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My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

6233690

Title: My Sister's Keeper.
Author: Jodi Picoult.
Genre: Fiction, family saga, multiple narrators, illness, cancer, legal drama.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2004.
Summary: Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate—a life and a role that she has never challenged... until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister. So, Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable—to file for medical emancipation—a decision that will tear her family apart and possibly have fatal consequences for the sister she loves. But the biggest problem I had with the novel is actually the ending. It was overkill.

My rating: 7/10.
My review: Jodi Picoult knows how to deliver a spectacular, gut-wrenching punch. The problem is that her writing is so formulaic that she can only do this once, and this is the third novel of hers I am reading. I found her first novel very unique and compelling, however the second novel I read by her was published 5 years after this one (Handle with Care), and I bet if I had read them in the opposite order I would have loved this one and thought the other one "same old" (which, since this book was her very first big hit and is widely considered her most popular one, is probably what often happens). It had too many of the same elements - ethical medical dilemma that turns into a controversial legal battle, exploration of a family dynamic dealing with illness, and a huge death twist at the end bathed in irony as it renders the point of the entire battle absolutely moot. The book is well-written and well-told, though. It is also infinitely quotable, as Picoult has a very singular gift for turn of phrase and sentimental writing, often delivering a sentence that pierces one to the very core and stays with you for a long time. She is good at what she specializes in, too - tackling very ethically-precarious dilemmas and show-casing different sides of them, immersing the reader in the debate from every angle. It flows very fast, as well, and almost has a quality of a thriller in the way that you are never quite sure until the end what the outcome is going to be. But to me this novel also has many weaknesses. Aside from being formulaic, I found the character of Julie (and the entire Campbell/Julie plot-line) unnecessary and contrived. She contributes almost nothing to the plot or to the overall picture aside from being the only romance in the novel (aside from the very short mention of Kate/Tyler, and I will tell you, a book like this definitely doesn't need romance). She also provides the only catharsis in the book, as through her one of the main characters can have a "happy ending." Also, there is something just so repellent to me about a grown woman who has spent fifteen years obsessively fixated on someone she loved in highschool, an obsessive fixation she immediately falls back into without skipping a beat when they meet again. That's not romantic, it's pathetic. As much as I could feel I was meant to, I could never grow any sympathy for the mother - she is a shitty parent and no amount of empathy or sympathy could erase that bitter impression. I myself grew up such that in a certain part of my childhood a lot of people around me were dying drawn-out deaths from fatal illnesses, and while I know how challenging and straight out horrific it can be on the families, I also know for a fact it is possible to not allow everyone else to fall through the cracks. An illness is not an excuse for neglecting your kids - nothing is. As a marriage, I believe parenthood is "through thick and thin", even more so, so I cannot sympathize with a mother who failed to be a good mother to more than half of her kids because the going got thick. Yes, she bent over backwards to save one of her children, but at the expense of the other two, and, unlike her husband Brian, who seems aware, tortured, and guilty of this fact constantly, until the very end of the novel she proudly maintains that all she did was for the best, and she did her best. Finally, I thought the last twist of the novel was complete overkill. It reminded me of novels I used to try to write as a very little kid, when I was convinced that the mark of a good author was to make the reader cry. The novels I wrote had twist after tragedy after twist after tragedy to ensure the success of my tear-inducing venture. The last twist in the novel was rushed, contrived, and just sloppy. It came off as an afterthought she threw in at the end, and as a reader I felt cheated, because she has spent hundreds of pages developing this character of Anna from many different perspectives, and then she killed her in a couple of last paragraphs. I see the irony, I get the shock, but the purpose escapes me. This is one of the rare times I realize the movie adaptation of this novel would have sufficed, as whoever made it cut out all the parts I found forced and unnecessary, and came out with a decent final product in the end.


♥ See, unlike the rest of the free world, I didn't get here by accident. And if your parents have you for a reason, then that reason better exist. Because once it's gone, so are you.

♥ Pawnshops may be full of junk, but they're also a breeding ground for stories, if you ask me, not that you did. What happened to make a person trade in the Never Before Worn Diamond Solitaire? Who needed money so badly they'd sell a teddy bear missing an eye?

♥ My parents tried to make things normal, but that's a relative term. The truth is, I was never really a kid. To be honest, neither were Kate and Jesse. I guess maybe my brother had his moment in the sun for the four years he was alive before Kate got diagnosed, but ever since then, we've been too busy looking over our shoulders to run headlong into growing up. You know how most little kids think they're like cartoon characters—if an anvil drops on their head they can peel themselves off the sidewalk and keep going? Well, I never once believed that. How could I, when we practically set a place for Death at the dinner table?

♥ When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

♥ I gather Jesse into a towel, soothing him as I try to continue my conversation with my husband. This is the language of a marriage: Morse code, punctuated by baths and dinners and stories before bed.

♥ Brian, a career firefighter, can walk into a blackened structure and find the spot where the flames began: a charred cigarette butt, an exposed wire. Every holocaust starts with an ember. You just have to know what to look for.

