22 Mar 2019
Other books I read by this author: Small Great Things
A bestseller does not mean best novel. In this case though, it seems that it is not only popular to buy this book, but that most people actually love it. As you might have guessed, I am a dissenter. Sure, I did enjoy the book, but if we are honest, that is quite a low bar for me. Give me letters and a semblance of a story and chances are that I will enjoy reading it.
Let me begin with the positive. The premise of the book is original and as a lawyer I really liked the legal and moral conundrum it poses to the reader. The story follows the Fitzgerald family. Their second child, Kate, develops acute promyelocytic leukemia, a blood and bone marrow cancer. To save their daughter, her parents decide to have a third child, a ‘designer baby’ who fits the requirements for a perfect donor. At first the idea is that only the umbilical cord will be used, right after the birth of the third child, Anna. But as the cancer relapses again and again, more (and more invasive) donations are needed. Finally, when Kate needs a kidney donor, the 13-year old Anna puts her foot down and sues her parents for medical emancipation. So the dilemma is obvious; do you put one of your children in possible harms way (and against her will) if it might save another?
This could be a really gripping tale. Just by reading the book cover you can imagine the heartbreaking story and the impossible choice. Unfortunately the story reads less like a great novel and more like a what-if hypothesis. The characters feel a bit one dimensional and bland, which made it hard for me to actually feel for them. I especially had a hard time identifying with the mother, whom I read as manipulative and domineering. We are supposed to see her as overprotective, but even the parts that we read from her point of view, she seems to neglect two-thirds of her offspring. But this was not the biggest reason I couldn’t really enjoy the book.
“It’s about a girl who is on the cusp of becoming someone. A girl who may not know what she wants right now, and she may not know who she is right now, but who deserves the chance to find out.”
The book contains another story, about Anna’s lawyer and her court appointed guardian ad litem. Every time the book switched to their narrative, I wanted to rip out the pages. Picoult proves that too much foreshadowing can bludgeon a story to death. I love books that lets a character surprise me as much as the next reader, but please LET IT BE A SURPRISE. Every other part of their narrative screamed ‘there is a part of my backstory that you, reader, don’t know yet but will prove fundamental to your understanding of my character, and possibly the whole book’. This ‘plot-twist’ was the literary equivalent of a gift wrapped football; we all know it’s not a book grandma!
SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD
Beside this completely unnecessary and frustratingly written* story-arc, the books ending felt like an unbelievable cop-out. As I stated, I liked the book because of the premise; a question without a right answer. But Picoult chooses not to answer the question. Instead she throws a curveball that was probably intended to shock the reader into an emotional frenzy, but left me philosophically frustrated.
Let it be known that I am weeper. I weep when I hear a nice song, see a sad commercial or read even a slightly sad story. The blurb from Daily Express on the book cover promises me that the story “will test your tear ducts to the limit”. Well Daily Express, the story did not draw a single tear for me. If you want a book about a controversial subject/ethical dilemma/gripping tale, my advise to you is to skip this book and read Picoults Small Great Things instead.
But what do I know, My Sister’s Keeper is a bestseller after all.
*Remember that I know it when I see it? Well reader: this is where I saw it. Over and over again.
Image by Andrea Tummons via Unsplash