Tag Archives: Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult- Fan Fiction Author Today- Classic Writer of the Future

Karen Toole thinks Jodi Picoult’s books will be tomorrow’s classics

“The fan fiction of today will be tomorrow’s classics.”  Karen Toole made that point in a lecture I attended at the University Women’s Club last week.  Karen is a Manitoba pastor, newspaper columnist, chaplain and winner of the Lieutenant Governor’s award for the Advancement of Inter-religious Understanding.  She was talking about the twenty five novels of best selling writer Jodi Picoult.  Although some dismiss Picoult’s writing as commercial rather than literary fiction and even Jodi herself says, “I’ll never win a Pulitzer Prize,” Karen claims that Picoult has a prophetic voice.  Karen told us that Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Shakespeare were the popular fiction writers of their day and have now become classic writers.  She thinks the same thing will happen with Jodi Picoult. In the future people will study her books to find out what was going on in America during the current time period.  

Jodi Picoult chronicles our lives today

Jodi writes about the social issues of our time- abortion, school shootings, racism, euthanasia, sexual identity, capital punishment and physical abuse.  Her novels never provide black and white answers, often have surprising endings, and feature multiple narrators who each approach issues from different points of view.  Karen says the secret to Jodi’s success is that she finds her topics in the daily newspaper headlines and then dives deep to find out more.   She takes the lives of ordinary people and turns them upside down in a way that makes readers ask, “What would I do if that happened to me?”

Jodi’s most recent book looks at the abortion issue

Karen told us that Jodi has her finger on the pulse of ‘the other’.  She helps us understand people who may be different than we are. In that way Karen feels Jodi’s books resonate with the theme of Michelle Obama’s recent biography Becoming in which the former first lady encourages us to listen to one another’s stories, especially the stories of those we think have little in common with us.  And Jodi’s stories don’t just resonate in North America.  Her work has been translated into 34 languages and her books have sold more than 40 million copies world wide. 

My Sister’s Keeper- Jodi Picoult’s 2004 novel about organ donation

I have read nearly all of Jodi Picoult’s novels but was surprised how few of the people attending the lecture had. I shared a story from my teaching days during the question and response period about how I was having difficulty getting teenagers to attend one of my high school English classes scheduled for first thing in the morning.  Then I brought in my coffee maker and started reading a chapter from Jodi Picoult’s book My Sister’s Keeper aloud to the students at the beginning of each class. Coffee and Jodi’s engaging writing style worked magic on my sagging class attendance. 

Karen says Jodi’s books have value because they make us think.  Jodi writes in an immersive and not diversionary way.  Her novels which often debut at the top of the best seller list can help us transform the way we think about things and give us hope. Jodi is an author who writes the stories of our lives and that’s why Karen thinks readers of the future will view her books as the classics of our time. 

Other posts………

A Spark of Light

A Novel That Took Us Through Eight States


1 Comment

Filed under Books

A Spark of Light

The current challenges facing abortion rights in the United States made Jodi Picoult’s novel A Spark of Light a timely read for me. 

In the story an angry father who believes his daughter had an abortion at a women’s center goes on a shooting rampage there, killing staff members and patients and taking hostages. Will he kill more people?

Picoult introduces us to several women that have had abortions. Their stories remind us of pro-active things countries can do to reduce their abortion rates since history shows us that criminalization of the procedure has proven to be very ineffective.

One of Picoult’s characters is an insecure teenager named Beth. She comes from a very religious family and has her first sexual encounter with an attractive Ivy League college student who flatters her with his attentions on a one- time visit to her community.  When asked why she didn’t use birth control Beth says she’d heard from a friend at church you couldn’t get pregnant the first time you had sex.

This kind of misinformation is a result of a lack of comprehensive sex education in schools, an education that should introduce high school students to many forms of birth control not just abstinence. As Picoult points out in a scene in her novel, ironically it is often the same religious groups that are anti-abortion who want to limit sex education in schools.

