My Grade: B+
Plot / Premise:
I’ve decided to copy and paste the plot summary from the below source. I always feel like I don’t do plot summaries justice and I’m only regurgitating what other people have said and … okay, fine. I’m lazy. I’d rather concentrate on character development and writing style.
Chris and Emily, teenagers from two neighbored and very close families, have been as close as siblings since birth, but as teenagers their relationship develops into a romance. When they are seniors in high school, however, both families are called to the hospital: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot to the head, and Chris says the two had intended to carry out a suicide pact.
Every other chapter is a flashback to Emily and Chris’s childhood life, leading up to the night of Emily’s death. Some scenes include flashbacks on Emily and Chris’s life while they were young (best friends) through their teenage years as lovers. It is revealed that, as a result of a dare made by Chris to go into a men’s restroom, Emily is molested as a child. It is also discovered that she was impregnated by Chris, but she never revealed it to him. It is also revealed in flashbacks that Emily’s feeling for Chris were more sisterly, yet she felt pressured to be with him in a romantic way due to the closeness of their families. She also felt uncomfortable having sex or being touched due to the molestation. She wanted to go to college, not raise a baby and she thought she’d brought shame on her family by becoming pregnant. She went for an abortion but couldn’t go through with it in the end as it was a male carrying it out and it brought back flashbacks of her being molested. It was all of these things that made her suicidal.
If there is one author I aspire to be, it’s Jodi Picoult. I’ve always loved her writing – she seems to have perfected the art of balancing characters with plot and she seems to sense when her readers are getting restless because she will suddenly, and sometimes without warning, veer the plot off in a different direction thus leaving her reader with wide eyes and a shocked demeanor.
I can appreciate her writer’s instinct.
One of the biggest things I enjoy about Picoult is her talent of tackling sensitive moral issues without coming off as too preachy. This is right up my alley. I’ve ALWAYS been interested in this type of writing and my personal goal, as a writer, is to leave the reader thinking about the story and/or the issue behind the story. I’ve learned, in my 44 years on this earth, that life is definitely NOT black and white and I think all too often our media, even other people, sometimes would like us to believe that it is.
But at the same time, even though those moral lines are sometimes blurred, ultimately, decisions have to be made and people have to live with those decisions. Not to mention the trickle down effect of that decision on those characters directly affected.
The sensitive issues in this story?
How far would you go for the person you loved? Would you kill the person you loved if it meant that person would truly be happier?
Can a deep and intimate friendship morph into a romantic relationship and not feel weird?
That’s exactly what happens to Emily in this story. Her and Chris grew up together as brother and sister, and even though Chris’ feelings matured into love, Emily’s did not. And yet, she loved Chris will all her heart, just not in a romantic way. The last thing she ever wanted to do was hurt Chris, so she succumbed to Chris, both physically and emotionally, thinking everyone sort of expected them to end up together, so she would follow the plan.
Only in doing so, she crossed that invisible line of what felt right and she soon sunk into a deep depression. Rather than disappoint everyone in her life, hurt Chris, or be stuck in a life she did not want, she turned to thoughts of suicide.
I’ve personally dealt with this very issue. I dated a guy that I had been friends with for several years back in high school. But as soon as we officially became a “couple”, things felt off – just wrong on so many levels so that eventually, I not only destroyed the relationship, I annihilated our friendship, too. So, on some level, I could relate to Emily’s delimma. Definitely not her feelings of suicide, but her feelings of being trapped and wanting to get out, but not wanting to hurt anyone in the process of getting out.
At the risk of repeating myself, or the blurb above, I thought I’d take some of the negative Amazon feedback and address a few of the issues that people had with the story. I like debunking (or debating, you pick the verbiage) other people’s opinions mainly because it challenges me to look at different issues from another angle.
Responding to Negative Reviews:
None of my questions were answered and not in the good way where it’s left to your imagination. The characters are superficial. We never get beneath the surface with any of them and least of all Emily.
