Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reader's Diary #452- Jodi Picoult: My Sister's Keeper

Two major authors introduced to me through the litblogging community are Jodi Picoult and Neil Gaiman. In hindsight I must have been living under a rock not to have heard of them before, but in any case, I, too, jumped on the bandwagon with a couple of Gaiman's works under my belt, and now, finally, Picoult.

I know she has her share of fans, but I'd call this one a recommenDUD. About halfway through I found myself comparing it to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. I guess I should really be glad I read Brown's book; I've used it in so many reviews now that I've lost track. However, I usually use it as a benchmark of sorts and when you see his name pop up on my blog, it's rarely a good sign.

For me, Brown is the epitome of a great premise ruined by shoddy writing. While I didn't dislike My Sister's Keeper as much as The Da Vinci Code, I thought it suffered the same fate.

My Sister's Keeper is the story of a daughter conceived with the intention of being her sister's lifesaver. Anna was essentially created in a lab as a perfect genetic match to donate bone marrow to her sister Kate who suffers from a rare form of leukemia. As Kate relapses time and time again, Anna finds herself poked and prodded right along with her. At thirteen her parents decide that Anna will donate a kidney to Kate and that's where Anna draws the line; she sues her parents for medical emancipation.

Early into the book, I found myself having loads of moral and ethical discussions with my wife. It's a heavy, emotional topic and conversations like ours are bound to be the norm. However, early on I began to have my reservations with the characters.

Beginning with Anna, I suspected that someone with her experiences would be more knowledgeable than the typical adolescent about medicine. I suppose with the turmoil she'd faced, it would also be a fair to assume she'd be a little more mature than her peers. But, when she thinks that her lawyer's name (Campbell Alexander) "sounds like a bar drink that costs too much, or a brokerage firm," I'm not going to accept that one. Maybe Drew Barrymore was able to reference cocktails and brokerage firms at age thirteen, but it doesn't seem credible for Anna.

Told from various characters' perspectives, the font changes with each person. It's a small annoyance, as if readers aren't smart enough to understand on their own that having "Sara," "Brian," "Campbell," etc written at the top of each chapter means that particular person is now telling the story. But that's a small issue, which I suspect was a publisher's issue. My major beefs were with the caricatures that were supposed to serve as characters.

Kate and Anna's older brother Jesse suffers the worst under Picoult's cliched pen, portrayed as the troubled teen who curses, thinks about sex a lot, and likes to get hammered with one substance or another. He also serves to illustrate another complaint of mine: the cheesy sentimentality. After a run of arson, Jessie is caught by his father (a firefighter, of course) and his father, Brian, chalks it up to Jessie's concern over his two younger sisters. Brian ponders, "How does someone go from thinking that if he cannot rescue, he must destroy?" With a first-year psychology course, Brian.

Then there's the tacked on love story between Anna's lawyer and her court appointed guardian ad litem (which, oddly, no one seems to think is a conflict of interest), the annoying bit about the lawyer's mysterious service dog, and the ending...

I disliked this book a lot. Even more now that I've gotten some of my thoughts down. But I won't spoil the ending. Rest assured, the ending spoils itself.


Teddy Rose said...

Well it is good to see at least one person agrees with me on The Da Vinci Code! LOL!

I stayed away from Picoult for a very long time, writing her off as chick lit. I finally did read My Sister's Keeper and I actually loved it. Yes, I agree with you that Anna comparingt to a bar drink was out of character. I still loved the book.

We will have to agree to disagree on this one John.

Sherrie said...

Hi John,
I haven't read this book, but have read a couple of Jodi Picoult's books. They weren't my favorites and they were a little on the depressing side. Thanks for the review, I'll probably put this at the bottom of my list. Have a great day!


P.S. Have finished By The Time You Read This by Giles Blunt for the 2nd Canadian Reading Challenge.

Dale said...

Interesting to read your review, I see Jodi Picoult's in the hands of commuters everywhere I go, okay, it's really just to and from work.

Anonymous said...

I read My Sister's Keeper for a book club and I was sufficiently impressed with it to try another Picoult. That one, the title of which I have suppressed and I'm too lazy to go look it up, had to do with an Amish girl getting pregnant and then killing the child after childbirth was so bad that I have vowed never to read another Picoult.

Believe me John, I think you picked the best Picoult there is.

raidergirl3 said...

1. love the use of recommenDUD

2. I liked My Sister's Keeper a lot, but I can completely see your objections at the same time. I liked all the moral discussions that came from it.

3. Picoult is the book of choice for many high school girls. I see at least one in each class, and in my mind, any author who gets HS kids reading continually, has to have some good points.

4. I was disappointed with Mercy, by Picoult and agree that you may have read her best book first, but I've heard good things about 19 Minutes and I hope to read it.

5. You hated the DaVinci Code?

claire said...

I've stayed away from Picoult as well and have no intentions of reading her, only because I really don't feel any attraction towards her books' premise and her style. I also put Dan Brown down after reading the first three pages because I didn't enjoy the writing style, although I really really would love to read the book for its premise. Maybe it would be good to just skim through it and look for the interesting bits?

John Mutford said...

Teddy: We'll always have Dan Brown.

Splummer: What others have you read?

Dale: She's certainly popular. Maybe you could casually switch their copies with something better.

Gypsysmom: If that's the best one, I feel even better in my decision to avoid her in the future.

Raidergirl: 1. RecommenDUD is such a useful term. 2. I don't object to the moral discussions at all. I commend her for that. 3. And I'm cool with anyone else enjoying it-- even older than highschool kids. I can understand someone else enjoying it, but I personally thought the bad outweighed the good. 4. Yeah, I'd never say never, but I'm most likely done with Picoult. 5. Oh yes. And then someone told me that Angels & Demons was even(!) better. Like a chump I read that one, too. It wasn't.

Claire: By biggest (but by no means only) objection to the Da Vinci Code was the cliffhanger suspense at the end of every single chapter...

Remi said...

Da Vinci Code was complete trash. A dumb book trying badly to be smart. I hated the cliffhanger chapters too. It was like some trashy movie of the week or something.

I see Picoult everywhere but have resisted her lure. I will go on resisting. If I want to read dark stuff, there's still some Barbara Gowdy I haven't gotten around to yet.

claire said...

Hmm.. so the writing was okay for you? (DaVinci Code) Maybe I should give it another chance sometime.. should probably not have given up after only 3 pages.. lol.

John Mutford said...

Claire: Oh gosh no, the writing of the Da Vinci Code was not okay with me. It was dreadful. You were wise to stop after 3 pages.

Anonymous said...

I read this book on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend and couldn't stand it! And you wouldn't believe the number of people I've encountered who rave about it - since they are typically in professional settings (e.g. the library patron talking to me the library employee), I have to just shut my mouth and listen to them go on about how wonderful a writer she is, while in my head I'm screaming, noooooo!