baby pictures all taken when she was three or younger. Gap-toothed and grinning, backlit by a sloe-eyed sun, unaware of what was to come. ÔI don't remember being her,' Kate says quietly ... Bent at a corner, it shows Kate as a toddler being tossed into the air by Brian, her hair flying behind her, her arms and legs starfish-splayed, certain beyond a doubt that when she fell to earth again, there would be a safe landing, sure that she deserved nothing less."
In "My Sister's Keeper," Jodi Picoult introduces her readers to the Fitzgerald family: Mom Sara, Dad Brian, Son Jesse, and Daughters Kate and Anna. Anna is our protagonist, a 13-year-old who was specifically conceived, and designed, to be a donor match for Kate, the older daughter who has a rare form of leukemia. The story begins in the present day with Anna hiring a lawyer to seek medical emancipation to become empowered to make her own medical decisions, including forgoing the intended kidney transplant that Kate needs. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader gets to know who the Fitzgeralds were before Kate was diagnosed, the moment Anna was born, and the years that led to Jesse's miscreant behavior.
Using specific chapter headings (and fonts), Picoult presents the viewpoint of each character. While at first glance "cookie-cutter," each character does something that at first surprises, but on further reflection impresses, the reader. Brian's deep connection to Anna, for example, is
Picoult's language is poetic without going over the top. While the nature of the plot is intended to yank on the heart strings, it never feels like a melodrama. She achieves this with sub-plots and less pivotal characters who add dimension and grounding to the novel.
The least likable and least developed character is the mother. While it is imaginable that a parent would focus on the child that is ill, the child that needs the most attention, it is sad to think that the disregard for the other two would be so pronounced. The reader must also believe that after at least 17 years, Sara would be willing or able to act as an attorney representing herself and Brian against a lawsuit of this personal magnitude. For no specific reason, we wonder, did she maintain active status with her state bar association?
As if the plot isn't sad itself, Picoult throws in a plot twist ending that feels like a swift kick to the stomach.
"My Sister's Keeper" is a major motion picture currently in theaters. I admit, I'm waiting for the DVD. This is a tequila and tissue story that requires a home viewing. While I am interested in seeing the film, (especially the performances of two of my favorite young actresses Abigail Breslin and Sofia Vassileva) I can't help but think about the beautiful prose that a movie watcher would sacrifice.
Recommendation: Yes, it's guilty of thinly veiled metaphors and symbolism, and yes, it's a sad plot. But the engaging story, the interesting viewpoints and the beautiful writing, make this a must-read this summer.
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Contact Kel Kanady at email@example.com.