It is probably no coincidence that the Netherlands has the lowest abortion rate in the world. All secondary schools there have mandatory comprehensive health education programs that address sexuality and many forms of contraception. Teens in the Netherlands have wide access to confidential contraceptive services.

Joy, another character in Picoult’s novel is a struggling university student. She has several part time jobs. That means her employers don’t have to provide health care or maternity leave benefits. Joy finds herself pregnant despite the fact she was using birth control. She knows she can’t get a good job unless she finishes school. How will she study, support a child, and care for it properly?  She can’t afford prenatal care or health care for her child once it is born. Her partner won’t help. Joy herself was a product of the foster care system and doesn’t wish that fate on her child. So she opts for an abortion. 

Many studies prove countries with free health care, generous paid maternity leaves, subsidized post- secondary education, affordable daycare services and high minimum wage levels have lower abortion rates than countries that don’t offer those advantages.  Apparently about 75% of American women who have abortions cite economic factors for their decision.  They say they can’t afford a child because it will interfere with their work, studies, or their ability to care for the children they already have.

Ironically in the United States the Republican Party, supported by evangelical Christian groups that favor stricter anti-abortion laws, is also the party that wants to get rid of the subsidized health care system established by President Obama. They seem bent on reducing the number of government social services in their country even though it is those very services that would reduce abortion rates.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jodi Picoult interviewed hundreds of of anti-abortion activists, pro-choice leaders and women who’d had abortions before writing her novel. She found them all very sincere and caring. She discovered whether people are pro-choice or pro-life they desire the same end result- fewer abortions. They just don’t agree on how to make that happen. Picoult hopes her book will open a dialogue that may allow the two sides to work together to meet their common goal.

Other posts………..

Tolerating Other Christians

Abortion and Summer Jobs

Blaming Satan is Misguided and Dangerous

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

A Novel So Long It Took Us Through Eight States

small-great-things-hc-400wDave and I have been listening to Jodi Picoult’s novel Small Great Things on our drive back to Manitoba from Arizona.  It is a loooooooooong book!  Nearly sixteen hours of listening.  Jodi always addresses a social issue in her novels  and presents ethical dilemmas for her readers to consider. The issue in Small Great Things is racism and the ethical dilemma is faced by a black labor and delivery nurse named Ruth. She has been told by her supervisor not to touch the baby of a white supremacist couple Britt and Turk Bauer after they complain about having a black woman care for their baby. But the newborn goes into cardiac arrest when Ruth happens to be the only staff person in the nursery. She must decide whether to try to save the baby’s life or follow the orders she has been given not to touch the child. Due to her decision she is fired and charged with murder in the baby’s death. 

Jodi Picoult is known for her meticulous research and this book helps you learn almost too much about how newborns are cared for in hospitals, how court cases are researched, the incredibly scary world of white supremacists in America, and the effects of racism on communities, society and individuals.  Jodi says in an afterword she did not write this book so much to show the burden African-Americans carry because of the color of their skin, but rather to show white Americans how racist they are, even if they think they aren’t. 

I was concerned about how the book would end because Jodi can sometimes give you a surprise ending that is troubling and unsatisfying.  I kept telling Dave what I was worried would happen. This book did not end the way I predicted and left some of my questions unanswered but I was satisfied with it. 

Jodi’s books always have multiple narrators and this story is told by Ruth the nurse, Turk Bauer the white supremacist and Kennedy McQuarrie Ruth’s lawyer. Perhaps because I was listening to it rather than reading it, I sometimes felt that Jodi repeated too many things in her consecutive narratives instead of always moving the story ahead as quickly as she might have.  I did think the novel could have used a good edit and as I listened kept thinking of parts I would have slashed.  

Still this was a good story that kept us engaged as we drove through eight different states. In fact listening to this story set in America while driving through America added to its appeal and made it even more thought-provoking. 

