Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has been one of my favourite authors. I know that a lot of my friends don’t like her writing as much, but for me, there is something about her writing that works. The topics she picks up and the way she handles it, all work for me.

Ruth Jefferson is a single mother to her teenage son, Edison. Her husband died in Afghanistan and she has worked hard all her life, as a labour and delivery nurse to ensure a better life for her son. She has always refused to succumb to racial stereotypes and has always believed that her colour will never come in the way of her success professionally.

One day, at work, while conducting a regular check up of a newborn, she is met with an irate father and the next thing she knows is that she is taken off the case. The notes for the child has a ‘request’ that no African-American is allowed to take care of the child. The parents are White supremacists. While Ruth accepts the direction her manager gives her, she is later put into a position where is feels bound by her manager’s orders while knowing that her nurses’ duty directs her in another direction.

Unfortunately the baby dies, and Ruth’s professional conduct is in question. She now has to prove in court that she didn’t do anything wrong, that she was not responsible for the death of the baby. Everything Ruth held dear and took for granted is shaken. People she thought were her friends, her employers who she always assumed would take care of.. Her beliefs shaken. It takes a toll on her and even more importantly her son.

Ruth’s case is fought by Kennedy, the public defender assigned to her case. For Kennedy, this case is an eye opener of the sort she had never expected. She is forced to see the inherent inequality that exists everywhere in society, and had been invisible to her all these years. It just took a trip to the mall with Ruth for Kennedy to come face to face with the discrimination and inequality that existed within society.

The narrative is from three perspectives, Ruth, Kennedy and Turk, the father of the child.  Each person’s story adds a dimension, there are no black and whites. As the story progresses, it shows how the experience has changed all the protagonists. Not just the main protagonists. It was heart=breaking to read how Edison was impacted by all of this. Taught all his life by his mother that his colour is just incidental, Edison is now questioning it. He starts to wonder if his cousins are better off living the stereotypical lives expected of them, rather than be the straight A student that he is. What is the point of living a sham of a life, when at the end of it, everything seems to boil down to the colour of your skin.

This was a beautiful book. Like all of Picoult’s books, one that made me think, made me cry and made me a more aware, and hopefully a better person for having read it. It reinforces how easy it is for people with privileges to not even realise that the society is rife with inequalities. It is books like these that will actually make people think, make people introspect. It might not be a colour based inequality, but all societies by nature tend to be inequal and unjust.

A 5/5 book for me. One that I would recommend to everyone. I think this will stay with me for a while, and will be one of my favourite Picoult books.

Thank you Netgalley and the publishers for the review copy of this book.

About the Author

Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-three novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers Leaving Time, The Storyteller, Lone Wolf, Between the Lines, Sing You Home, House Rules, Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, and My Sister’s Keeper. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

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Book Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

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Jodi Picoult has always been one of my favourite authors. I love the way she handles subjects. She has a wonderful style of keeping you in the dark until the very end. Even if you do get an inkling of where the story is going, she manages to pack such a punch, that I find her books irresistible.

Two mini e-books (When There’s Smoke and Larger than Life) were available on Amazon as a prologue to this book. I read When There’s Smoke a while back. I had Larger than life downloaded for ages before I started reading it in December. After reading that book, I couldn’t resist buying Leaving Time and reading it right away.

For over a decade, Jenna Metcalf obsesses on her vanished mom Alice. Jenna searches online, rereads journals of the scientist who studied grief among elephants. Two unlikely allies are Serenity Jones, psychic for missing people who doubts her gift, and Virgil Stanhope, jaded PI who originally investigated cases of Alice and her colleague.

Jenna Metcalf is single-minded in her focus. Having poured over her mother’s journals, she knew with conviction that she would have never abandoned her little girl without a backward glance. She needs to know what happened. She feels that her mother, Alice’s missing status was never investigated properly. Her grandmother, with whom she now lives, never even reported that her daughter was missing. The one person who could tell her, her father, is in a mental institution. He does not even recognize his own daughter. So for him to explain what happened to her mother was a tall order. Her grandmother refused to talk to her about her mother. Jenna finally decides to take matters into her own hands and lands up in Serenity’s living room. Serenity is a psychic, who has lost her gift. She was a celebrity psychic who specialized in missing people, until things went terribly wrong for her. Serenity and Jenna are joined by Virgil Stanhope, the investigator who was part of the original investigation after which Alice went missing.

Do they find Alice? Does Jenna get what she was after? You will have to read to find out.

