Thursday, November 19, 2009

What If There Are No Right Answers?

I recently read Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper for the Bulldog Book Club. It was a novel I've avoided reading for years, even though I enjoy Jodi Picoult's writing, but the subject matter just seemed too depressing. Childhood cancer is not a subject that I really want to read about in my free time, especially since I have two little girls who are about the age that the characters in the novel are when the oldest sister's cancer is diagnosed. But, ever the supportive Book Club sponsor, I dutifully checked it out and read it. I liked it, for the most part. Maybe I haven't read Picoult in a while, but this one seemed more rambling and not quite as tight as my memory of some of her others. The one thing I really liked is that each chapter is told from a different character's perspective, including: the younger sister who is suing for medical emancipation, her mother, her father, her lawyer, her court-appointed juvenile representative, and her older brother. The glaringly obvious omission is the point of view of her older sister Kate, for whom Anna has been undergoing medical procedures since birth. Kate was diagnosed with cancer when she was a toddler, but no one in her family was a perfect match for bone marrow, etc., and the likelihood of finding an unrelated person who was a match was almost impossible. Kate's doctor had mentioned that a sibling who was a perfect match would be the best option, so Kate's parents decided to have a third child. They were able to choose an embryo that was a perfect match for Kate, had it implanted in her mother, who then gave birth to Anna, Kate's perfect match. This meant that Anna was Kate's default provider of blood, bone marrow, and other bodily tissues and fluids for most of Anna's young life. At the novel's beginning, Anna is faced with donating a kidney, and she finally has had enough and decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation. This of course causes great anguish and heartache for everyone in the family, as the likelihood of Kate's death looms large in the absence of a kidney donation. Anna, however, remains steadfast in her refusal to donate. The questions involved in this often-riveting family drama include: when does the individual become more important than the family? To what lengths would you go to preserve control over your own body? How can families recover from devastating events which might tear them apart? Are all family members equal? At what age should you be allowed to control your destiny?
Jodi Picoult is a master of the "grey area", where black and white do not exist. By the end of the novel I had come to terms with what I thought was going to happen, but I was blown out of the water by the mega-twist that came instead. I felt really outraged at first because it all seemed too unlikely, but then when I read the "Author's Note" at the end, and had time to think about the point Picoult was trying to make with this conclusion, I realized that it really could not have ended any other way and been as satisfying (after my initial outrage had subsided).
So, here's a long and rambling post about a sometimes-long-and-rambling book, but because of its overall message and the intriguing questions posed within its story, I'm giving it 3 out of 4 Bananas.