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Never judge a book by its cover!
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
Member Name: SueMagee
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
Advantages: A tightly - drawn and well plotted story about an ethical dilemma .
Disadvantages: The ending is a little disappointing .
Iíve been guilty of judging a book by its cover. Iíd skipped over it so many times because of the delicate pastel colouring, glittery stars and sweet-faced child on the front. Thereís little indication that inside thereís a tightly-plotted, well-written story which explores one of todayís ethical dilemmas.
When she was two Kate Fitzgerald was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. Without blood, bone marrow, lymphocytes, granulocytes from a matched donor her life is likely to be short. The best match is likely to be from a brother or sister but Kateís brother, Jesse, isnít the perfect match thatís required. Kateís parents, Brian and Sara, decide to have another child to be a donor for Kate. This baby isnít pot luck though. This is a designer baby Ė the foetus selected because itís a perfect genetic match for Kate. Thatís how Anna came to be born. Within minutes of her birth she donated blood from her umbilical cord and this put Kate into remission for some years. Some thirteen years and various donations later Anna has had enough and sues her parents for the rights to her own body.
This may be fiction but itís also a book from which youíll learn. Primarily itís about the feelings of a child who is brought into the world to save another. At first sight it seems innocuous: the blood from Annaís umbilical cord put Kate into remission. The cord would have been thrown away and there was no effect on Anna. Thatís not the end of it though. When Kate becomes ill again more donations are required and these are invasive. Each time the extent of the invasion escalates and we join the story when Anna is required to donate one of her kidneys. Is it reasonable that she should be expected to do so? How will she deal with the consequences if she gains the right to refuse?
Itís a story too about parenting and about the effect on the whole family when one member is seriously ill. Kate is the centre of attention. Sheís the one who is thought about first and life revolves around her needs. Her elder brother, Jesse, reacts with bad behaviour, escalating to the point where he will put life at risk just to get attention from his parents. Anna feels that sheís invisible, that sheís nothing more than a donor for Kate. Her life has to revolve around Kate even more than the rest of the family. She canít even go away in case sheís needed to give another bit of her body for Kate. Sara, the mother, is single-minded, but had she not been, Kate would have been dead for many years. She sees Kateís needs as being paramount. Brian, her husband, is torn between the two points of view.
What is obvious though is that neither parent has any idea what is going on in Jesse and Annaís lives. This is an extreme example and thankfully not a common one, but I suspect weíre all guilty of, or subject to, this discrimination on occasion and itís made me rethink my attitudes in a couple of areas. Not many novels do that. It made me think too about the ethics of using a child as a donor. The child is not in a position to make an informed decision about whatís happening as theyíre unlikely to be able to understand the long-term implications. If they refuse how will they deal with the guilt? If they agree do they understand the medical implications for themselves? On the other hand if the parent making the decision is also the parent of the recipient itís difficult to see how the decision can be unbiased and in the donorís interests.
Itís also a book about illness. The forms of leukaemia have been carefully and thoroughly researched but in many ways this is irrelevant. It could have been any life-threatening and debilitating disease. It raises questions about when itís right to continue invasive treatment and when itís right to let go. Itís about the risks that are taken in the hope rather than certainty of getting a little more time. Ultimately itís about the ďwhenĒ not the ďifĒ of terminal illness.
The characters are well drawn. They came out as balanced people rather than caricatures. The story is told in a series of snapshots, each narrated in the first person by different people. Annaís sassy, intelligent but unsure of herself. Sara has an iron will where Kateís concerned and Kate herself, despite never taking part in the narration, comes across as having some of the less-considerate traits of an invalid but still being something more than her illness. There is a less-sure touch with the men in the story. I was never quite certain that the character of Campbell, the lawyer, made sense and Brian, the father, didnít seem consistent. These are minor quibbles and didnít spoil the story for me.
The story is well-plotted and tightly drawn. Thereís little there thatís superfluous and once started I finished the book within a couple of days. I found the ending shocking but a little disappointing. It was a little bit too convenient, but still didnít spoil the book for me.
Whilst reading I was put in mind of ďThe Lovely BonesĒ by Alice Sebold although thereís much less sentimentality in this book. If you enjoyed that book youíll certainly enjoy this one.
The bookís recommended. I donít reread many books but this might be one of the ones that I do.
ē Paperback 448 pages (January 10, 2005)
ē Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
ē Price: £6.99 but available on Amazon for £3.99 in January 2006
ē ISBN: 034083546X
Summary: A fascinating story which will make you think.