Apparently, this person is not a very careful reader because if anything, we got to know the characters very well – especially Emily. Since Emily dies at the beginning of the book, Picoult alternates the time line from chapter to chapter – past, present, past, etc. So in essence, the story moves ahead one step, and then takes one step back. I personally like this writing style because it offers a richness to the characters that might otherwise not have been there if she had stuck with a traditional forward-moving story. She could have done flash backs, but given the fact that the story starts AFTER the climax of the story, that would have been tedious. Placing present time in a chapter and past events in a chapter allowed the story to flow – like a see-saw in a playground.
And because Picoult devoted so much back story to chapters, the reader is given ample time and insight into Chris and Emily’s state of minds. This is simply not a valid criticism, in my opinion.
Although it was beautifully written, I felt cheated, ripped off, and let down at the end. The plot was not sufficiently developed through to the end. There were too many blanks to be filled in, too many loose ends, too much left unsaid and undone. There was far too much drama and not enough substance.
Which is a heck of a lot better than too much substance and not enough drama – who wants to read a story without drama? Drama is what MAKES the story. Duh.
And to say that this story had too many loose ends is just silly – the entire story is interwoven like a tightly integrated quilt, if anything, I thought Picoult spent too much time on character thoughts/feelings and not enough time moving the story forward. And as far as too many blanks – as a reader, would you rather have the author TELL you the story, or SHOW you the story? Picoult does an excellent job of balancing both and if this reader couldn’t fill in obvious holes, then I would suggest this reader work on his/her reading comprehension because I felt like Picoult did an excellent job of laying the groundwork and then stepping back to allow the reader to navigate the terrain.
Emily feels trapped by Chris and is more or less sickened by their sexual relationship, I felt it was inappropriate. Chris, who was supposedly so in-tune with her feelings, seems to purposely ignore her fairly obvious signs of discomfort. Towards the end, it felt abusive.
That was Picoult’s intent – to make the reader uncomfortable because it was an uncomfortable position to be in. It wasn’t inappropriate, it was realistic. Now if the characters truly had been brother and sister, I would have stopped reading after the first few pages, but the fact that they were not made the situation more realistic in my opinion. Who hasn’t had a friendship where one person wanted to take it to the next level and the other did not? It’s an uncomfortable situation to be in.
However, I will agree with the part about Chris supposedly being so in-tune with Emily’s feelings and yet not sensing what was really bothering her. I didn’t quite buy that part either, however, given the fact that they were 17 and inexperienced in both worldly things and in all things love, it worked.
I guess I don’t understand the “small town” mentality but it seems a little sick that the parents never wanted anything more from their children than for them to fall in love and live happily ever after without ever experiencing what else is out there. The writing is also quite mediocre and the trial is not very credible.
Apparently, this person is not a parent because that’s ALL a parent wants for his/her child – to fall in love and live happily ever after. And the writing was anything but mediocre, though to be fair, referring to a flush as “bright red flags” several times did get old. And the trial? Was one of my favorite parts. It really built the drama and I thought Picoult did an excellent job of presenting both sides of the story through the courtroom scenes. In fact, I felt the threads of the story were drawn even tighter with the courtroom drama because it allowed the reader yet another opportunity to piece the story together – just as if the reader were one of the jurors.
I have done extensive reading on the issue of teen suicide. This story misses a great opportunity to address this national problem.
Ah. Now this one I can agree with. I think Picoult romanticized suicide a bit too much and a more impressionable mind might actually walk away from this book thinking suicide is a viable option for when times get tough. I agree that she could have used this opportunity to get out the message that suicide is a serious and completely unacceptable alternative to any problem.
And while we’re on the subject of things I didn’t care for in this story – the ending was completely and totally contrived. I fell like Picoult compromised the story in order to give her publishers, and the readers at large, a “happy” ending. Given this story and what happens to this character, not to mention the damning evidence against him and what is proven (even with testimony), the ending was a disappointment and in my opinion, a cop out.
By the way, I have this book for sale in my book store if you would like to purchase it. It’s only been read once and is in excellent condition.