Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper is a good example of what a lazy reader I am. I've heard it recommended probably dozens of times, but it wasn't until someone chose it for book club that I finally buckled down and read it. This is also a good example of why I love my book club, because through it I cross more books off my to-read list than I ever would on my own!

My Sister's Keeper is an easy read in the sense that the story is pretty straightforward, the characters are interesting but not too complicated, and there is enough building tension to keep the pages turning. But it is not an easy read in the sense that it deals with some very heartbreaking issues and moral dilemmas. It's one that will make you ask questions you might never have thought of before, and then think about the answers for days afterward.

The central figure in the story is Anna -- a thirteen-year-old girl who was conceived solely for the purpose of providing life-saving cord blood for her older sister Kate who is suffering with a rare form of leukemia. Over the years, Anna undergoes countless procedures and surgeries in order to help keep her sister alive. But when she's thirteen and sixteen-year-old Kate is suffering from kidney failure, Anna refuses to provide a kidney and hires a lawyer to fight for the right to make her own medical decisions.

It is an emotionally charged story that shifts perspectives between all the major players. We see the bond between Anna and Kate, but also the insecurity Anna feels from believing her parents don't love her. We see the struggles of her older brother, Jesse, who turns to increasingly self-destructive behavior as he acts out against years of neglect. We see the mother being consumed by Kate's illness and fighting to save her life at all costs. And we see the father who is torn between Kate's need to live and Anna's need to be free. This invites the reader to contemplate many difficult questions about reconciling life and death, how far our moral obligation extends to help one we love, and the devastating effects of terminal illness on marriage and family life.

There are brief flashes of happiness, but overall it's a very sad story that gets more troubling as the reader is forced to accept that there is no way that everyone can get a happy ending. There are a few happy endings to go around, though, and the story is compelling enough to make it worth the sadness. Picoult throws in a couple of surprises at the end, including a major plot twist in the last few pages that caught my attention just as I was drifting off to sleep at midnight and shocked me awake enough to finish it and then lie awake in bed sorting out how I felt about it.

And this is what I decided. I didn't like it. The ending, that is. I love a great surprise ending when the author has laid the groundwork for it all throughout the book. But this one seemed to come out of nowhere and felt more like Picoult smugly saying, "Ha ha ha! Tricked you!" It made for a more ironic and tragic ending than the story really deserved, I thought. So it ended up feeling false and, while it gave me a lot to think about, mostly I was thinking, "Why did Picoult do that? That was a bit much."

Overall, I liked the story. And I liked the things it made me examine about myself. I didn't like the bad language and all the sexual imagery, and I wasn't a big fan of the ending. So I can't decide if I'll try any more by this author or not. Maybe if I wait long enough, my book club will pick another one of her books...


  1. I didn't like this book for the exact same reason. About halfway through I thought "I bet she's going to end it this way...Nah, she wouldn't. That would just be too much." And then she did. It felt like she was playing her readers and I just didn't appreciate that.

    Plus, I felt like everything was FRAUGHT WITH MEANING. The wind couldn't just blow outside, people couldn't just look at each other, everything that anyone said signaled some sort of impending doom. I gave up trying to like anyone in it long before I got angry over the ending.

  2. Rachel, you brought up a good point about the characters. I was engrossed in the story while I was reading it, but then once it was over I realized that I had never really gotten attached to the characters. I felt sorry for them, but I didn't really care about them all that much. If I had really gotten attached, I probably would have been more affected by the ending instead of just being irritated by it.

  3. Hmmmm.... I was given a book by her and have yet to get around to reading it. I don't mind books that question various beliefs, but I don't like feeling "played" by the author and having my emotions manipulated. Does that make sense? That being said, this still sounds like an interesting topic. I've heard news stories about this particular situation.

  4. I've seen her name around and wondered what her books were like. It sure is handy to know people who read a lot and have the same taste in books as I do, PLUS write awesome reviews. Jenny, Caren, and Rachel, please keep this up. You have saved me from wasting time and you've introduced me to wonderful books. Plus, I always know I can get a good discussion (shredding) of Twilight from Jenny.