Jodi Picoult,
My Sister's Keeper
(Washington Square Press, 2005)

There's a great story to be had in Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper. Too bad, however, that its main storyline is oftentimes smothered by a surplus of useless dribble, thus bogging down any momentum the book has going for it at the time. Sure, I'll still recommend this one to others. It's just part of me feels like the book could have turned out even better than it did.

My Sister's Keeper, my first time with author Picoult, focuses on the unique situation where a girl, named Anna, is born into the world to keep her older sister alive. That's because Kate, now 16, suffers from a rare form of leukemia and is constantly in need of blood, bone marrow and other products from Anna's body to fend off the disease. Now 13 and being forced by her parents to give up one of her two healthy kidneys to her ailing sister, Anna says she's finally had enough and is ready to fight back. She does this by suing her parents.

Don't get me wrong. She loves her sister, but feels donating a kidney is, well, crossing the line.

The themes and especially the questions raised by the main story intrigued me. Do Anna's parents still have final say over Anna's actions, even though she's now a ripe 13 years of age? Is it morally right for Anna to selfishly say no to becoming a kidney donor to Kate, even though her body's a perfect match? Will Anna's parents, Sara and Brian, have to be removed from the home so they don't influence Anna's decision-making during the trial? And so on.

This much I liked.

What I didn't care for was Picoult's insistence on breaking away from the action to talk about seemingly random topics. Celestial bodies, pyromaniacs, childhood memories and so on. And this happens a ton, since each "chapter" of the book is assigned to a different lead character. So all six of them have something to say once it's finally their turn to speak again.

Take Sara, for instance. She mainly sticks to the past with stories sometimes cute, something tragic. Her husband is a firefighter by day, rebel astronomer by night, and isn't very interesting. Anna's brother, Jesse, likes setting things on fire and being a general badass, so he's always got a story. Basically, most of their material boils down to editable garbage, whose very deletion could have considerably shortened this 400-plus page tomb.

This isn't to say Picoult didn't find personal reasons to insert the material in the first place. I'm sure her characters' prior actions are symbolic, share some significance towards the story at hand or something. All I know is I hardly felt like bothering with the whole deal because the sidetracks came 'round too frequently and distracted me from the book's otherwise intriguing plot.

New Line Cinema plans to release an adaptation of the novel in summer 2009 with Cameron Diaz, Alec Baldwin and Abigail Breslin attached to star. I'm looking forward to the project, and am anxious to see what Picoult's story looks like when it's stripped down to the important stuff.

review by
Eric Hughes

14 February 2009

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