So as I’m writing this, I just finished Jodi Picoult’s newest book, Small Great Things, just hours ago. Wow. It was honestly one of her best (I will get into it more below, so keep reading!). In reading this novel, I was thinking about all of the Jodi Picoult books that I’ve read. She’s had so many, and I’ve read a ton of them over the years (I think I first started reading her when I was in middle school!). She is an author that I really admire because each of her books teach me something, which is attestation to the hard work she does researching the topics she writes about. Also, I really admire her for how eloquently she writes about heavy topics that many authors would shy away from. She is clearly very smart and has a wonderful way of weaving together a story.
I wanted to share my general thoughts on her books that I have read. At first, I was planning on ranking them (favorite to least favorite), but when I was trying to map out the list, it was far too difficult. This is for a few reasons. First of all, all of her books are so different – tackling different topics with different themes and learnings. Also, I’ve read these over a span of 10+ years, so that makes it hard for me to truly remember how I felt about each of them after I read them. So, I decided to just highlight what stood out to me about each book (good or bad). I did roughly separate them into “tiers”, in no particular order within each.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
My Sister’s Keeper – this was my first Jodi read and I was completely enamored by it. In fact, I vividly remember being at the mall and dying to get home to read more of it (nerd alert, I know). This is also the first book I remember ever reading with varying narrators, which is a style I love. I think the reason I loved this book so much is because it centered around a close-knit family – which I could relate to, as my family has been very tight. Also, it was an interesting read because it was so incredibly difficult to “side” with one character. This book revolved around a controversy that nearly tore a family apart, centering around the terminal illness of one of the sisters and the need expectation of the other daughter to medically contribute to the treatment of her sick sister. The situation was so complex and – quite honestly, sad – that it was impossible not to empathize with almost everyone involved. This book also had a huge twist ending (I know a lot of readers were very upset by the way the book ended), but I loved it because I was genuinely shocked. I had been very excited for this book to be made into a movie, but I loved the book much, much more than the movie. I highly recommend this to anyone who has not read it who wants to get involved in an intriguing and gripping story. It is probably in my top five favorite books ever.
Small Great Things – I chose to write about this book second since I just finished it. This is an amazing story that I was very excited to read from the moment I learned what it would be about. The story begins by depicting the life of an African American labor and delivery nurse, Ruth, who has been in the field for over 20 years. One fateful day, she is told she cannot care for a newborn baby because his father, a white supremacist, does not want a black person touching his child. When tragedy occurs, Ruth is blamed and arrested, beginning an intense trial. While the issue seems to center around race, Ruth’s public defender does not want to broach the sensitive topic in the courtroom. The story is a definite page turner – I couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen, so I raced through the book – only to be sad when it was over because it was that good. I already miss the characters (well, most of them) and this book made me admire Picoult more than I already did for touching upon the extremely timely yet taboo subject of racism in America in today’s world. She wrote about it with so much grace. I particularly enjoyed her author’s note at the end of the book, which is not to be missed.
Nineteen Minutes – this book centers around a school shooting, and oddly enough I read this the same week that the Virginia Tech shooting occurred. This is a highly taboo topic – probably even more so now in the aftermath of Sandy Hook and the various other tragic shootings that have happened than in 2007 when it was originally published. To be honest, the details of this book are very blurry for me, but I distinctly remember not being able to put it down while reading it on family vacation. This novel tackles tough issues that will leave you heartbroken for what the characters go through, sometimes in surprising ways.
The Tenth Circle – this is another book I remember reading on family vacation, and it was another that I couldn’t put down. The unique thing about this novel is that it uses both comic book illustrations to highlight the themes and occurrences within it, and it also weaves in themes from Dante’s Inferno that are all relatable to what’s happening throughout the story. I learned so much about living as an Eskimo in this book (sounds random, but it is actually something very interesting to read about!) and I love how this book centered around deep-rooted secrets and the sacrifices and changes people make for their families. I would actually love to reread this book now, as when I read it I was much younger and I think now as an adult I could take a lot more away from it. Regardless, I remember it as a book that left me reeling.