♥ I sometimes wonder if it is just me, or if there are other women who figure out where they are supposed to be by going nowhere.

♥ I have only known her for two years. But if you took every memory, every moment, if you stretched them end to end—they'd reach forever.

♥ A fire can't burn forever. Eventually, it consumes itself.

♥ "A woman," I say, "isn't all that different from a bonfire. ... A fire's a beautiful thing, right? Something you can't take your eyes off, when it's burning. If you can keep it contained, it'll throw light and heat for you. It's only when it gets out of control that you have to go on the offensive."

♥ It is so easy to think that the world revolves around you, but all you have to do is stare up at the sky to realize is isn't that way at all.

♥ I only see my sister Suzanne once or twice a year. She lives less than an hour and several thousand philosophical convictions away.

♥ Gamma rays, leukemia, parenthood. It is the things you cannot see coming that are strong enough to kill you.

♥ Because not five feet away from me is Julia Romano, whom I have not seen in fifteen years. Her hair is longer now, and fine lines bracket her mouth, parentheses around a lifetime of words I was not around to hear.

♥ That fascinates me. "What do parents look like?"

She seems to think about this. "You know how the tightrope guy at the circus wants everyone to believe his act is an art, but deep down you can see that he's really just hoping he makes it all the way across? Like that."

♥ Maybe it's because I was the third child, and they were sick and tired of keeping a catalog of life. Maybe it's because they forgot.

It's nobody's fault, and it's not a big deal, but it's a little depressing all the same. A photo says, You were happy, and I wanted to catch that. A photo says, You were so important to me that I put down everything else to come watch.

♥ If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?

♥ It was not, like in the movies, a slam dunk—a scene for the hero to go win his Oscar. If I got in there, and the stairs had gone... if the structure threatened to collapse... if the temperature of the space had gotten so hot that everything was combustible and ripe for flashover—I would have backed out and told my men to back out with me. The safety of the rescuer is of a higher priority than the safety of the victim.

Always.

♥ "She was crazy about me, and believe it or not, I was the one for her. It was, like, ninety-eight percent perfect."

"What about the other two percent?"

"You tell me." He started stacking the clean glasses on the far side of the bar. "Something was missing. I couldn't tell you what it was, if you asked, but it was off. And if you think of a relationship as a living entity, I guess it's one thing if the missing two percent is, like, a fingernail. But when it's the heart, that's a whole different ball of wax." He turned to me. "I didn't cry when she got on the plane. She lived with me for four years, and when she walked away, I didn't feel much of anything at all."

"Well, I had the other problem," I told him. "I had the heart of the relationship, and no body to grow it in."

"What happened then?"

"What else," I said. "It broke."

♥ "You," Seven pronounced, "are a train wreck of sexual history."

But this is inaccurate. A runaway train is an accident. Me, I'll jump in front of the tracks. I'll even tie myself down in front of the speeding engine. There's some illogical part of me that still believes if you want Superman to show up, first there's got to be someone worth saving.

♥ I told Seven the Bartender that true love is felonious.

"Not if they're over eighteen," he said, shutting the till of the cash register.

By then the bar itself had become an appendage, a second torso holding up my first. "You take someone's breath away," I stressed. "You rob them of the ability to utter a single word." I tripped the neck if the empty liquor bottle toward him. "You steal a heart."

♥ For the first time in my life I begin to understand how a parent might hit a child—it's because you can look into their eyes and see a reflection if yourself that you wish you hadn't.

♥ "You are allowed to take a break, you know. No one has to be a martyr twenty-four/seven."

But I hear her wrong. "I think once you sign on to be a mother, that's the only shift they offer."

"I said martyr," Zanne laughs. "Not mother."

I smile a little. "Is there a difference?"

♥ Why are terms of endearment always foods? Honey, cookie, sugar, pumpkin. It's not like caring about someone is enough to actually sustain you.

♥ When I yelled out, my father found me in seconds, although I'm sure I waited through several lives. He crawled into the pit, torn between my hard work and my stupidity.

"This could have collapsed on you!" he said, and lifted me onto solid ground.

From that point of view, I realized that my hole was not miles deep after all. My father, in fact, could stand on the bottom and it only reached up to his chest.

Darkness, you know, is relative.

♥ Goldfish get big enough for the bowl you put them in. Bonsai trees twist in miniature. I would have given anything to keep her little. They outgrow us so much faster than we outgrow them.

♥ There are some things we do because we convince ourselves it would be better for everyone involved. We tell ourselves that it's the right thing to do, the altruistic thing to do. It's far easier than telling ourselves the truth.

♥ An oncology ward is a battlefield, and there are definite hierarchies of command. The patients, they're the ones doing the tour of duty. The doctors breeze in and out like conquering heroes, but they need to read your child's chart to remember where they've left off from the previous visit. It is the nurses who are the seasoned sergeants—the ones who are there when your baby is shaking with such a high fever she needs to be bathed in ice, the ones who can teach you how to flush a central venous catheter, or suggest which patient floor kitchens might still have Popsicles left to be stolen, or tell you which dry cleaners know how to remove the stains of blood and chemotherapies from clothing. The nurses know the name of your daughter's stuffed walrus and show her how to make tissue paper flowers to twine around her IV stand. The doctors may be mapping out the war games, but it is the nurses who make the conflict bearable.