Note: The title comes from a quote by Martin Luther King

 If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way

Other posts……..

Sing You Home- A Book Set to Music


Fruitvale Station


Filed under Books

Sing You Home- A Book Set To Music

I just finished reading the latest Jodi Picoult novel Sing You Home. I was a big fan of Jodi’s novels for a few years. She uses a style similar to the one Barbara Kingsolver did in The Poisonwood Bible, with multiple narrators who each tell the story from their point of view. Although I really liked this method of storytelling at first I have to admit after reading my fifth Picoult novel I was tired of the style and took a little break. Picoult publishes a new novel almost every year. 
The first Picoult novel I read was My Sister’s Keeper. It was a novel I studied with my grade ten students at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School. I actually read it aloud to them and they loved it! They’d beg me to keep reading at the end of every chapter. Jodi’s novels are a good fit for teens because each deals with some controversial social issue and raises lots of questions. My Sister’s Keeper is primarily about organ transplants and the ethical issues surrounding them, but there were at least a half-dozen other social issues the book addressed as well, that made for great classroom discussion. 

I read Picoult’s House Rules which deals with autism, Tenth Circle which is about date rape and Nineteen Minutes about bullying. Jodi has written other books where the characters must face the issues surrounding capital punishment, suicide and child abuse.  I kept quite a number of her books in my high school English classroom library in Hong Kong and they were rarely on the shelf, because they were so popular with my students. 

In Sing You Home Jodi tackles the issue of gay rights.  Although it was a topic she had long wanted to address in a novel, it became more personal while she was writing it, because it was during this time her seventeen year old son told Jodi and her husband he was gay. The novel pits two lesbian women who want to have a child using frozen embryos, against a Christian fundamentalist church bent on preventing them from doing so. Jodi tries to represent both sides honestly. On her web page she gives detailed information about her interviews with a representative from the Christian organization Focus on the Family. She wanted to be sure she understood their reasons for opposing gay marriage and parenting.

She did extensive research into legal cases and sets her story in Rhode Island because it is a state that does not recognize gay marriage. Jodi admits this is one book in which she found it hard not to let her own personal biases take over. She usually tries to leave it up to her readers to decide what is the ‘right’ thing to do.  

This book is unique in that the hardcover edition was accompanied by a CD of original music, since one of the main characters is a music therapist. Each chapter has an original song that goes with it and if you are reading the book on Kindle or in paperback you can listen to the songs on publisher Simon and Schuster’s website. Personally I think Jodi should stick to novel-writing. Her songs were a little trite.

One thing I always like about Jodi’s novels is you learn so much about new areas by reading them. For example when I read her book Songs of the Humpback Whale I learned many interesting things about whales. Before reading Sing Me Home I honestly was not aware of what a music therapist did, or how they are trained and I found out a great deal about that profession in this book. Music has enormous power and can be an important healing tool. 

I think in this book, as well as some of Jodi’s others, the issues overtake the characters and the story. In Sing You Home there are pages and pages that describe  the court case for example, where Biblical passages and legal precedents are being quoted and it gets a little tedious. On her website Jodi does talk about the Bible verses that supposedly condemn homosexuality and has some thought-provoking things to say about them.  Her website is a better place for this discussion than the pages of the book, where getting all that information to the reader seems more important than telling us how her characters are feeling and reacting.

Jodi does make it clear that not all religious people condemn homosexuality. Although some of the Christians in her book are really sleazy hypocrites, into the prosperity gospel and accruing fame, others are depicted as more sympathetic, especially by the end of the book.  

I found this book especially interesting to read because this past summer a sexual inclusivity motion was introduced at the national assembly of my church conference Mennonite Church Canada.

 I still like Jodi Picoult as an author. However I used to go out and buy her books in hardcover as soon as they were published because I was so eager to read them. Now I am content to wait for them to go on sale in paperback at Costco. 

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Culture