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R&R 119 | My Sister's Keeper

Jodi Picoult
My Sister's Keeper
Dutch: Tweede Dochter
First published in: 2004
This edition: Hodder and Stoughton, paperback, 2005
ISBN: 0-340-83546-x
Genre: drama, fiction
Pages: 407
Cover photograph: only Getty Images is credited, not the photographer
Cover design: Tabitha King


In a nutshell?

There was something that always held me back from reading anything by Jodi Picoult. I just didn't think Picoult's books would be interesting to me personally. But when I stumbled on a second hand version of My Sister's Keeper, I couldn't help but take a sneak peek at the description. I ended up getting the book, my first (and only) Jodi Picoult. Why? Because the story, while far-fetched, seemed really thought-provoking.

Anna Fitzgerald is a thirteen year-old girl from Providence, Rhode Island. She loves playing hockey. Her best friend is her older sister Kate. And she's suing her parents for medical emancipation.
Kate, at sixteen, has struggled with a rare form of leukemia for most of her life. If it weren't for Anna, Kate wouldn't be here today. Anna was literally designed and put on this earth as the perfect donor for Kate. With all the right genes. The right parts. It starts with the blood from Anna's umbilical cord. Some bone marrow. Some procedures in between. But now Kate's kidney's are failing. And the Fitzgeralds depend on Anna once again. Where does it end?

The subject is quite loaded, and I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew this book wasn't going to be pleasant. I knew there would be no happy ending.

Picoult persuades most of her readers to be courageous and continue. Because Anna, whom you can't help but side with from the start even though you do understand the motives of everyone involved, is brave too. So I continued, and for the two days I've needed to read this book, it and its characters (mostly Anna and Kate, and their parents) have been in my thoughts. I've had to put it down a few times to take it all in.

Yes, Picoult manages to evoke all kinds of feelings. The emotion that outweighed all others when I finished the book, however, was anger.

You know how sometimes you read people's reviews, stating they had felt the urge to throw a book across the room? Well, let's just say that by the time I reached the final 20 or so pages, My Sister's Keeper got to know a wall of my living room up close and personal.

I'm not the type of reader to fuss over endings; they don't need to be happy to be good. Usually I trust an author's decision to go in a certain direction, because all things considered it's usually the right way to go, as long as the integrity of the rest of the book remains intact.
Jodi Picoult completely failed to take the rest of her book into account when she wrote her ending, and she did not consider her readers, her characters and most importantly her protagonist. I loathed the ending of My Sister's Keeper. It was slightly disappointing around 50 pages to the end: everything that had made this book brave and controversial was already crumbling apart. But that was somewhat understandable, I could accept this turn of events. The plot was still daring enough at this point. But the last 20 pages… Wow. I never felt screwed over by a book before, until then.

This book forced me to think about the subject of life and death – and who decides over either. It's not easy to be confronted with something like this. It's just not easy. Before reaching the end, I applauded the book for being about choices and free will. But Jodi Picoult has taken such an easy way out of this one; free will be damned. It's hard to explain without giving the ending away. I could describe the feeling as such: imagine being part of a debating panel, and having all your arguments figured out after hours and hours of work and energy, and then the debate is canceled. Neither pro or con have a chance to work this one out. End of discussion. Jodi Picoult canceled the debate.

Knowing this book would affect me profoundly, I wanted to be 'brave' and continue it. I wanted Picoult to be brave, too. Writing a shocking ending is one way of definining courage in an author. It isn't my definition, not here. I define a courageous author as someone who takes a stand, who bloody well sticks with it and who trusts her readers to have it in them to accept this. At least that way, it wouldn't have felt as if the rest of those 400 pages don't even matter anymore. I felt cheated out of thinking for myself.

I wouldn't even care so much that MY SISTER'S KEEPER isn't very well written had Picoult not messed up the ending.

MY SISTER'S KEEPER manages to be both simplistic and too perfect, too spelled out – at the same time. Picoult likes to rotate narrators, but they all sound alike. Anna didn't always sound like a thirteen year-old (but too mature). The story itself is far-fetched and highly dramatized.
Picoult included several useless subplots. There's the rekindling of high school sweethearts: Anna's lawyer and guardian ad litem. Anna's lawyer's dog. Jesse's pyromania. Tactics to get a better understanding of the different characters, yes.
But when faced with a subject as loaded as cancer, donation, dying, living – a family being ripped apart at the seams – I don't really care much about whether Campbell and Julia get back together or not.
I didn't care that much about any of the above.

What I did care about, was Anna's right to decide over her own body. Despite all of its flaws, I would have given this book a reasonably positive review had Picoult not ruined that part, the most important part, of the book. Instead, hard decisions and 400 pages are rendered moot by easy solutions. Picoult chickened out.

In a nutshell

– Thought provoking
– the first 350, 375 or so pages of the book, but only if you skip that ending

– Most likely to evoke rage upon finishing
– Ending ruins the entire book
– Irrelevant subplots as filler