I saw the preview for the movie and thought “Oh no way would I put myself through what looks like an emotional roller coaster.” Then I saw that it was based on a book and suddenly, I wanted to read it.
Because I’m weird like that.
So, I read the book knowing about as much as you do after watching the preview… there is a family with a sick daughter and another daughter (younger) who doesn’t want to be the organ/blood/tissue/whatever donor for her sister. She gets a lawyer and sues for the right to not have to. Everyone supposedly learns about love and family and sacrifice.
The book, thank goodness is a bit more than that.
Jodi Picoult weaves the story together with multiple narrators, the suing sister Ana is our main character but we also get the perspective of her parents, her lawyer, her brother, and her court appointed liaison. (We don’t get the sick sister’s point of view until the end… a choice that is beautiful executed and almost not noticeable.)
Along the way we learn about not just Ana, but about her whole family… how everyone is affected by the sickness of Kate.
The book is amazingly well written, careful and poetic while being totally believable and charming even as it treads on very shaky emotional ground. This is a story that could lend itself very easily to a caricature of heroes and villains but it manages to make everyone more human than epic.
Such is the case of the mother, Sarah, who is very human… very flawed… and even though you want to understand her, even though Picoult gives you all you need to see why she makes the choices she makes… she is never anywhere as sympathetic as Ana. Her obsession, her coldness, her fear is, again, understandable but we never really warm up to her.
I will say that maybe having Sarah as a character who we can’t wholly get behind helps keep the story focused on Ana… but I would also point out that had Picoult made her more likable, the drama at the end would have been better.
This separation that is there though makes the book fraught with tension and also supremely realistic.
From a reader’s standpoint, it is an easy read as far as words and chapters are concerned but it is a difficult read as you watch a family at the edge of implosion.
And then the ending comes along, knocks you on your rear end, and leaves you torn.
I highly recommend the book…. With a poetic prose that is clear and yet strangely cryptic, this book will hold you in thrall all the way through.
If you are interested: My take on the movie is Here and a discussion on how they compare is here.