Interwoven with the story are elephants and their ways of handling grief which was what Alice, Jenna’s mum, as an researcher was studying. I have to say, that was beautifully interwoven with the story. Picoult never fails to impress me with the sheer amount of research she does for her books. This one was no exception. The way she weaves two concepts so beautifully, is just amazing. This book has her typical style of multiple narratives, Jenna’s, Serenity’s, Virgil and excerpts from Alice’s journal. It makes for a fascinating read. Slowly story evolves, each narrative bringing together pieces of the mystery, sometimes making things even more confusing, and kept me turning pages, non-stop.

I know that a lot of you don’t enjoy Picoult’s writing. I, on the other hand, adore her style. I love what she picks up as subjects and the way she handles them. I’ve heard people say that her books are ‘formulaic’, but I find them anything but. Her books are un-put-downable for me. They make me question things, they bring out aspects I might have missed otherwise and even with characters I don’t like, she makes me see all sides of the story. That, for me, is testament to the author’s skill.

In this case, the story grips you, and the ending, while totally unexpected (for me) and unusual, was very, very good. Suddenly it all just falls together. While I really liked the ending, I have a feeling that a lot of people might not, especially with some of the concepts that Picoult has explored. But then, I like books like this, those that stretch boundaries, that pick up topics that are unusual, to say the least.

It is a 4.5/5 book for me. If you have read it, do tell me what you thought of it? I particularly want to know because this is a book based on such a different premise.

About the Author
Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-two novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers The Storyteller, Lone Wolf, Between the Lines, Sing You Home, House Rules, Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, and My Sister’s Keeper. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

This book is available on Amazon(UK).

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

A book that made me wait quite a bit before it reached my hands. I have always loved Jodi Picoult’s books. I am yet to be disappointed by her books.
Storyteller

Sage Singer is a baker. The profession works perfectly for the kind of person she is, she works at night, getting bread ready for the morning, while everybody else is fast asleep, managing to avoid contact and conversation with people. She is a loner, finds it tough to meet people or make friends. She has terrible scars on her face which is still struggling to come to terms with. The only place that she meets people is the bereavement group that she attends. Even there, she hardly talks about the demons that haunt her. She is having an affair with a married man, sure that she is just worth that.

She meets Josef Weber, a 95-year-old man, in the bereavement group and an unlikely friendship forms between them. One day, Josef asks a favour of her, to help him die. Sage refuses outright until he confesses his secret that he has hidden within himself for many years. It hits too close to home for Sage. Josef wants forgiveness before he dies. Is it ever going to be possible for Sage to forgive him and help him? What makes her the person to forgive him? As she questions him and finds answers, she finds herself going deep into her own history, her grandmother’s life as a Holocaust survivor, which so far, Sage knew little about.

The flashbacks to her grandmother, Minka’s life as a child and her time in Auschwitz is a harrowing read. It is unimaginable that people could do such things to other people. It is difficult to imagine anyone surviving the horrors of the holocaust, and the scars that must have stayed with them for life. Despite having read loads on the Holocaust, this was still a harrowing read for me. Josef Weber’s life, which is related as a flashback as well, gives us a perspective from the other side – the German side.

Picoult, as usual, picks up a tough and emotional topic and then weaves a tale which we just can’t put down. The beginning is a little slow, but it soon picks up and doesn’t let go until the very last page. There is a story within a story, which is fascinating and the way it all comes together in the end, is just classic Picoult. I loved the parts where Sage’s(and Minka’s dad’s)bread making process is described. It made me go and search for the recipes mentioned there, but that’s probably just me. I could almost smell the bread. There is also another story that being told as a separate thread. How it all ties together, is the beauty of the book.

As usual, her characters all feel real, sometimes not very likeable, sometimes annoying, but definitely real. It was thought-provoking, it challenges the way we might want to think, and as usual, it makes you wonder, how you might have reacted in a similar situation. Just like Picoult always does. The several threads in the story make it fascinating reading, and I just loved the way, it all comes together in the end. I particularly loved the end.

For me, it was a wonderful read, difficult at times, especially when the horrors of the Holocaust was described, but well worth it. A book that stays with you. I would give it a 4.5/5. If you like Picoult’s books, I would say, go for it!

About the Author
Picoult was born and raised in Nesconset on Long Island, New York. Her first story, at age 5 was “The Lobster Which Misunderstood.” She studied writing at Princeton University, graduating in 1987, and had two short stories published by Seventeen magazine while still in college. She is the best selling author with several best-sellers to her credit.

This book is available at Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

Just when I think, I’ve read all of her books, I come across one more that I haven’t! And there is nothing that beats that feeling! I just love her books.

Delia Hopkins is happy, living in rural New Hampshire, with her daughter and fiancee and her widowed father who brought her up all by himself. She works as a search and rescue professional, assisted by her bloodhound. She has all that she holds dear, close by her, her daughter, father Andrew, fiance, Eric and close friend, Fitz. Her happy, peaceful is suddenly shattered when police lands up at her door step. Turns out that she had been kidnapped – by her own father. Everything she believed in seems to be a farce.