♥ If there was a religion of Annaism, and I had to tell you how humans made their way to Earth, it would go like this: in the beginning, there was nothing at all but the moon and the sun. And the moon wanted to come out during the day, but there was something so much brighter that seemed to fill up all those hours. The moon grew hungry, thinner and thinner, until she was just a slice of herself, and her tips were as sharp as a knife. By accident, because that is the way most things happen, she poked a hole in the night and out spilled a million stars, like a fountain of tears.

Horrified, the moon tried to swallow them up. And sometimes this worked, because she got fatter and rounder. But mostly it didn't, because there were just so many. The stars kept coming, until they made the sky so bright that the sun got jealous. He invited the stars to his side of the world, where it was always bright. What he didn't tell them, though, was that in the daytime, they'd never be seen. So the stupid ones leaped from the sky to the ground, and they froze under the weight of their own foolishness.

The moon did her best. She carved each of these blocks of sorrow into a man or a woman. She spent the rest of her time watching out so that her other stars wouldn't fall. She spent the rest of her time holding on to whatever scraps she had left.

♥ I have never understood why it is called losing a child. No parent is that careless. We all know exactly where our sons and daughters are; we just don't necessarily want them to be there.

♥ Summertime, I think, is a collective unconscious. We all remember the notes that made up the song of the ice cream man; we all know what it feels like to brand our thighs on a playground slide that's heated up like a knife in a fire; we all have lain on our backs with our eyes closed and our hearts beating across the surface of our lids, hoping that this day will stretch just a little other than the last one, when in fact it's all going in the other direction.

♥ Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I've decided, is only a slow sewing shut.

♥ "You did really great up there," I tell her, because I don't know how to say what I really want to: that the people you love can surprise you every day. That maybe who we are isn't so much about what we do, but rather what we're capable of when we least expect it.

♥ "But that's the way it works. If there's something as good as Taylor in my life, I'm going to pay for it."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," I say out of habit, yet there is a truth to this. Anyone who believes that people have ultimate control of what life hands to them needs only to spend a day in the shoes of a child with leukemia.

♥ In another pile are her baby pictures—all taken when she was three, or younger. Gap-toothed and grinning, backlit by a sloe-eyed sun, unaware of what was to come. "I don't remember being her," Kate says quietly, and these first words make a bridge of glass, one that shifts beneath my feet as I step into the room.

I put my hand beside hers, at the edge of one photo. Bent at a corner, it shows Kate as a toddler being tossed into the air by Brian, her hair flying behinds her, her arms and legs starfish-splayed, certain beyond a doubt that when she fell to Earth again, there would be a safe landing, sure that she deserved nothing less.

"She was beautiful," Kate adds, and with her pinky she strokes the glossy vivid cheek of the girl none of us ever got to know.

♥ The summer I was fourteen my parents sent me to boot camp on a farm. It was one of those action-adventures for troubled kids, you know, get up at four A.M. to do the milking and how much trouble can you really get into? (The answer, if you're interested: score pot off the ranch hands. Get stoned. Tip cows.)

♥ It's hard to be the one always waiting. I mean, there's something to be said for the hero who charges off to battle, but when you get right down to it there's a whole story in who's left behind.

♥ I realized that I cannot remember exactly when he stopped asking. But I do remember feeling as if something had gone missing, as if the loss of a kid's hero worship can ache like a phantom limb.

♥ Change isn't always for the worst; the shell that forms around a piece of sand looks to some people like an irritation, and to others, like a pearl.

♥ We hadn't been going anywhere, and the place we wound up was awful, and still I wouldn't have traded that week for the world. When you don't know where you're headed, you find places no one else would ever think to explore.

♥ Then it hits me—I am looking in the wrong place. The Aboriginal people of Australia, for example, look between the constellations of the Greeks and the Romans into the black wash of sky, and find an emu hiding under the Southern Cross where there are no stars. There are just as many stories to be told in the dark spots as there are in the bright ones.

♥ "You don't love someone because they're perfect," she says. "You love them in spite of the fact that they're not."

♥ I realize that we never have children, we receive them. And sometimes it's not for quite as long as we would have expected or hoped.

♥ "The answer is that there is no good answer. So as parents, as doctors, as judges, and as a society, we fumble through and make decisions that allow us to sleep at night—because morals are more important than ethics, and love is more important than law."

♥ See, as much as you want to hold on to the bitter sore memory that someone has left this world, you are still in it. And the very act of living is a tide: at first it seems to make no difference at all, and then one day you look down and see how much pain has eroded.
Tags: 1st-person narrative, 2000s, 21st century - fiction, american - fiction, cancer (fiction), caregiving (fiction), ethics (fiction), family saga, fiction, illness (fiction), legal dramas, medicine (fiction), multiple narrators, nursing and caregiving (fiction), parenthood (fiction), philosophical fiction
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