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My Sister's Keeper    by Jodi Picoult order for
My Sister's Keeper
by Jodi Picoult
Order:  USA  Can
Washington Square, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

If it is not a good idea to judge a book by its cover, it may be a worse idea to judge a book by its opening lines. However, by the last sentence in the several paragraph prologue of My Sister's Keeper, I was hooked. In her usual masterful fashion, Picoult poses extraordinarily complex questions. She explores the issue of the boundaries of a family - what sacrifices can be reasonably expected to be made for a family member by simple virtue of being born? Is it ethical to conceive a child to save the life of another?

A young girl is created to be a genetic match for her dying sister. Immediately after birth, she is whisked away to donate cord blood, and subsequently undergoes countless medical procedures whenever her sister's condition deteriorates. Years later, at the age of thirteen, she takes legal action against her parents (medical emancipation) so she will not be forced to donate a kidney, which could save her sister's life. Picoult introduces us to the Fitzgerald family: sixteen-year-old Kate, who has been plagued with an aggressive form of leukemia since the age of two; troubled eighteen-year-old son Jesse, whose destructive habits are a response to his inability to rescue his sister; thirteen-year-old Anna, the child conceived to be a perfect genetic match for her sister; the parents, Brian and Sara, whose sole mission is to save the life of their middle child.

The novel effectively shifts voices between the major characters, including the lawyer and the guardian ad litem. It is not until the final pages that the conspicuously absent perspective, the voice of the dying child, makes an appearance. Anna's motivation for her petition remains unclear until the end, which I did not see coming. As with many Picoult novels, you might think you know where the novel is going, but the author leads you in an unexpected, downright shocking direction. A side story between the lawyer and the guardian ad litem gives the reader occasional relief from the intensity of the rest of the account, though their past history gives them an intensity all their own.

Picoult is never one to shy away from a controversial subject. This book confirms her place as one of the country's most prolific authors; in previous novels she tackled such diverse subject matters as mercy killing, teenage suicide, faith healing, eugenics, and sexual molestation. Picoult is known for her meticulous research, having gone as far as to live among the Amish while researching The Plain Truth. This is no less of an accomplishment than the writing itself, which, in this case especially, packs a powerful emotional punch.

This is an exploration of complex family relationships, made even more complex by the unimaginably horrific situation in which they find themselves. Picoult's genius lies not so much in the issues that she resolves as in the controversial questions she poses, none of which have easy answers, if any answers at all. For this reason, book clubs should devour My Sister's Keeper.

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