All she could do was ask Eric to defend her father. As the story unfolds, it throws Delia into the deep end. Everything she believed in, is now questioned. The father who was a devoted father turns out to be a kidnapper who stole her away from her own mother. What went wrong? What made her father do this – Are questions that haunt Delia. To add to it all, the mother she believed was dead, was very much alive. The mother who had been separated from her daughter for 28 years. Now a mother herself, Delia is in a tough position, of trying to believe the best of her dad, while trying to realign herself to the new truths that she discovers.

Typical of Picoult’s writings, the book handles situations that are emotionally tough, and makes the reader wonder how they would have handled such a situation. A tale of human weaknesses and reactions and relationships. Picoult spins tales that question boundaries. How far can a parent go to protect their child? Can anything justify the step, Andrew took. The characters are well formed, and the story grips you. A typical Jodi Picoult. I would definitely recommend it to Picoult fans.

About the Author
Picoult was born and raised in Nesconset on Long Island, New York. Her first story, at age 5 was “The Lobster Which Misunderstood.” She studied writing at Princeton University, graduating in 1987, and had two short stories published by Seventeen magazine while still in college. She is the best selling author with several best-sellers to her credit.

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

‘Another Jodi Picoult’, I can hear some of you groaning 🙂

Yes, another one, and no more for a while, I suspect, because I think I have finally read all of hers so far.

Luke Warren and his 17 year old daughter Cara have been in a terrible car crash. Cara has  a horrible shoulder injury and Luke is in a coma. Cara wakes up to her mother Georgie(Luke’s ex wife) beside her and no sign of her dad. Georgie has already called Edward, their son, from Thailand. Luke is being given very slim chances of recovery by the doctors.

Edward had fled to Thailand after a disagreement with his dad, Luke. He has not been in contact with his sister or his father ever since. He is back for the first time after he left.

Luke is a wolf researcher, who looks after and lives with the captive wolves in the reserve. Cara, his daughter, lives with him since her mother had twins, and she felt more comfortable with her dad’s. Cara also holds a grudge against her older brother Edward for leaving the family and going away to Thailand. She blames her parents separating and divorcing on her brother’s departure. In her mind, none of this would have happened if Edward had not left.

Edward is Luke’s next of kin, since Cara is three months away from turning eighteen. Given that Luke is in a coma, with the doctor’s prognosis of little chance of him surviving and leading a normal life, Edward is asked to make the decision whether or not to pull the plug. Edward decides that his father would not want to have a vegetative exsitence, while Cara strongly disagrees. Edward feels, that a man like his dad, who was happiest with the wolves, happiest being outdoors, wouldn’t want to live on a machine. Cara, on the other hand  wants to keep her father alive, and believes that anything is possible. She believes that her father might recover, and that Edward is in a hurry to end his father’s life. She believes that her brother cannot possibly understand her father better than her after being away for six years, and having had no communication with him, in those years away.

They end up in court fighting to get appointed the next of kin for Luke. In true Jodi Picoult style, there are many threads running and a difficult decision to make. Luke, as he is perceived by the people whose lives he touched, is revealed. Cara, his daughter who idolized him. Georgie, his ex-wife, who found happiness with her now husband Joe. Edward, who has the biggest issues with his dad. Will Edward be unbiased in his decision? Can Cara make unbiased decisions for that matter? Can anybody be truly unbiased? And who would truly understand what Luke would have wanted.

The story of Luke’s living with the wolves in the wild, carries on as a parallel thread. That gives us a perspective of Luke’s life and motivations. Here is a man who lives a life which most of us cannot even begin to imagine. He went to live in the wild, becoming one of the wolves, part of the pack, eating raw meat, living like a wolf in the true sense. He seems to be a person far more at home with his wolf family than his human family. The expectations from his human family seems far more complex to him. He almost seems to have forgotten to live a human life.

He had been a  hero, appearing on TV, his wolves being his first priority, but like everybody else, a human, with his own flaws and problems.For his wife and son, they seem to come second to his wolves. For his daughter, he was a true hero – nothing anybody said,or believed, could detract from that, for her.

I think this is what I like about Picoult – all her characters are real, in the sense that every one of them have flaws, have deep secrets, and face tough moral dilemmas(although far tougher and complex ones that the rest of us might face).

The amount of research Picoult must have done for this book, is mind boggling. The details that she recounts, are amazing! In her foreword, she mentions that she realized that there is a person, Shaun Ellis, who actually lives among wolves. And he has written a memoir ‘The Man who lives with Wolves’. I think I will definitely be reading this book.