The Pact – oh my goodness, this is one of Jodi’s most unforgettable books. By far. And I personally think this book includes the sweetest love story out of any of her writing that I’ve read. But, it’s so much more than a love story, believe me. This book revolves around a young love story – teenagers that grew up as neighbors, and their families were best friends through it all. As their romance grew, so did their apparent willingness to do anything for each other – not excluding the unspeakable. This book touches upon hot-topic themes: teenage suicide, love, friendship, family, and depression. I love how this book spotlights the lengths we’ll go to for those that we love, barring the consequences. Also, I thought that the author did a great job detailing the inevitable split this put between the two families that were once as close as family. (this book was also made into a Lifetime movie, but – duh – the book was better).
Vanishing Acts – I think that this was the second Jodi Picoult book I read, and it has stuck with me ever since. This is another novel that touches upon the secrets we have that we didn’t even know were ours, and how to deal with them once they touch our lives in a way we never could have imagined. I think that theme resonates a lot more with me now than when I originally read the book. Another reason that I loved this book was because it kind of put things in a “full circle” perspective as the main character, Delia, is trying to make sense of new learnings about her own childhood and upbringing as she herself is raising a little girl. She is faced with the question of what it means to be a good parent and explores the lines in which she, at one time, believed she would never cross – but then begins to think differently. This was a compelling read that will leave you, again, empathizing heavily with the characters involved.
House Rules – this was one of Picoult’s later books that I read when I was in college (I think). I learned a lot from this book, as it is about a character with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is something I had little knowledge of before reading the book. I know I mentioned it at the beginning of this post, but I truly admire Picoult for the depth of research she does on the topics she writes on. People sometimes assume that with fictional books, little to no research is required. While this sometimes is true, it is certainly not with these books. Picoult does no disservice to her readers as she goes to great lengths to immerse herself in the topics to give an accurate and realistic account of what she is writing about. If I recall correctly, I believe she put in endless hours of shadowing an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome in writing this book, and her dedication is reflected. In this book, the main character, Jacob, is accused of a heinous murder in his hometown. Since he has autism, it brings a whole new dimension to his character and to how he and his family handle the accusation and trial. This highlights the hardship that the family goes through to simply fit in within the community and what they must do to prove the innocence of their child. This was undoubtedly a page turner that I would recommend to anyone.
Handle with Care – in this book, it shadows a family with a young daughter – Willow – who is plagued by brittle bone disease, which requires the mother, Charlotte, to provide full-time care for her child. This story touches on many of the themes Picoult is known for: family issues, hardship, and finding a delicate balance over the line between right and wrong. While the family struggles with the financial burden that having an ill child puts on them, they decide to instigate a lawsuit for wrongful birth in order to receive a settlement that will make caring for their daughter in the long term more feasible. Not only does this cross the ties of longtime friendships, but it also forces the parents to state that if they knew during their pregnancy about their daughter’s condition, they would have terminated the pregnancy. This book touches heavily on the “what if’s?” of life and not only what those mean but the large effect that delving into them can have on relationships and our lives as a whole. I love that I not only learned a great deal about the disease in this book from reading it, but also the large-scale personality that Picoult gave to the main character, Willow. This book is certainly not devoid of twists and turns that will leave your jaw dropped, either, making it an overall fantastic read.
ALL AROUND GOOD READS
Change of Heart – this was one book I debated putting in the first “tier” of choices from Picoult, so it really could go either way. All in all, it was a great read and was an incredibly complex story where the characters were closely knitted together in an unlikely way. The story recounts a brutal murder where the convicted felon learns that the sister of the little girl he killed needs a heart transplant, and he wants to redeem himself by providing it. This prompts the question: should this little girl receive the heart of a killer? The tangled web of connections doesn’t end there, either, as there are countless weird occurrences that make you think divine intervention is playing a part. This book uses metaphors and does a great job teaching you about the medical procedures surrounding the procedure of a transplant. I think this is one of Picoult’s love it or hate it books, but I loved it and would recommend giving it a try.
