My Sister’s Keeper
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Washington Square Press, of Simon & Schuster, © 2004. First paperback publication: February 2005.
Genre: Fiction; Subgenre: Women’s fiction, contemporary fiction, family life, domestic life.
Synopsis: The Fitzgerald family has a history of dealing with facing life and death situations. The eldest child, Kate, was diagnosed with a rare leukemia as a child. Her prognosis prompted a radical decision by her parents to conceive a third child, Anna. A perfect genetic match, she provides the cord blood transfusion everyone hopes will save Kate’s life. Kate’s illness remits and but later returns, leading to additional expectations Anna will continue to provide what Kate’s doctor’s need to improve her health and cure the cancer, once and for all. The escalation of expectations drives Anna to an attorney. They file suit seeking medical emancipation, disrupting the precarious balance of her family’s stability and shifting the ethics of their choices into the spotlight.
My Sister’s Keeper hooks readers right away with the controversial subject of “designer” babies and a family approaching a tipping point in the fragile balance of their daily lives. The main character, Anna, is sympathetic and engaging, her conflict one that no person ever wants to face. Most of the rest of the characters initially seem well-crafted and relatable.
The book begins with additional intrigue in the form of its format. It’s broken into sections by days and features an anachronic timeline. In the span of the first four chapters, four different points of view are introduced, along with subplots for each character. This is where the format begins to distract; during the next “day” two more perspectives are added with additional plot lines. Another formatting element of the book was a poem on each page delineating the next day, or section. I won’t begin to speculate what they were expected to add to the story, but will note they were a distraction to an overcomplicated book. I skimmed or ignored them completely.
My Sister’s Keeper began with an excellent premise and overarching storyline, but fell victim to excess. Too many points of view, too many subplots detracting from the story, too many predictable or underdeveloped characters, topped off by an over the top ending that undermined all the ethical debate and questions raised by the primary plot. The book is long, much longer than it needed to be. The end completely undermines all the effort put forth to grappling with an ethical question that has no good or easy answer.
What I will say about the ending is that it took a great deal of self-control not to throw the book across the room. My work experience is not in organ procurement or transplant, but in my early education (at about the time this book was published), I spent time learning about organ transplantation, which included spending time with a team from a large organ donation network. I do not believe Ms. Picoult got it right. I have spent time working with renal failure and dialysis patients, and again, do not believe Ms. Picoult got the details right. I also believe that the scenes leading up to the end were over the top and orchestrated to blindside the reader and force an emotional reaction. My reaction was indeed emotional, but of annoyance at what I perceived as a copout to dealing with the ramifications of a difficult decision.
All in all, I have a hard time recommending this book to other busy moms. It has some redeeming features, primary surrounding the ethical debate, despite the ending, for which I gave it the rating I did. In many ways, I think it was worth the read to consider the views in the debate over genetic selection in embryos and living-donor organ and tissue donation, in particular, cases involving minors. If you are prepared for an unsatisfactory end to the discussion of the ethical dilemma at the heart of this book, a few superfluous storylines and some make-believe medicine, and you may indeed find it a very enjoyable read. Personally, I am not inclined to pick up another book by Ms. Picoult.
Happy reading and happy trails!