My Sister`s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

November 27, 2009
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My Sister’s Keeper
Jodie Picoult
Published 2004 by Washington Square Press


As human beings, we face inevitable moral dilemmas throughout our imperfect lives. One decision can change everything, break hearts and irrevocably alter the course of fate. Such is the predicament that takes center stage in Jodie Picoult’s provocative and moving novel, My Sister’s Keeper, a work that sensitively captures the unravelling of a family in the wake of a daughter’s cancer.


Anna Fitzgerald was conceived in a laboratory petri-dish: a scientific miracle brought into the world to be a perfect genetic match and donor to her sister Kate, who has been suffering from APL (acute promyelocytic leukemia), a rare form of cancer, since two years of age. In essence, she is the guardian of her sister’s every breath, a sort of lucky medical charm whose duty is to donate her body, be it blood or bone marrow, in order to combat the monster of Kate’s disease whenever it chooses to rear its ugly head. Yet, at thirteen years of age, incapable of continuing to exist only “in relation to Kate”, Anna files for medical emancipation from her parents, suing them for the rights to have autonomous control over her own body. This decision ultimately shakes the foundation of her home and sheds light upon the unfortunate reality of a family that has lost itself in the throes of a seemingly unconquerable war.

The story is told in a mosaic of perspectives as Picoult relates the tale from a rich cast of characters, each sharing a respective point of view. She often employs flashbacks to reveal how the progression of time has shaped a complex present. There is Sara Fitzgerald, former lawyer and a shrewd and dedicated matriarch who refuses to move from the frontlines of battle against her daughter’s illness. Brian Fitzgerald is a fireman who cannot put out the flames eating away at those he loves. Jesse is the “forgotten” older brother, a rebel who turns to drugs and pyromania as coping mechanisms for his invisibility in a distressed family. Campbell Alexander is the suave and ruthless lawyer Anna hires to represent her; a man whose heavily guarded heart becomes tested by romantic tensions with the court’s appointed guardian ad litem, Julia Romano.


With ease and savoir-faire, Picoult manages to portray My Sister’s Keeper, her twelfth release, from a profoundly human angle. As in such previous publications as the “people magazine page-turner of the week” Plain Truth and Second Glance, Picoult never shies from intensity and detail. Readers are granted complete exposure to every nook and cranny of a story that brings to the forefront a thought-provoking question: is there a limit to how far we should go for those we love? The answer in My Sister’s Keeper is a double-edged sword that changes lives, one that Picoult explores with considerable finesse to produce an altogether engrossing narrative with mass-appeal. Yet, for all of its accessibility and riveting theme, My Sister’s Keeper reads rather like a literary sorbet: smooth and refreshing, yet hardly satisfying. Picoult creates a compilation of first-person narratives that don’t form a precisely cohesive whole-a Picasso portrait, if you will, at times tossing in unnecessary details while throwing in unexpected plot twists that yield underwhelming results. Moreover, dynamics within the novel’s cast, albeit interesting, are at times clogged with an excess of emotional baggage that obstructs the novel’s flow. Despite these shortcomings however, the book is generally engrossing.


All in all, My Sister’s Keeper is a compelling, emotionally-charged read perfect for sparking book club discussion, summer days and lazy afternoons. And although not Pulitzer prize-worthy, it definitely tugs at the heartstrings.





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