Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book review - My Sister's Keeper

Oof, it's been a while, hasn't it? I have actually read a couple of books since my last review, but I've been lazy about the corresponding blog updates.

So what's it to be - fiction or non-fiction?

I think I'll go with the fiction option, because it's fresher in my mind. (I marked lots of pages in the other book to aid with the review process, so hopefully I'll be able to write something coherent about my rare foray into the world of non-fiction at some point. Any month now).

I ordered My Sister's Keeper (by Jodi Picoult) after reading about it on the Womens' Bioethics Project blog. The story revolves around a pair of teenage sisters. The older girl has a rare form of leukemia, and her younger sister Anna was conceived specifically as a genetically matched "saviour sibling". Although the initial plan was only to transplant Anna's umbilical cord blood stem cells into her sister, the years that followed have entailed endless blood transfusions, not to mention a bone marrow transplant. Now, Anna's sister needs a kidney, and everyone assumes that Anna will once again rise to the occasion. But instead she decides to sue her parents for the rights to her own body.

The author chose to use multiple narrators, which was probably the only way to effectively drive the complex and multi-layered storyline. We hear from Anna herself; both her parents; her older brother; her lawyer; and a social worker involved in the case - everyone, in fact, except for the sick older sister, an interesting omission. No-one is completely in the wrong, no-one is completely in the right, and the decisions and conflicts faced by the parents in particular are agonising.

But then, at the very end, after we've heard every possible side of the story, after the trial's verdict, after a wonderful twist, and after my own empathy was pulled in every possible direction, the final chapter is a total cop-out. The ending pissed me off more than any book I can remember, probably because the author had done such a great job of sucking me in until I was completely emotionally invested in the characters. She chose such an easy way out. Rather than having any of the characters actually face up to what was happening and make the final, heart-rending yet necessary decision, she went with one of the worst examples of Deus Ex Machina I've ever had the misfortune to come across. I almost threw the book across the room.

So there you have it. The book is 99% wonderful, with the final 1% being a huge pile of crap and a terrible return for the emotion I'd invested. Amazingly enough I'd still recommend reading it, because the vast majority of the book is so strong. Just be prepared for the frustration and anger at the end. Oh, and try to borrow the book or buy it second-hand if at all possible; why spend all that money on a nice shiny new copy that may end up being thrown down the loo or off a bus?

Mermaid, I'll be reading your book next. I promise not to throw it anywhere.

8 comments:

  1. I have been alternating between wanting to read this book and avoiding it. I am sure that eventually I will break down and read it. Somehow the whole transplant for leukemia situation seems a little too close to home...not that it has happened in my family, but it is all to common in our work environment. But likely I will break down and read it one day - kind of like going past a car wreck - you don't want to look but somehow you do anyway.

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  2. Ooooh, that book sucked me in! I really enjoyed it, but it's absolutely plane reading or something like that. Jodi Picoult does a great job with concepts, but her prose style is ... well a little bit lacking. But I still think it's worth reading mostly because it will force you to think about these things. Which reminds me, I really have to do my living will.

    Oh, the other thing? That side story about the social worker and the ... lawyer? Henry? That I could have done without.

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  3. Mermaid, I know what you mean - parts of it cut a little too close to the bone. But I think you'd like it. Like Arduous says, it really does force you to think about some very difficult issues. Wanna borrow it? You can even throw it around a bit if you want.

    Arduous, I haven't read any of her other stuff, is there anything in particular you'd recommend? And I totally agree about the side story, which I guess was meant to humanise him or some such. I did like the ongoing gag with his explanations of the dog though!

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  4. I felt the same way about this book. It was incredibly well done and then the ending was just... just... crap! It was such a let down. Have you read any of her other books?

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  5. Hmmm ... I've read another of her books, but it was a while ago, and I don't remember the title. This is from what I hear, her best book.

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  6. I haven't read any of her other stuff, and now I'm not sure if I want to! I'm still kinda pissed off...

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  7. I just finished the book, and then came back to reread your review. And I totally agree. I too was angry (although I didn't throw your book, I promise!). I don't really understand what the point of the lead up was if there wasn't going to be a real conclusion. And we are supposed to believe that the sister is suddenly cured after all that? Blah. I admit it was well written, but it is kind of a big tease in the end.

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  8. I was too mad to read the author interview in the back of the book before, but I'll have a look when I get the book back. Maybe she explains why she did it!

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