I have read a lot of books in my life. A lot more, I’d wager, than most people my age. And that’s without cheating and including all the non-fiction read as part of my university degree. I’d say about 50% of those books bounced in and out of my consciousness without making too much of a mark. 5% stayed but only because they were that rubbish they were hard to forget. 24% are books that were good. That are probably on my personal bookshelf. Whose authors, titles and characters I can still name. But that last 1% are the books that stay with me. Books that in some subtle way changed me.
My Sister’s Keeper is in that one percent.
It’s funny, when I talk to people about this book there is a clear divide. I can tell, fairly quickly, whether they have siblings or not. And I can tell whether they have children or not. My Sister’s Keeper is about family and anyone with any links to their own will feel its touch when they read it. I’ve seen mothers push away this book, not wanting to read it to its conclusion. Some tell me they don’t like it. The truth, if you ask me, is they don’t want to face it.
This book reads like a diary. A handful of tortured souls crying out. Jodi Picoult asks the questions we don’t want to answer in all her books. I think My Sister’s Keeper is my favourite, not because it is necessarily her best work but because it is the one that cuts me the closest. You don’t particularly read this book, you feel it. Anna, Kate, Sara, Brian, Julia, Campbell, Jesse, hell even Judge, become people you know. Picoult is both fearless and fearsome with her characters. She is uncompromising. She doesn’t seek to soften their flaws. She doesn’t seek to dramatise their pain – instead exploring it with such everyday and yet beautiful prose that they live far beyond the page. She has such a soft hand to her prose that she tells the story like a shadow. It most books you can feel the author’s presence, in a turn of phrase, in a choice of words, in a punchline but Picoult keeps herself anonymous.
Character wise, I love them all. I love the exploration of neglect with Jesse, the constant conflict with Anna, Campbell’s humour and how Picoult uses Anna as a mirror to allow us and him, to face his true self. Sara, broken by love but still standing. Brian, the hero who can save everyone but himself. And of course Kate.
This is a difficult book to read because every character is in pain and there is no easy way out. She doesn’t press a magic reset button and because it’s a book everything ends out happily ever after. She sees it through. And let me tell you, I’ve read this book many times and every time, without fail, it makes me cry.
Literary speaking, Picoult is a very talented wordsmith. Her use of fire as a metaphor throughout the book is both subtle and superb. It forms a theoretical backbone on which everything else can stand and links everyone. Her use of language is unparalleled. I gave up trying to keep count of all my favourite quotes, if I listed them all I’d be re-writing half the book. What makes her so compulsive is that while her writing is both descriptive and vivid, it never becomes clumsy, or heavy, and more importantly, always stays perfectly in tune with the character she is writing as. You do not need to read the chapter headings to know whose head you are in and that for me, speaks volumes about this book.
One thing I will say about this book – Do not watch the movie. I think I died a little inside when I heard Cameron Diaz had been cast. She does her best, but she is just so wrong for the part she is trying to play and while Abigail Breslin once again shows her class and abilities, around her are a cast and script that just massacre the original material. From the casting of Alec Baldwin who for me just doesn’t work as Campbell to the changing of the ending which I found nothing short of insulting – it is not worth ruining a good book with such a bitter tasting film.
My only other comment would be about Picoult herself and her style of story. I happened, by chance, to read My Sister’s Keeper first of all her books. Having loved it, I launched myself into her other books but found myself increasingly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that her writing has slipped or that her characters are less engaging, I just find that once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. She has a formula and she uses it without much variance. The moral dilemma is different every time but by the third Picoult novel you can pretty much predict every turn along the way. Some people like that, I get frustrated because I find often it lets down her brilliant story telling.
I said at the top this book changed me in some way. That sounds melodramatic. I don’t mean it that way. I have a little sister and maybe its why this book always hits me so hard. Picoult’s work always reminds me that I am lucky, I am incredibly lucky. While the Fitzgeralds might be fictional, the hundreds of cancer sufferers out there are real and living with this every day. This is a book as much about hope as it is about despair and it is the kind of book that reminds us what it truly is to be human.
Rating: 10-10: A brilliant book. A must read.
Favourite (7) Quotes: “I sometimes wonder if it’s just me, or if there are other women who figure out where they are supposed to be by going nowhere.”
“The word was runny, slippery, like the white of an egg.”
“It is so easy to think that the world revolves around you, but all you have to do is stare up at the sky to realise it isn’t that way at all.”
“Put ten people together in a Laundromat and chances are you won’t be the one who’s worst off.”
“Her hair is longer now, and fine lines bracket her mouth, parentheses around a lifetime of words I was not around to hear.”
“I tell you this to show you that in spite of what you’d think, miracles happen.”
“There’s some illogical part of me that still believes if you want Superman to show up, first there’s got to be someone worth saving.”
Favourite Character: Anna.
Least Favourite Character: N/A