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The Story of The Quibbling Sibling
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
Member Name: flutel
My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
Advantages: Chewy moral dilemma, great characters, good pace, fab read!
Disadvantages: Silly coincidence of 2 ex lovers meeting up in the book's court case
It tells the story of a family being traumatized by the serious illness (leukemia) that the eldest daughter (Kate) suffers from. Her youngest sister (Anna) is conceived and born because of the medical need of stem cells in the umbilical cord to save the older sister's life. Unfortunately, this one donation turns into many as Kate repeatedly goes into remission and Anna is required to donate various tissues such as bone marrow. This does not mean that Anna is not loved - but this never-ending process takes its toll on Anna who cannot live a normal kid's life because if it. She might as well be ill also for the amount of time she spends undergoing medical procedures. There is also the older son (Jesse) in the family who feels the neglect as all the focus is on the two sisters. He becomes increasingly feral and destructive as no one has time for him. The parents, Sara and Brian are living the stressed-out life of trying to juggle jobs and attention to the children whilst endeavoring to keep their daughter, Kate, alive. Anna then starts to seek medical emancipation and have control over her own body.
This does not run in a linear sequence - so readers get a perspective on the story that spans right back to Kate being a toddler. There are even hints of life before children for the Fitzgerald couple. The chapters dart here and there into the past and into real-time and the narrative is told from different characters. There is a cyclical element to the book in that when re-reading the prologue, the speaker of it is questioned. This construction of the book is not at all confusing and serves to illuminate the plot quite thoroughly.
Jodi Picoult, the author, creates a set of characters that the reader can care about very much indeed. From the start, I was hooked into these created lives and trying to sort out their problems - which turned out to be far from simple. Anna, the protagonist, is a 13yr old who, although seeming incredibly mature and insightful for much of the time also exhibits complete confusion when faced with the problem of the might of the will of her dedicated and determined mother and cannot seem to communicate effectively with her. I thought this was quite a smart bit of characterization. She reminded me of Juno in the film of the same name; a kid wise beyond her years - but Anna is different - when confronting her parents, she shows emotional immaturity. Kate, her older sick sister is not explored so fully at the start of the book but her character develops towards the end and we learn a surprising amount about her. Sara, the mother, is a woman on a mission to save her daughter - and there is nothing she will not do to this end - including submitting her other healthy daughter to painful procedures. As a mother myself, it was impossible not to empathise with her predicament. When I empathized I was then caught in her moral struggle; it made it very difficult to maintain a judgmental attitude to this complex character. Brian, the dad was a character that I felt was frustrated by his desire to save his daughter and his complete inability to do so. His job as a firefighter is a metaphorical career version of his home life; he wants to save. Jesse, (a rebellious boy in his later teens in the real-time of the book )is an arsonist (ironically the opposite of his father) who is attempting to deal with the potential loss of his sick sister and parental neglect over the years. Piccoult enjoyed writing this character (described in the Q & A session with her at the end of my copy of the book (Hodder - the one depicted on this site) as it was a creative challenge and a lot of fun to 'be' a teenage boy.
Other characters include Anna's lawyer, Campbell Alexander (a man concealing his own medical condition) and Julia, his ex-girlfriend who by unlikely coincidence is brought into the story being assigned the task by the judge in the court case that is created by Anna's wish to be medically emancipated, of finding out her true wishes.
'Choice' - it's often complicated nature, is thrashed out well and truly her both in the problem of Kate's treatment and in the relationship between Campbell and Julia in the subplot. 'Family' is a central theme - about how massive dilemmas and stresses change parents and force them to live lives they never dream about when in the flushes of first love. 'Love' is also explored - both sibling love and romantic love and how, when things seem desperate, love is often at the core. 'Sisterhood' - what it means to be a sister and have a sister - the inseparable irritation and affection that co-exists. This theme is one that we are left questioning at the end of the book. This theme is also mirrored with the character of Julia who has a twin sister. We see sameness and difference - but always a deep, deep connection. 'Fire' and it's destructive and cleansing nature is a theme that is developed by both Brian, the dad and Jesse, the son. One of them is starting fires while the other one is putting them out; both have a therapeutic effect.
I really enjoyed reading this book and it's gentle moral exercise. The dilemmas posed by the characters were cared about to the extent that I wanted to think them out myself. I was not made overly sad - even though the book is about the subject of children's cancer because the characters themselves were brave and determined - even if they fell apart at times. The ending was unexpected, which is always pleasing in a book. It was not the one that I had considered - and I had considered a few in the hard work of sorting everything out for the Fitzgeralds. The pace of the book was spot on. I was never bored at an over-long chapter and it was constructed in a way that I could pick up and put down easily (I rarely read through at one go). The overwhelming feeling I had at the book's conclusion was one of love and the amazing (but sometimes difficult) gifts it can bring.
Summary: A rivetting but traumatic peep into lives that have ceased to be easy.