Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Review: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Disclaimer: I neither read nor enjoy much bestselling contemporary fiction. There are exceptions (I like Elizabeth Berg, John Grisham, and some Stephen King) but in general, these books are not my cup of tea because I feel that they sacrifice good writing for popular plot twists and edge-of-the-seat drama. I especially steer away from "chick lit" and even more some from family-based drama that is about a mother and her children, because I usually find that it's overly cutesy and I just can't relate to it.

But. My mom had been telling me I need to read My Sister's Keeper, and she sent it to me. Even my sister, who hates to read, read and enjoyed the book. Then, a movie was coming out about it with a concept that looked new and interesting: one sister was created so that her other sister could live. I thought, I'd better read the book.

Well. What can I say? I guess My Sister's Keeper was everything I had expected to be. It had an interesting theme and some dramatic plot twists, but lacked good writing (for the most part) and character depth.

The main character is Anna, who is supposed to give up a kidney to save her sister from dying from cancer, or at least to prolong her life a bit longer. Anna has been doing similar things since she was born and her umbilical cord was used for a transplant for her sister. Her parents had purposefully created her to save or prolong her sister' life. At the beginning of the book, Anna has decided to fight back and has hired a lawyer to file a lawsuit for rights over her medical decisions (the legal aspects of the book are pretty murky).

The story is told in different first-person points of view, with each chapter being told by a different character, whose name is plastered on top, and, get this, the font type and style even changes with each chapter so you know it's being told by someone else. Gag.

I felt that Anna's voice was interesting and pretty convincing for a young teenage character. This made it feel like a young adult novel, but hey, I like young adult novels so I wish the entire book were told by Anna; I might have liked it a lot better. I hated the parts that were told by the mother because I was mad at her for having a baby for her own selfish purposes-although some may not think that keeping another child alive is a selfish purposes). Try as I might to grasp it by reading her sentimental and overly-protective dribble, I wasn't convinced that a mother, let alone this mother who was telling the story, could really do such a thing, and feel no shame or doubts about it. My own mother could relate to the mother of the book more than I could, so maybe it's a mother thing. Still, the mother came across as a self-righteous know-it-all to me. I didn't believe that she had had a successful law practice before beoming a mother, and I didn't feel any real love between her and her husband.

Speaking of the husband, the chapters that were told by him and his son, Anna's brother, read horribly for me. I just wanted to skip them. He's a fire-fighter, which I thought was conveniently contrived and also very unrealistic (who is paying for this family's luxury when the father is a fire-fighter and the mother is a stay-at-home mom who only practiced law briefly before having kids and is therefore probably in a lot of student loan debt?). He seems more ambivalent about the family's decision to have one child to save another child, but he comes across like a spineless wimp who's afraid of expressing his opinion to his wife, or, worse, like he doesn't care enough to do so. And the brother, Jesse, is a juvenile delinquent, which also feels very contrived, who is out roaming the streets and starting fires that his father has to put out without knowing that his son started them (see the irony? har har). His character does the best job of capturing the anger and angst that I'm sure Anna was feeling and that most of the readers would be feeling. Still, he comes across as superficial and stereotypical. The voices all blend together and do not sound like individual characters, a pet peeve I have when an author tries to do different points of view. Anna's came across as the strongest but the rest of the narrators--including the guardian ad liten and Anna's lawyer, both of whom get a turn--all jumbled together into one indistinguisable or trying-too-hard voice.

The legal sub-plots of the book didn't seem realistic, although I did enjoy the character of Anna's lawyer and his German Shepherd dog named Judge. He (the lawyer, but also his dog) seemed to be the only rationale character while the rest of them were floating around in no-man's-land.

I did enjoy the plot of the book and it was a very easy read. I read it during a rainy camping trip where I had the luxury of laying in a tent all day. I wanted to find out what happened, and at times there was a piece of beautiful writing included. Most of the time, however, the writing was gimmicky and overly sentimental and I felt like I was just pushing through to see what happens, like in a movie, not a well-written book. And then when I got to the end I was so annoyed that I seriously wanted to throw the book out into the mud. I won't include any spoilers but it was the worst ending I think I have ever read, and such an easy way out that I htink Picoult should be ashamed of herself. I hadn't planned to read any more of her books because I was more interested in the concept of this one than the writing, but, having gotten to the end only to be let down as a reader in such a huge way, I am 100% sure that I will never read anything else by her. Yes, I was that mad at how she wrote the ending! Grrr.

So, I give My Sister's Keeper two stars because there were parts of it that I enjoyed, but the rest of it was downright awful. I cannot in good conscience recommend it, but I think it's one of those books that people read because everyone else is reading it and talking about it (which is never a bad thing, people talking about books), and because there's a movie, all of which were reasons I read it, so, read it and see whether you agree with my many critiques or if you find something redeeming in it. By the way I later watched the movie and enjoyed it. The ending was much better than in the book although they did leave some things out from the book's plot that I missed. I would recommend the movie over the book, which I rarely do, but, there you have it. I guess in the end my foray into popular family-drama chick lit proved to be what I thought it would be: mostly empty, with a few splashes of interest and annoyance.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Quotes from "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult

Coming soon, my review of this book. For now, here are quotes from it that I flagged:

"In my family, we seem to have a tortured history of not saying what we outght to and not meaning what we do."

"[My sister] and I are Siamese twins; you just can't see the spot where we're connected. Which makes separation that much more difficult."

"True love is felonious. You take someone's breath away. You rob them of the ability to utter a single word. You steal a heart. It's not a misdeamnor... once you're in, it's for life." (paraphrased)

"The human capacity for burden is like bamboo-- far more flexible than you'd ever believe at first glance."

"Summertime is a collective unconscious. We all remember the notes that made up the song of the ice cream man; we all know what it feels like to brand our thighs on a playground slide that's heated up like a knife ina fire; we all have lain on our backs with our eyes closed and our hearts beting across the surface of our lids, hoping that this day will stretch just a little longer than the last one, when in fact it's all going in the other direction."

"When you are a kid you have your own language, and unlike French or Spanish or whatever you start learning in fourth grade, this one you're born with, and eventually lose. Everyone under the age of seven is fluent in Ifspeak; go hang aroudn with someone under three feet tall and you'll see. What if a giant funnelweb spider crawled out of that hole over your head and bit you on the neck? What if the only antidote for venom was locked up in a vault on the top of a mountain/ What if you lived through the bit, but could only move your eyelids and blink out an alphabet? It doesn't really matter how far you go; the point is that it's a world of possibility. Kdis think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I've decided, is only a slow sewing shut."

"It's impossible to believe that the laundry I once folded for her was doll-sized; as if I can still stee her dancing in lazy piroutees along the lip of the sandbox. Wasn't it yesterday that her hand was only as big as the sand dollar she found on the beach? That same hand, the one that's holding a boy's; wasn't it just holding mine, tugging so that I might stop and see the spiderweb, the milkweed pod, any of a thousand moments she wanted me to freeze? Time is an optical illusion-- never quite as solid or strong as we think it is."