It is a beautiful story. Picoult adds her ingredients of moral dilemmas, which are difficult to work with, and blends it with emotions, perceptions, and lives of all her characters to make it a fascinating read. Another book which stays with you. Making you wonder, what one would do if faced with such a situation – having to decide when to let a loved one go.

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

I never get hold of Jodi Picoults easily. There is a mile long waiting list for them, normally, so when I saw this one sitting in the ‘Just returned’ section, I grabbed it – quick, real quick.

Max and Zoe Baxter are about to have a baby. A much awaited for baby, who came after 5 cycles of IVF treatment, 2 miscarriages, and lots of heart break. Zoe is 28 weeks pregnant, at a baby shower organised for her, when she gets painful cramps, and is rushed to the hospital. They couldn’t find a heart beat for the baby, and she had to be induced to deliver her stillborn son. Heart-broken after the loss of the baby, all Zoe wants is to try for another baby, while all Max wants is a divorce. He has had enough.

The divorce left Zoe depressed, unhappy and with nothing to look forward to, while Max turns to alcohol. An alcoholic, he had stayed dry for a long time, but the loss of the baby and the end of their marriage pushed him over the edge. He discovers God, rather Church which saves him from self-destruction.

Zoe, in the meanwhile, is found to be suffering from cancer, and has had to undergo a hysterotomy and with that loses all hopes of having a baby, until she falls in love with Vanessa. They get married and realize that Zoe’s dream of becoming a mother can still come true. Zoe and Max still had three embryos from their last IVF cycle, and Vanessa could carry the baby, now that Zoe can’t.

Zoe gets in touch with Max to get his permission(both parents’ consent is required) to implant the embryos in Vanessa. To her shock and surprise, Max is a different person now. He has discovered God, a God who according to his church believes that same sex marriages are living in sin. So much so that they end up in court fighting for the right to use the embryo.

Sing You Home has so many aspects covered, Gay and Lesbian rights, the homophobia that is rampant in certain sections of society, the heartbreak that infertility brings.. It brings home to the reader, how difficult things can be to people going through such situations. How fair is it that a gay or a lesbian couple has to fight so hard for things that are considered natural for the rest of us – marriage, becoming parents, living a stigma free life, freedom to love and spend the rest of their life with the love of their life? Does having a different sexual orientation ban a person from these basic rights? Who defines normal?  what makes for a loving family? Can blind belief in religion(or rather interpretation of religion) distort our views?

The book also has a musical score with it. Zoe is a music therapist, and each chapter has a musical score we can listen to while reading – I did not read it with the music. I plan to buy the book, and read it again with the music. Picoult explains quite a bit about music therapy so that we, readers get an idea as to what it is all about.

Another wonderful book by Picoult. Her books never disappoint. I will certainly be reading it again. All the characters are well thought out and well etched out. Zoe’s wonderfully eccentric mother, Max’s conservative, super successful brother, the fanatical Pastor Clive..

Another book which will stay with you. Your heart breaks with Zoe’s, empathize with Vanessa’s insecurities and worries,  you understand how Max is caught between his faith and his doubts about right and wrong.. A book that I will definitely re-read. I would recommend it to anybody who likes Jodi Picoult books – another gem from her.

Second Glance by Jodi Picoult and a Challenge

One thing I find I rarely do is review the books I read. Mainly because I worry if I could do justice to the books and because I get lazy. Smita’s review challenge hopefully will motivate me to review the books I read. I would like to review at least 1 book every fortnight.

So here I go, signing up for Smita’s Let’s Review More n More books” Challenge.

 And my first review before the first week of the new year ends.

Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite authors and last week I discovered a book of hers that I had missed. For some reason, I was under the impression that I had already read Second Glance. Reading through the back cover, I realised that I had missed this one.

Ross Wakeman does not want to live. Ever since his fiancee died in a car accident, he has lost the will to live, but he seems to lead a charmed life. No matter what he does, he does not succeed in dying. All he wants is to join Aimee on the other side.

In desperation, he turns to ghost-hunting. He hopes to see Aimee’s ghost and is close to giving up hope. He ends up in an Abenaki burial ground, and from then on, nothing works as it normally does.

Meredith Oliver’s daughter Lucy is haunted by inexplicable nightmares. Nothing they do seems to matter.

Shelby lives an unimaginable life keeping her nine year old son away from the sun. He suffers from a life-threatening ‘allergy to sunlight’. She will do anything for her son. Ethan, her son, longs to fit in, to be normal.

How do these come together? You’ll have to read it to find out. It combines Picoult’s skill of weaving medical conditions , genetics, paranormal occurences, nail biting suspense, and ethical issues into her  stories makes it a wonderful read.  While this is not one of her best(in my opinion), but it still is un-put-downable. I read in a days time. I would give it a 4/5 simply because I have read better books from Picoult.