The Storyteller – this was another of Picoult’s book that came out while I was in college, and I read it shortly after its publication date. This book broaches the topic of the Holocaust, shadowing not only a young adult, Sage, who recently tragically lost her mother but has a grandmother who is a survivor of the Holocaust and a new elderly friend who admits he was an SS officer and is seeking help in ending his own life. When Sage is faced with this information, she has her new friend investigated accordingly, and she finds out more than she expected. I liked this book because not only was the subject matter interesting and eloquently written about, weaving together stories that you would not expect, but it also included flashbacks as well as present day narration and accounts.
Mercy – this is one of Picoult’s earlier novels (it was published in 1996), but I think it is a great one that explores a wide range of themes. This story revolves around two cousins, one of which helps his wife commit suicide per her request, and the second begins having an affair with his wife’s assistant. After the “murder” of the first one’s wife, a trial ensues and it is the talk of a small northeastern town. This book explores the dynamics of a marriage and the boundaries we are willing to cross for those we love, similar to some of Picoult’s other works. I will say that this book is not as fast paced and maybe not as gripping as some of her other novels, but you will still reflect on it as a great story once you finish it.
Salem Falls – I distinctly remember this book taking me awhile to get through back when I read it (during college, I think), but it was still a great story that I will keep with me. This book is off the beaten path, as the small town it takes place in, Salem Falls, has a group of women who practice Wiccan spells – similar to witchcraft. A school teacher who lost his good reputation flees to the town and seemingly fits right in, working at a local diner. However, he is soon in the hot seat once again, accused of brutalities towards women in the town. This book centers around violence and sexual assault, and the power of sex and violence in today’s world. While this book was certainly fast paced and interesting, the ending was a little bit predictable, which is unusual for Picoult’s books.
Plain Truth – this is another book that got off to a slower start, but was a good story all-in-all. This story focuses on an Amish teenager who is accused of having a baby only to smother it to death in a barn. After being disowned by her parents and vehemently denying that she ever even bore a child, a case and trial unfolds. I found this book interesting as it explored the Amish culture and the norms of their life, which provided new learnings for me. I genuinely enjoyed the characters in this book and thought that it was an interesting storyline that left me guessing.
NOT MY FAVORITES
Lone Wolf – this was the first Jodi Picoult book that I didn’t love, as I found it pretty slow-going and not as emotionally driven as many of her other works. This was a story about a son that is called home after a conscious separation when his father and sister are in a bad car accident and are ejected from the vehicle. While his sister is by and large okay, his father is left in a vegetative state. The son must make the decision of whether to keep his father alive or pull the plug, a decision only made more difficult by the fact that they had parted on poor terms after the son confided in his father that he is homosexual. Because two of the main characters are distressed young adults in this novel, in my opinion it gave the book a more dramatic and less relatable feel than many of Picoult’s other stories. This book did have a twist ending, but all in all it falls low on my list of must-reads from the author.
Sing You Home – this is probably my least favorite Jodi Picoult book that I’ve read, as I found it super boring. It is hard for me to even recall the specifics of what this story is about, as it really did not resonate with me after reading it. In short, the story follows the life of a woman named Zoe who has suffered several hardships. She throws herself into her job of being a music therapist and begins pursuing a friendship that blossoms into more and gives her a great amount of joy. However, she fails to receive the support she would have expected from her love ones, and the story develops from there. The themes of this read are family, love, loss, identity, and personal development. This story wasn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean it is not for anyone – it certainly had it strong points.
Leaving Time – this was Picoult’s most recent book prior to Small Great Things, and I thought it was very slow and kind of hard to get through. While the premise of the story is interesting – centering around a young girl whose mother disappeared after an accident and the help she enlists in a psychic as well as a private detective in the hopes of finding her mother once in for all. The mother’s journal is used in helping connect clues to finding the woman, transporting the reader to elephant sanctuaries, teaching about the lives of elephants and weaving that into the story of this child searching for her mother. Like I said, I found the book to be dry and less than entertaining, but that’s just me – for the record, it got rave reviews.